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Roderick Donald

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2 November 2014

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

Day 671: The Mysterious Planet, Episode Four (The Trial of a Time Lord, Episode Four) 

Dear diary, 

I've said it before during this story, but I really do love Sabalom Glitz. What's surprised me is how much I've enjoyed him being partnered up with Dibber - I' always thought of Dibber as being a weaker link to the character. They're absolutely brilliant together, and it's a bit of a shame that we don't get to see them paired up again in any other stories. There's just so much to love about them, and a certain amount of that needs to be placed at Robert Holmes' door, filling their mouths with plenty of dialogue which has made me smile and laugh almost all the way through their scenes. I'm genuinely hugely surprised that the pair haven't been brought back in any of the Big Finish audios - Tony Selby and Glen Murphy are still working actors, and surely I can't be the only one who would love to hear them back against either the Sixth or Seventh Doctors? I'm going to cross my fingers tightly, because I think this may be my number one thing that I'd love to hear happen! 

These two aren't the only ones to impress me in The Mysterious Planet, either. I've already praised Colin Baker's performance once in the last few days, but it really does bear repeating again here - he's really a very good Doctor. Today's highlight from him comes in the form of his courtroom outburst, in which he riles against the Valeyard and the situation he's found himself in. It's a very over-the-top performance, full of gusto and bravado... and it's perfect for the moment. This incarnation of the Doctor, perhaps more than any other, is prone to being a bit theatrical, and he shows that perfectly here. What makes it all the more compelling is the sheer rage underneath it all. Colin completely goes for the scene with all that he can muster, and it's simply electrifying to watch. We're drawing ever closer to his all-too-brief time in the programme, now, and I really am going to miss him when he's gone. I'd so dearly love to see what this man could have done with the part given a few more years to expand and grow with the character. 

We're also getting nearer to the departure of Robert Holmes from the show, with this being his final complete story for the Doctor. He'll be back again for Episode Thirteen of the Trial season, but we won't be getting any more full stories from the man. Before I’d embarked on a big Doctor Who marathon, writers were largely interchangeable in my head. There was no real sense of ‘[X] writes very good stories’ while ‘[Y] writes very bad ones’, I just had a list of names floating around who had written stories at some point. Even then, though, I knew of Robert Holmes being considered the ‘bed tot the best’. So many other writers for the programme over the years have singled him out as the man who knew how to do it, so it was hard to miss his contribution. I couldn’t have told you much about my own thought’s to Holmes’ stories, because frankly they’d all blended in to the big pot of ‘Doctor Who tales’ in my head. 

But actually, having now sat through all of his contributions to the Doctor Who mythos, I can quite clearly see why he's considered to be such a luminary. Several of his stories have ended up towards the upper end of my ratings since he first cropped up in The Krotons, and I’m going to miss him being a part of the programme. 

And with that, we move on to the second segment of the Trial season - Mindwarp. From a previous viewing, I think of these next four episodes as being my least favourite of the season, but I've found plenty of new things to enjoy about The Mysterious Planet, so I'm hoping that the same will be true as we move forward... 

 

While I'm here, a quick note about how I'm rating The Trial of a Time Lord. You may have noticed that I'm referring to the different segments by their commonly-agreed-upon titles - The Mysterious Planet, Mindwarp, Terror of the Vervoids, and The Ultimate Foe. I'm really doing this because it makes it easier to discuss them here without you having to think about which part of the Trial, say, Episode Six might be, or Episode Ten. When it comes to rating the story as a whole, I'll be including it as one story (it is, after all, one big story - the credits say so!), but including the scores for the individual segments, too, so we can better see how they fit in to the Colin Baker era on the whole. And to make the 'average rating' list for his era a bit longer - it would be horribly short otherwise! 

1 November 2014

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

Day 670: The Mysterious Planet, Episode Three (The Trial of a Time Lord, Episode Three) 

Dear diary, 

I'm somewhat surprised just how much I'm enjoying the design in this segment of the trial. I've often looked back on The Mysterious Planet as being just a little bit... rubbish, when it came to the look of the piece. I think I was mostly thinking of two areas - the set of the underground areas, which comes across as very plastic-looking, and the design of the cell in which our heroes find themselves locked up on the surface, because there's a few behind-the-scenes photos of that set which make it look very poorly painted. Actually, though, I'm wrong on both counts. Well, sort of. The cell actually comes across as much better on screen than it does being seen as a set in a studio, and it even looks rather good when the L1 robot is crashing through the wall to kidnap the Doctor. All the underground areas do still look as plastic-y as I remember them being... but I think that actually acts in its favour, giving the set its own unique feel. 

The piece of design I'm most keen on, though, is the big L3 robot - the Immortal One himself. There's something about the sheer stature of the creature which makes it look imposing, especially when he's towering over the two human servants in his control centre. It seems strange to think that this story comes more than ten years after the last big robot like this (in, um, Robot), and I think this one is possibly better. Oh, don't get me wrong, the design of the K1 robot is gorgeous, but it's perhaps that bit too designed. That doesn't take away from it on screen, but it doesn't really come across as being scary. The L3, in darker tones of grey, and with that big pointy 'head' really seems to be a bit more frightening, and I rather like that. 

I'm not so sure that I like the L1 as much, but that's possibly because it's in competition with this bigger older-brother. Do we actually see the L2 at all in this story? I don't think we do. Wonder what it looks like? I've mentioned it a few times in this marathon so far, but I'm a big fan of vintage Blue Peter, and the clip on this story's DVD, introducing the entire Trial season is a particular favourite of all the who-related segments. We get to see how both of this story's robots are controlled ('people power'), and I think it even helps to improve my admiration for the L3 - the poor controller trapped inside the costume has to peer out through the insignia on the chest, which helps to really sum up just how tall it is! 

During yesterday's episode, I complained that I was starting to see the irritation that could be caused by the constant flicking back to the trial room to catch up on the proceedings in the courtroom. I'm thankful to say that today's episode has been the complete reverse of that, and I've positively welcomed the inclusion of these moments. There's a point very early on - pretty much just as we see our characters escape from the cliffhanger - where we revert back to the 'present', and it felt entirely right that we should take a quick break from the main narrative here. I'm also impressed to see mention of the footage being excised at the request of the High Council, as I didn't think that revelation came until later on in the story. I'm already trying to think up ways that I can tie this somewhat more devious version of the High Council in to the Time War. 

While I'm briefly on the subject, I didn't mention the fact in Episode One that the Doctor has been deposed as President of Gallifrey, because of a degradation of his duties. I absolutely love this idea (especially since the Doctor even called on his official status last season in Timelash to help save the day), and I can easily tie this in to the Time War - the High Council know that even the Doctor, with his hatred of the Daleks, wouldn't risk plunging the planet into total war across all of time and space - hence removing him from a position of power, and putting him on trial in a further attempt to reduce his standing... I think this season could prove interesting if viewed from certain angles! 

31 October 2014

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

Day 669: The Mysterious Planet, Episode Two (The Trial of a Time Lord, Episode Two) 

Dear diary, 

When Colin Baker first took over the role of the Doctor in The Twin Dilemma, he instantly won me over. Even when he was having to strangle Peri, or collapse in fits of manic laughter, there was something about the gusto with which he want for everything that completely worked for me, and I really enjoyed. That's not to say that I haven't enjoyed him in the stories since, but I think this may be the first episode in which he's really felt like the Doctor. There's lots of little moments in this episode - both in the dialogue and in the actions - where he's simply felt like the Doctor that I know and love, and I really can't remember the last time I felt that so strongly about this incarnation. Indeed, there's several lines here which I could easily imagine Tom Baker's Doctor saying, and I don't know if that's simply Robert Holmes managing to summon back up some of his old ability? 

There's lots about this story which I'm really enjoying, and that does have to be placed firmly at Holmes' door. He's managed to create a world that I'm buying in to, and more so this time than I noticed on a previous viewing. I think my favourite moment has to be Peri's discussion about husbands, while being held prisoner; 

GLITZ 

Obviously she's a romantic at heart. 

PERI 

Well, so am I, but not romantic enough to want more that one husband. 

DIBBER 

Where we come from, a woman can have as many as six. 

PERI 

Oh, it's very similar on my planet, except we usually have them one at a time. 

I just know that this is a line which would have completely passed over my head as a child, but listening to it now elicited a rather hearty laugh from me - and it wasn't the only one for this episode. There's plenty of moments that have really managed to entertain me, and I think that's probably the best you can hope for! 

In the past, I've often seen people complain about the constant interruptions to the narrative from the trial room itself, and I've never really shared in those complaints. As far as I've ever been concerned, they're a fun part of the stories, and I recall rather linking them as a slightly different way of looking at the stories for a few episodes. That said, in today's episode, for the first time, I did suddenly understand where the complaints may have come from: there's at least two interruptions which came at just the wrong point, and completely took me out of the narrative. I then spent the rest of the episode wondering if there could be a way of editing this episode to omit them entirely. I think, with a bit of fiddling, that it probably is possible, but I'm sure that later on in the trial, once it starts to become less clear what's real and what isn't in the tales being relayed to us, that it becomes near-impossible. I'll be interested to see how I feel about these trips back to the court come the end of the story... 

Something else I'd just like to touch on today - and it's not something that I've really had cause to mention for some time now - is the musical score for this episode. It's Dominic Glyn's first soundtrack for a Doctor Who story, and it's really enjoyable! It first came to my attention during that gorgeous model shot at the start of yesterday's episode, where the beautiful cathedral-like space station was introduced with ominous bells and organ music. It set the tone perfectly, and he's managed to keep the music in this episode varied enough to keep my interest up, too. Glynn will be providing scores for several more stories over the final few seasons' of the programme's 'classic' run, and I'm looking forward to hearing them. 

He's also the man responsible for the theme tune to this season of Doctor Who. Now, I have to admit that I'm not that much of an expert on the theme tunes (and most of the time I don't even notice when they change from story-to-story. Certainly, as I've worked my way through all the episodes for this marathon, I've not ever really thought 'oh, they've changed the theme tune... even though I listen to it every day...), but I know this one comes in for a fir bit of stick. I'm not sure if I dislike it, though, and I'm certainly finding myself singing along with it as the episodes start up. Today, I even found myself watching the closing credits and singing along with those, too!  

30 October 2014

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

Day 668: The Mysterious Planet, Episode One (The Trial of a Time Lord, Episode One) 

Dear diary, 

I can remember getting Trial of a Time Lord on VHS. For one birthday, I'd made a list of several Doctor Who tapes I'd quite like, in order from the ones I was most keen to see through to the ones I was less desperate for. This one topped the list. I mean, when you look at the facts on paper, it does sound pretty impressive, doesn't it? The programme returns from an eighteen-month hiatus with the longest story they've ever made - fourteen episodes - in which the Doctor is put on trial for his life by his own people, and the villain turns out to be... an evil incarnation of the Doctor from the future! Oh, come on, when you're a young fan, you can't help but love a description like that! I was thrilled when I unwrapped the TARDIS- shaped tin containing the videos on my birthday (my tin has Patrick Troughton on the bottom, for those of you who like to keep track of those types of thing!), and I recall really enjoying the story, too. Certainly, it kept me much more interested an entertained than The Key to Time season would a few years later! 

And what a start it gets off to! That opening model shot, of the space station hanging in the stars is good enough in itself... but then the camera comes sweeping down over it! Oh, how I love it. I must have seen it a hundred times over the years, because it's just so good. Easily up there with the best effects that Doctor Who has ever had, and a great one to show people who complain that the old programme had rubbish effects. No it bloody didn't, look at this! Oh, and step away from that Warriors of the Deep DVD, this is what Doctor Who always looked like... promise. I really like the design of the space-station, too, all those spires like a cathedral, and each one topped with a little glowing light... it's just such a beautiful model, and it almost fits with the visions I have of Gallifrey, the ones I spoke about during The Deadly Assassin. This is ancient gothic architecture mixed with futuristic grunge, and it blend perfectly

I'm not sure the same can be said for the sets of the inside of this station, however. I rather like the set of the actual trial room itself - there's something about the scale of it, and the way that the golds set themselves off against the black drapes that form the walls, but it's really the corridor in which the TARDIS arrives that I'm not keen on. It doesn't feel as though it exists inside that beautiful cathedral structure that we saw to start with, and I can never quite reconcile them in my mind as the same place. Still, I'll be seeing plenty of it over the next fortnight, so I'm sure I'll have chance to get used to it! 

From this episode up until the end of the 'classic' run in 1989, the  programme has switched over to being entirely videotape - even for location shoots. We've seen the show dabble with this before in Tom Baker's era, of course, but I've not been looking forward to it over the last few weeks. More and more, the programme has been giving little moments to remind me just how much better it looks on film than video tape, and I know that there's a few stories coming up (notably in the McCoy years) where shooting on videotape only means that stories can come across as poor quality, because the source material just isn't as good. We're not off to a bad start, here, though. It's certainly true that the outdoor scenes look flatter than they would have done on film (and I think that forest would have looked stunning shot that way), but it doesn't look as awful as I was expecting. I think that having such an interesting location, with all the thin little trees obscured in the mist of an autumn day is probably helping matters. Now, I'm hoping that getting off to such a good start with this new 'all-video' approach will make the transition a bit smoother for me. 

As for the story itself... well, there's lots to like, isn't there? We've got several hallmarks of classic Robert Holmes cropping up again for his final story (he'll be back with Episode Thirteen of Trial, but not another complete adventure), and chief among them is the partnership of Glitz and Dibber. Hands up, I love Sabalom Glitz. Always have, always will. Indeed, having seen Trial of a Time Lord, I rapidly moved Dragonfire up my list of stories I wanted to see, simply because I was keen to see more of the character! He's absolutely trademark Holmes here, with his speech about the way he struggles to come to terms with the 'more pertinent, concrete aspects of life' a particular highlight. 

He's not the only one being given some great dialogue in this episode, either! A few months ago, I was talking to someone and they mused that Colin's Doctor doesn't get any great speeches during his tenure. They cited examples from all the other 'classic' Doctors (Hartnell's 'one day I will come back' from The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Troughton's 'some corners of the universe' from The Moonbase, 'being frightened' for Pertwee from Planet of the Daleks, Do I have the Right from Genesis of the Daleks for Tom Baker, Davison's 'summer cloud' in Frontios, 'every decision' for McCoy from Remembrance of the Daleks, and the speech about shoes from McGann in the TV Movie - as an aside, it seems that Dalek stories really inspire great moments from the various Doctors!), but said that Colin never really got anything as magical as that. I'd argue that he gets two in Trial of a Time Lord - the speech about corruption later on in proceedings, which I'm sure I'll mention again when the time comes, and also one from today; 

THE DOCTOR 

Planets come and go, stars perish. Matter disperses, coalesces, reforms into other patterns, other worlds. Nothing can be eternal. 

I think that's probably my favourite moment of Colin's Doctor, and certainly as good as any of those other examples. It's beautiful dialogue, and a wonderful delivery. 

29 October 2014

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

Day 667: Revelation of the Daleks, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I'm not entirely sure what the point of this one was. The Doctor and Peri have come to Necros to pay their last respects to an old friend. But then it transpires that people in Tranquil Repose aren't actually dead, but rather in suspended animation (or are there dead people there, too? I sort of lost track of this bit…). It also turns out that the Doctor was summoned to pay these respects as a lure by Davros, to bring his old foe to the planet he's been hiding on since escaping from the Daleks last season. But… Um… why? Davros doesn't have any real trap laid out for the Doctor once he gets there, just the opportunity to stand around and say 'aha! It's me! Bet you didn't see that coming!' Indeed, once the Doctor has fallen for Davros' ruse and come to the planet, he doesn't actually do anything! He spends that entire first episode walking to the location, then spends most of today just standing around! He blew up a Dalek eyestalk at one point, but that's it! Very odd.

I also can't let today's episode pass without mentioning my least favourite thing about this story - Jenny Tomasin's performance as Tasambeker. I've never really been able to get my head around what she's doing here, and I think today I've simply realised that it's terrible acting! There's a way of over-acting which can work very well for Doctor Who (and, indeed, there's examples of it in this story), but Tomasin is going so over-the-top that it simply becomes a parody, and what could be quite a nice little character study goes completely out the window, because it's taken over by such a ridiculous performance. Thanks to having the subtitles on now, I at least know that her line when killing Jobel is 'to earn his favour, I have to kill you' - because in the past, I've thought she was working for someone called 'Earnest Baber', and that confused me no end!

The other characters in the story work much better for me with the actors playing them. Several of them are, as I've mentioned, somewhat larger-than-life, but I think that helps to give the story its own somewhat unique flavour. Orcini is great fun, and I really enjoy the way that he and the Doctor communicate largely through simple looks and tiny nods throughout much of the confrontation with Davros. Speaking of whom, this is Terry Molloy's second outing as the Dalek creator, and it's perhaps more… ranty than he was last time. Much of this episode requires Molloy to play the part as though he's a complete raving lunatic, but I think it works well enough, and he really gets in to it! It has to be said that while Davros is being shown to us as simply a head in a jar, he's actually quite scary - especially when the head suddenly turns round at a great speed to confront another character!

It's also time for another part in the build up to the Time War, I think. That makes it twice in one season! Davros is here developing an entirely new race of Daleks using human tissue. Could it be that besides wiping out the original Daleks who aren't faithful to him any more, he's starting to prepare for the oncoming war? It's always struck me that you'd have to branch out like this at some point - there's only so many Kaled Mutants left after the war on Skaro, so at some stage, you'd need to start looking for an alternative source of flesh. The next time that the Doctor comes face-to-face with the Daleks, it's going to be completely a part of the Time War, without any need for fudging events a little bit - we're really heading towards it now!

28 October 2014

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

Day 666: Revelation of the Daleks, Episode One

Dear diary,

This is more the relationship that I like to see between the Doctor and Peri. Yes, they're poking fun at each other's weight and having a bit of a bicker, but it comes across more as good-natured joking around than anything malicious. I think it's clearest when the pair are trying to scale the wall into Tranquil Repose, and the Doctor makes a point of saying he may not be able to lift Peri, considering how much she weighs. She then calls him 'porky' in response. It feels perhaps more natural to a real friendship, where you might joke around and call each other names, and I think I quite like that. I could have done without all the innuendo with the Doctor's fob watch, though! This is the last story in which the Doctor is given his very 'rough' persona, before it all gets toned down a bit for Trial of a Time Lord. On the whole, I've enjoyed the concept of having a less-likeable Doctor, but I think they did mis-step a little bit in first giving him four episodes at the end of the previous season (leaving the audience nine months before the next one to muse on the fact that they don't like the new Doctor), and in planning to soften him across his entire era - I think we needed to see more of this incarnation's softer side as this season wore on, just to reassure us that he's the same Doctor underneath it all.

This is also the last story to feature 45-minute episodes during the 'classic' run of the programme. Again, I think it can be a good idea - the 21st century series has shown that - but the production team at this point just haven't quite known what to do with them. In the making of documentary on the Attack of the Cybermen DVD, Eric Saward comments that he liked the 45-minute format because it allowed you longer to really flesh out your characters, but I don't think many of the writers have really done that! Robert Holmes has still been the master with The Two Doctors, and even Saward himself is doing a better job than usual of populating his world in this story (though here perhaps more than ever, you can see him trying to emulate Holmes' style), but I think episodes have largely felt a bit clunky this season. It was most highlighted in Timelash, when the episodes just dragged on-and-on, well past the point when I would have comfortably have liked a break from them. I'm almost wondering if I might watch that story again at some point with the international-style cliffhangers reinserted to make it four episodes - it could fare better!

Thankfully, there's a lot more to like in today's episode than there was in the last few. I really wasn't sure what I'd make of this story - it's been so long since I've seen it that I couldn't remember a great deal. I think I quite like it, with plenty of action going on to keep me interested, and I almost like the fact that the Doctor and Peri don't actually get involved with the main plot at all in this first half. I'd worried that it would feel like it was taking the mick too much, but it's allowed the cast of guest characters to firmly establish themselves before our regulars arrive. I'm looking forward to seeing what it's like once the two worlds collide - I don't think we've ever had so much time setting up the guest cast before the Doctor or his companion meets them, have we?

Perhaps the one slight disappointment that I've got about it is the way the Daleks have been used. We're introduced to their part in the narrative without any fanfare - we simply cut right to some of them in Davros' lair. I know I used to joke about the fact that the 'Episode One Cliffhanger' would be the pepper pots turning up, even though we know they're in it from the title, but I sort of want a bit more of a song and dance made of them. The best Dalek moment in the entire episode, for instance, is as we watch the Doctor and Peri walking off down a large ramp into the complex, and suddenly behind them, right up close to the camera, a Dalek whizzes by. That's actually scary. If we hadn't seen the Daleks in the story yet - and if you didn't know that they were in it - I think that would be a real 'heart skips a beat moment'.

It would also be helped by the fact that we've got Daleks in this episode quite unlike the ones we're use to. Back in Day of the Daleks, I complained that in the colour-era stories, the Daleks always looked a bit rubbish. They're tatty, and broken. The different props have been mixed and matched and put together wrong, so they don't fit. The paint work has been touched up in dribs and drabs, where you can still see the wet patches, and they're that dull grey colour. It worked well for the bleak Genesis of the Daleks, but they just don't have the flair or style of the 1960s versions. But here! Oh! They're white and gold! They're brand new, and I've always loved this colour scheme on them. It adds to the moment when one glides past the camera, because you're almost not quite sure. It looked like a Dalek, but could it be…?

This episode is also home to the glass Dalek, and it's - you've guessed it - another image that's been seared on my brain from reading Doctor Who: The Legend years and years ago, before I saw this tale. There's something so wonderful about the idea, and I love the way it's been lit, sat up on its little platform. Beautiful. I'm sure that a similar creature appears in Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks, and it's no wonder that it's made the jump from page to screen, because it's such a beautiful visual concept.

While I'm on the subject of visuals - how lucky were they to have been hit by so much snow during the filming of this one? That opening shot of the TARDIS arriving on the bank of a river, with the snow being blown around by the wind, and the winter sun sitting in the sky… oh, it's beautiful. As the Doctor and Peri explore, you can't help but think that there really is something a bit alien about all of this, and it seems so perfectly suited to a story that's so steeped in the tones of death. I can't help but think that had they filmed this simply on a regular wet autumn day, it would have looked pants.

27 October 2014

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

Day 665: Timelash, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I don't know if I'm just in a more forgiving mood today, but this episode has been much more enjoyable than the first one was. Even some of the sets that seemed ridiculously bland yesterday have grown on me - and I rather like the light design on the wall of the Council Chamber! Not all the decor is to my tastes, though - the mural of the Third Doctor I could do without. It just seems far too much a fan-pleasing exercise than a good idea…

If I'm being honest - there's lots that I've enjoyed in this episode, but I think the whole is a great deal less than the sum of its parts. Lots of the things that I've liked don't really bare talking about at any length, so among them are the android's voices (and the way that they seem to be so at odds with the stature and shape of the creatures), The Timelash itself (I know it looks a bit rubbish, but an image of Colin being lowered down it on a rope is another one that captivated me as a young fan, seeing it for the first time), the cell that Peri is chained up in very briefly (possibly the best set in the entire story - a great design that wouldn't feel out of place in a German Expressionist film), and the smug look that Colin has on his face when he's ten seconds in the future and gets to push people; he science is nonsense, even by Doctor Who standards, but he just looks so pleased about it.

There's two things in today's episode that really are worth mentioning separately. The first is the make up on the Borad. Let's be honest, it's some of the best make up in all of Doctor Who, from 1963 right up to now. It's a great design, it's been well applied… yeah, it's hard not to like. I think I'd go as far as to say that it's the best thing in the entire story, and it's sort of a shame that it's let down by everything else around it - make up like this would still be the best thing in a fairly good story, so why waste it here!

The other thing I've loved… Herbert! Haha! I've never noticed before, but you wait nineteen years for a real-life historical figure to put in an appearance (the last such instance was right back in 1966 and The Gunfighters), and then you get two in one season! After George Stevenson, we've not got H. G. Wells, too. And you know what? I rather like the way that he's been used in this story - usually, we go in to them knowing who our famous 'historical celebrity' is going to be, but this time it comes as a surprise reveal in the final few minutes. There's loads of allusions to Wells' work throughout Timelash, but I'm not overly familiar with his stories, so I can't claim to have picked up on them all.

I just think that Herbert works ridiculously well with Colin's Doctor, and he's even become another one of those characters that I'd love to see return in an audio adventure some time - putting him up there with the likes of Duggan! I laughed out loud ridiculously hard when the Doctor has forcibly removed Peri from the TARDIS, only to take off and be confronted with Herbert. There's something about the way that they exchange 'hello' before getting in to everything! I love the scene in the first episode, too, where Herbert comes wandering out from the TARDIS corridors to explain that the ship is bigger on the inside… and the Doctor simply replies 'I know!'

Sadly, Herbert getting on so well with the Doctor comes at a price - he's especially awful to Peri in this story. Their relationship has never been quite as pleasant as, say either the Third or Fourth Doctor with Sarah Jane, or the Second Doctor with Zoe, but it's felt in the last couple of stories that they've settled into a groove where they bicker and argue, before they hug and make up, and simply love being with each other. In Timelash, he's perhaps worse to her than at any other time (even when trying to kill her!), and that's also put me off the story just a bit.

Sorry, Timelash, but great make-up and Herbert just isn't enough to stop you from becoming my lowest-rated story.

26 October 2014

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

Day 664: Timelash, Episode One

Dear diary,

Although I try to keep an open mind about every story in this marathon as I reach it, I have to admit that I've been dreading this one. Unlike, say, Underworld, which had a bad reputation, but I'd never judged for myself, or The Twin Dilemma, which I'd enjoyed in spite of such an awful reputation, Timelash is a story that I can remember coming away from on a previous viewing and actively thinking that it had a well-deserved reputation for being rubbish. Ever since, it's existed on my list of 'stories I don't plan to watch again'. Now, this isn't the first time in this marathon where I've come across such a story, and it can usually swing wildly in one direction or the other - I'll either come away loving it because it's better than I'm expecting, or I'll hate it even more because I've spent the last few days being so sure that I would. Sadly… I think we're falling in to the later of those two categories.

Something that's been becoming more and more prevalent this season is that the Doctor and Peri spend such a long time in the TARDIS. In this episode, they don't make it out of the ship until something like 23 minutes through - in 'old money', that would mean the entire first episode stuck in there! It's a trend that's been steadily growing for a while now (especially through the last two seasons, but it started as far back as Season Eighteen), and I think I'm just a bit bored of it. There was a time, when I was quite a new fan of Doctor Who, when the more time spent inside the TARDIS, the better the episode was - I was absolutely fascinated by it, and loved a chance to just look at the console room. Now, I'm not so sure. I'm also not keen on the way that the TARDIS is being set up this season.

Put simply, it no longer feels like a powerful time and space machine in the way that it did right back at the start of the programme, and it's all down to the way it's being treated. In Vengeance on Varos, when the Doctor retires to muse on the rest of eternity being spent in a dying ship, he sits on a garishly 1980s chair, that just happens to be plonked in the console room, away from anything else! It doesn't feel as though it's part of this console room at all (and neither, for that matter, does the entirely different chair which occupies a similar spot in The Twin Dilemma). Way back when, the TARDIS console room used to contain a little wooden chair, and various other odds and ends like that, but they somehow seemed to fit in perfectly with this strange place inside the police box. During the events of The Edge of Destruction, for example, the chair Barbara has to slump in doesn't feel incongruous, it simply feels natural that it should be there. I think the fact that the TARDIS is now less a collection of different elements - different attempts at making roundel walls, and fault locators, and ceiling lights - and more of a white void, coupled with the fact that the chair is so dated by being made in the mid-1980s, really does harm it.

In today's episode, it's the sudden appearance of straps being used like seat belts which feels out of place. When the Second Doctor gets up from regeneration and starts rummaging through a chest in the TARDIS console room, pulling out knives and cloaks and mirrors, it somehow feels natural. Similarly, when the Tenth Doctor does the same in The Unicorn and the Wasp, I'm somehow able to suspend my belief for long enough to just accept it. Here, though, it simply feels odd, and completely out-of-place with the set. If anything, it comes across as an excuse to pad out the running time a little (and I think I'm right in saying that the second episode, at least, did need some padding out with extra TARDIS scenes, so I may not be that far off the mark…!)

All that said… maybe they're better off being stuck inside the TARDIS, because the set design on Karfel leaves plenty to be desired. I get the impression that they're going for a kind of totalitarian minimalism effect - all blank walls and very little to inspire the people - but it just comes across as looking bland. Note how much more interesting it all looks, and how much my attention picked up, when we go in to the… I don't know, 'power chamber'? Suddenly, the lights are down, and they're trying something interesting with the colours. The sets aren't just flat blank walls, but rather there's some detail to them. Even the bland costumes look rather nice when there's some shadow to them!

I've little else to add, really, because Timelash simply isn't inspiring me to talk about it all that much! I'm in the sorry position of simply wanting to get tomorrow's episode over with, so I can move on to something that's hopefully a little bit better…

25 October 2014

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

Day 663: The Two Doctors, Episode Three

Dear diary,

The one part of this story that I've never been very keen on is the Second Doctor's transformation in to an Androgum. It's always just felt a bit odd, and seemed like such a strange thing to do to Patrick Troughton - surely if you'd got the Second Doctor back for one story, you'd want to spend as much time as possible with him simply being the Doctor? Watching it this time, though, I suddenly 'get' it - Patrick Troughton is absolutely relishing the part, and I dare say that he's giving a better performance as an Androgum than he is as the Doctor! He's really going for it, and I can't help but love that!

It's nice that he gets to spend some time with Colin Baker in this episode, too. I always think of the Second and Third Doctors failing to get on with each other, but the way that these two gently tease each other is brilliant, and I'm almost sorry that we don't get more of it. From the way the Second Doctor tells his Sixth self not to expect any thanks for saving him, through to the little jibe at the end about keeping out of each other's way… it's all just such good fun! There's a clip on Youtube from an American showing of Doctor Who in the 1980s, where they have a quick chat to Troughton, and ask him to introduce one of Colin's adventures. He makes a point of referring to Colin's Doctor as 'miss piggy', and it's clear that the good-natured playfighting continues well beyond the screen - I can imagine that the pair of them had a great deal of fun, sending each other up in rehearsals!

I figure that this is also the perfect point to bring up one of my favourite legends about the programme. There's a long-standing rumour that at one point in the 1980s, Patrick Troughton came back to the show and played a monster (possibly only for a single scene during the studio day). I've never known of the rumour being confirmed at any point… does anyone know? I'm aware that Troughton stood in for Peter Davison during some of the camera set ups on Castrovalva, but I'd love to think that he's inside a monster costume at some point in this period! It wasn't that long after this story that Troughton died, and so the thought that he may have made just one more appearance somewhere is appealing!

As for this story on the whole… Oh, I can't help but quite like it. The Sontarans are bumbling fools (but they're rarely anything else), lots of the stuff about the way that time machines work doesn't really tally with anything else we've ever been told about them, and there's really no point at all for being in Spain, but everyone is clearly having a good time making the story, and that enthusiasm is infectious.

I'm also wondering if I can find a way of incorporating this one into my ever-growing narrative of the Time War. The Time Lords are worried about the emergence of potentially viable time machines within the Third Zone, and send a Doctor to help… could it be that it's because they're worried that the Daleks might get their protrubances on one of the crafts? Equally, could it be that the Sontarans don't want the machine simply for the reasons they claim here, but because they're still trying to 'audition' for the Time War (as I postulated during The Invasion of Time)? Or, even, is it viable to imagine that maybe Chasene isn't simply working for herself to take over the universe, and is actually working for some more Dalek-y pay masters behind-the-scenes? 

24 October 2014

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

Day 662: The Two Doctors, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I can clearly remember buying this story on DVD. I was at college, and we'd taken a trip to Cambridge for the day, for some reason. I'd decided at some point on the route down there that I'd be picking up this story at some point, and when the time came, my friend Ben and I slipped off to the local WH Smiths to collect it. I recall this distinctly, because when the time came to pay, I realised that I was a few pounds short, and I remember being overjoyed that Ben agreed to foot the shortfall. On the trip home, I tried to explain the plot of the story to him (by this point, I was fairly clued up on most of the general plots of the older stories), and he was completely baffled by the fact that there could be two Doctors in one story. I only bring this up because it's another one of those weird coincidences that The 50 Year Diary throws up from time-to-time. I've only ever been to Cambridge properly that once. When I travel back home from Cardiff now and then to visit family, I sometimes end up at Cambridge station, but we're only there a matter of minutes and there's not a great deal to see. Today, though, I'm trying a bus across the country, and it just so happens that while I'm watching this episode on my iPad… we've pulled up outside the WH Smiths in Cambridge! The exact shop that I bought this DVD from seven or eight years ago! These little coincidences do crop up from time to time, and they always fascinate me a bit!

Anyway, today's episode. It's all a but of a mixed bag, isn't it? On the one hand, Robert Holmes is peppering the script with lots of his trademark elements, and that' always fun to have. On the other… it feels as though everything is just a bit wasted. We've got Patrick Troughton back as the Doctor for three nights only… and he's spent most of it either unconscious or strapped to a table (at times, both! I'll come back to the Second Doctor in a minute). We've headed off to Spain for the annual trip abroad… and it doesn't look all that much like there was any point. Oh, sure, the Hacienda looks nice enough, I guess, as does the olive grove, but I'm not convinced that they couldn't have replicated this kind of look back home for a bit less money. I think I'm right in saying that before they ended up in Seville, this story was planned to take place in New Orleans, which may have added more character perhaps? Still, I know we venture into the town itself in the next episode, so maybe that will help out a little?

So, the Second Doctor. As I've said, it feels almost as though he's being wasted in this episode. He gets some nice scenes in yesterday's instalment, getting to do his conversation with Dastari, but here he really is kept under wraps a fair amount, isn't he? It's telling, I suppose, that Patrick Troughton can still absolutely shine even in this diminished state, though. His chat with the Sontaran is fantastic, and I really laughed right the way through (of particular highlight was him asking 'tea time already, nurse?' as a trolley of medical equipment was wheeled in, and then commenting that the Sontaran's don't have faces built for laughter.)

Speaking of the Sontarans… I can never quite make my mind up on this pair. For a start, they're that bit too tall to be Sontarans (In my write-up of the species for the Doctor Who: Adventure in Time and Space Role Playing Game, I made a point of saying that Sontaran scientists are somewhat taller than the regular soldiers. It doesn't quite hang together, but it's close enough for me to squint and believe it), but it's really the masks that I'm not sure about. I think they're very good - the features are harder set and more 'militaristic' than any of the previous versions we've seen - and they've lost that heavy eye-shadow they'd become so fond of for The Invasion of Time. But then, the mouths don't really work, with the actor's lips visible behind the sculpted Sontaran lips. That's off-putting. And then there's the fact that the neck-rings seem to have beed just placed on to the costume, and not affixed in any way! There's several shots in today's episode where they seem to just float independently of the body, and that certainly doesn't look right to me!

And then you've got the Sixth Doctor and his companions. I've not really touched very much on the way that the Sixth Doctor and Peri's relationship seems to work - where he's often a bit of an arse to her, and she simply goes along with it - but I think this story shows it up very nicely. He is an arse to her, but you can see that they share a deep bond under all of that. Peri seems to go along with him because she knows that under all the pomposity and bluster (and rudeness, let's be honest!), he's a very good man, and she's proud to travel alongside him. As Clara said recently in The Caretaker, you get to see wonders, and Peri's willing to put up with this guy for those! I think she's the perfect companion for him in many ways, and I always love it when she cuts right through his showboating and brings things back down to earth. We get it in today's episode, where he ruminates on the approaching end of the universe, and then announces that it'll take a 'very few centuries' to occur. Peri laughs this off, and ventures off to find Jamie, leaving the Doctor performing to an empty room.

Jamie is working very well here, too, for that matter, and I'm enjoying the way he bounces off the Sixth Doctor. I think if I had to pick my favourite exchange from the episode, it would be from the Doctor trying to explain his different incarnations to the Highlander;

JAMIE
He's not the Doctor I know.

DOCTOR
I am too, Jamie McCrimmon. I am another aspect of him, just as he is of me.

JAMIE
Eh?

DOCTOR
I was him, he will be me.

JAMIE
Who will I be?

Although I'm longing to get just a bit more time of Jamie with his Second Doctor, I'm glad that he works so well with the Sixth, at least. By the time The War Games rolled around, and we waved goodbye to Jamie, I'd had more than enough of him, and was ready for him to leave. Enough time has passed now, though, that it's great to see him again - I'm glad to have him back, if briefly! I know he was paired with the Sixth Doctor again on audio a few years ago, and I think that might be worth checking out once this marathon is complete!

23 October 2014

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

Day 661: The Two Doctors, Episode One

Dear diary,

The Two Doctors has always felt like a bit of an oddity. It's not an anniversary story, like The Five Doctors, or an excuse to bring back all the previous incarnations, as in The Three Doctors, but rather an excuse to get Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines back together again for a bit of a knees up in Spain. Who am I to complain about that, though? There's something a little bit magical about the way the titles fade into a black an white image of the pair (heightened by the fact that the titles are especially saturated today!), and the story starts off from there. Indeed, we don't even see Colin Baker's Doctor until almost ten minutes in to the episode!

The only issue that I now have, coming to this story having watched all the episode that precede it, is how wrong it feels for the Doctor and Jamie to be talking so casually about running a mission for the Time Lords, and the fact that he's able to pilot the TARDIS so well (for him, anyway). When I first saw The Two Doctors, it was simply The Second Doctor coming back in to the programme after many years away, and that was simply brilliant. Now it's all just a bit… off. I'm not going to go wildly in to the theory of Season 6B (I've never really decided if I like it as a concept or not…), but I can at least understand why people feel the need to explain these oddities away - they really do stand out.

Having had the Second Doctor and Jamie taking up the majority of the tale for the first ten minutes… we then barely see them again for the rest of the episode! The space station is attacked by an unseen menace (though we already know it's the Sontarans), and then we're more-or-less with the Sixth Doctor and Peri for the rest of the running time. That's not a bad thing, though, and in fact it may be some of the best time we've spent with the Sixth Doctor so far. There's something so sinister about the way that the Doctor comments on the work being done on this station 'threatened no one', and being answered by a booming voice, 'it threatened the Time Lords…'

I almost wonder if I would have liked that to come before we spend any time with the Second Doctor? It would be a wonderful hook for opening a story - the Doctor collapses and feels unwell, he goes to see Dastari, finds the station in ruins, hears the booming voice of the computer… and then starts to remember the last time he visited the station. Cue Jamie and the Second Doctor arriving at the station in their TARDIS, and deciding to slip in quietly. There's nothing wrong with what we've got here, but it seems odd to have such a wonderful mystery being set up for the Sixth Doctor while we already know what's happened!

While I'm on the subject of the station - isn't it a lovely design? I really like every bit of it, from the main station design right through to the service areas down below. There's something very 1980s about the style, but it really appeals to me. It also look fantastic when the Doctor and Peri get to explore in the dark, silhouetted against small pockets of colour and light. It's not often that Peter Moffat gives us something this well executed, so it's always nice to see when he does!

22 October 2014

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

Day 660: The Mark of the Rani, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Well… we do have to spend a lot more time in the studio today than we did in yesterday's episode, but we still get a fair few sequences shot out on location, too, where the direction really does continue to be fantastic. It feels a bit like I'm watching a proper drama, with lovely close-ups of the actors, and beautifully composed three shots. I think, if there's one thing I'll be taking away from The Mark of the Rani, then it'll be just how good it looks.

There also needs to be a certain amount of love given for the location that they've used here. I think I'm right in saying that this story carried a dedication from the BBC to the 'Ironbridge Gorge Museum', where much of the story was filmed, and it's not hard to see why. I often find myself in stories like this praising the way that the BBC can build fantastic historical sets in the studio, but this is probably the best location that we've had for a historical tale in ages. I have a feeling that even going off for a holiday in Spain for the next episode is going to pale in comparison!

I'm also compelled to praise the Rani a little bit more with this episode, because she's brilliant! This story makes quite a point about the way the Master operates - seemingly always obsessed with killing the Doctor over anything else - but it also presents the Rani as the character that should be the Doctor's nemesis. Do you remember, back in The Mind of Evil, how I praised the way that the Master was able to control all of the events while sitting quite happily in the back of a car, smoking a cigar? Or the way he moves all the pieces in The Time Monster, sat in a high-backed chair before a fireplace? That character hasn't regenerated into the Master that's been doing battle with the Doctor from Traken to Sarn, that character became the Rani as we see her here.

She's not on Earth with some diabolical plan - she's here because she needs to be. There's no grandiose attempts to take control with robots shaped like the king, or huge radar dishes. She's here, she's set up everything she needs, and she's getting on with it. I also love that when the Master tries to get her assistance in killing the Doctor and taking control of Earth, she points out that she doesn't need to do that - she's already the ruler of a planet, and she's quite content, thank you very much. I'm even impressed by a fact about the Rani that's always left me a little cold in the past. It's said that she was exiled from Gallifrey because she bred giant mice, and one ate the Lord President's cat. It's always seemed like such a silly idea to me in the past, but the way that Kate O'Mara delivers the line is wonderful.

I can't talk about this episode without mentioning another one of the most famous things about it… the trees. Oh dear, the trees. I'm sure you know the story: Luke has been hypnotised by the Master. He's led Peri off to get her out of the way. The Rani has set some lethal land mines for the Doctor. Luke steps on one of these mines… and it turned in to a tree. Later on, a group of rebels carrying the Doctor on a pole also find themselves turned in to a tree… with the Doctor's pole suspended between branches. It should be silly, and indeed, I've always thought of it as being so… but I rather enjoyed it here! The trees don't look all that convincing, and the moment when Tree-Luke swoops down a branch to save Peri from the same fate is a bit ludicrous, but I rather like the actual transformation effect! I think it's generally a result of simply enjoying the episode so much that it can do very little wrong in my eyes!

The Mark of the Rani is Pip and Jane Baker's first contribution to the programme, but they'll be back for a few more stories over the next few years. They've never been hailed as the greatest writers Doctor Who has ever had (indeed, I was hugely saddened, and more than a little offended, recently when Jane Baker passed away and there were some comments on my Facebook News Feed to the effect of 'good riddance, her episodes were rubbish'. Suffice to say, those people no longer show up on my newsfeed), but I have to say that I've really enjoyed this particular story. There are more than a few examples of their trademark thesaurus-needing dialogue on show, but I didn't find it distracting to the plot in the way that I'd expected to. That's another thing to keep an eye on, I think, over the next few stories from them. So as far as I'm concerned, they're very welcome to the programme with a story like this, and I'm actively looking forward to their next one (which I seem to recall enjoying more than any other part of the Trial season…!)

21 October 2014

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

Day 659: The Mark of the Rani, Episode One

Dear diary,

The Mark of the Rani is, for me, another one of those 'fact' stories. What I mean is that I can rattle off plenty of information about it - it's the first Pip n' Jane story, the first appearance of the Rani, the Master's first face off against the Sixth Doctor - but I couldn't have told you just how good it is! I'm watching today's episode on a coach, making my way across the country, to visit family. I was praying that it might be an interesting enough instalment of Doctor Who to help break up the monotony… and is it ever! I've loved it!

The thing which is appealing to me the most here is the direction. It's genuinely some of the best we've ever had in the programme (it's better than The Caves of Androzani, which is the one every bangs on about direction-wise in this era, though for different reasons), and I'm gutted to know that this story represents Sarah Helling's only work on the programme, because she's got a talent that really could help improve the stock of the series.

I think it's partly helped by the fact that so much of today's episode takes place out on location (is this one of the highest film-to-videotape ratios that we've ever had?), and regular readers of the 50 Year Diary will be well aware of my feelings towards film in Doctor Who. There's lots of shots that look simply gorgeous here - beautifully framed - and I'm a little bit stunned by them. I've seen The Mark of the Rani before, but couldn't remember it being this visually gorgeous! I'm just hoping now that I won't have to pay the price tomorrow, and spend most of the episode trapped inside on video…

I've already made brief mention of the fact that this is the first appearance of the Rani in the programme. She's built up something of a reputation over the years for being a bit of a rubbish character, but I have to confess that I'm rather fond of her. I think it helps that this is the serial in which she's given less over-the-top eccentricities, and her plan is half-way decent, too. She's not here trying to impersonate the Doctor's companion, or trap him in a time loop on Albert Square, but rather because she's got her own experiments to work on.

I'm less thrilled to see the Master turning up, and surely this is the most ridiculous disguise that he ever wears? There's something quite creepy about the way the scarecrow's head moves as he watched the Doctor and Peri depart, but then when he takes off the costume (in one of the few poor areas of direction, sadly), there seems to have been no reason for the disguise at all. I can just about buy that he's ended up in the same place and time as the Rani, because he claims to have followed her here, but he seems to have been standing in the field just for something to do on a Tuesdays afternoon!

That said, when he's paired up with the Rani, I can't help but really love it. The way the pair spark off each other is hilarious, and you can't fault the Rani's description of the Master's schemes - ' It'll be something devious and over-complicated. He'd get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line.' The one area which does feel a bit out of place is that they seem to all subscribe to the Gallifreyan Academy's alumni newsletter. The Rani is well aware that the Master's last plan went wrong for him and seemed to finish him off, and they both know on sight exactly what this new Doctor looks like! It must be terribly awkward for him - every time he turns up to a reunion, he's got a different companion in tow, the old dog!

20 October 2014

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

Day 658: Vengeance on Varos, Episode Two

Dear diary,

When Doctor Who was first taken off the air in the mid 1980s, one of the things that was heavily discussed was the level of violence in the programme. The opinion seemed to be that it had reached new and inappropriate levels by this season, and it wasn't acceptable. This particular episode is probably a good place to bring it up, because it features the infamous 'acid bath' scene, in which the Doctor quips about the death of two guards, as they fall to their (rather gruesome) death.

It's often been cited as an example of the programme going too far with violence, but I'm not sure that it's all that bad, really. I think the most objectionable thing about the scene is the Doctor's reaction, when he jokes that he 'won't be joining' the guards in the acid. Even then, I'm not overly sure that I'm bothered by it, though. The same is true of another oft-mentioned scene from Attack of the Cybermen, where Lytton has his hands crushed by a pair of the silver giants. Further than the programme usually goes? Yes. Too far? It didn't make me bat an eyelid, but I can sort of understand not letting young children watch that. On the whole, I'm not finding this season to be any more violent than the programme usually is - some of the deaths in Resurrection of the Daleks were pretty horrific (although that's still from this period of the show's history), but it's no more out there than Harry attacking Sarah with a pitchfork in Terror of the Zygons, of Sara ageing to her death in The Daleks' Master Plan. It's a subject which may well crop up again before the season is out, so I'll make a note to watch out for it.

As for this story itself… It's a bit of an odd one. I'm enjoying it (and I think I've liked this second episode more than yesterday's), but at the same time, it's not been my favourite of all time. I think where it's excelling is still in Philip Martin's script - there's just so much skill involved in crafting this tale, and I'm impressed by it. Martin has written several scripts for big Finish over the years, some of which have been very much not to my taste (and bordering on bad taste in at least one instance), but there's certainly enough on display here to demonstrate the man's obvious talent. I'm particularly impressed with the way that we're slowly brought round to supporting the governor throughout, and it's something that's only heightened by having Martin Jarvis turn in a good performance.

Indeed, the guest cast in this story are really giving their all in every part, and that's always nice to see. Chief among them has to be Nabil Shaban as Sil. I spent some time yesterday praising him as a character, and I can't help but love him even more in today's episode. I'm somewhat surprised by how little he features in the plot - I'd sort of come to think of him as being the main baddie in this story, but he's really more of a sideline nuisance to the Doctor and Peri… and, well, to everyone in the story, really! 

19 October 2014

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

Day 657: Vengeance on Varos, Episode One

Dear diary,

Although the Baker years on the whole have something of a bad rep, there are a few stories that tend to break the pattern, and garner a fair amount of praise. Both of Philip Martin's contributions to the series (this story and The Trial of a Time Lord: Mindwarp next season), are usually considered to be some of these exceptions. I've seen this story before - it was one of the first that I picked up on DVD, but I have to admit that I can't recall it making all that much of an impact.

That said, the story's rather strong visual style did stick in the memory - I commented about the very 1980s hair on display in Terminus, but even that story has nothing on this one! Oh dear?

There's plenty to enjoy in this episode, though, and a fair amount of that needs to be put at Philip Martin's door. The script is filled with great dialogue, and possibly the best description of politics I've seen in a while;

ETTA
What would the next [Governor] do any different?

ARAK
Everything! Anything.

It's just one of many rather nice examinations of the way people in power work throughout this episode (another notable example is the difference between being allowed an opinion and a vote). It's in these moments that Martin really flies with the writing here - and it's some of the best commentary on the subject that Doctor Who has done in a long time. I'm hoping that we get plenty more of it in the next episode, too.

Elsewhere, the thing that people usually point out when discussing this story is how relevant it is to 'reality' TV these days. It has to be said that it does seem to be especially perceptive of the way that TV has moved, right down to being able to vote for what you want to happen, and it really does work as quite a nice idea for a Doctor Who story. My only concern is that I'm not really feeling the threat of the Punishment Dome yet; We've spent a lot of time in the hallucination areas, whereas I'm a vindictive sort of chap, and I'd rather see more of the other types of torture. I'm just not quite feeling the threat yet.

Also a little bit vindictive in this episode is Sil. He's often touted as a real stand-out character from this period of the programme (and he'll be back in Martin's next story for the programme, too), and I'll be honest when I say that I've never really understood the love for him. Actually, though, he's great! I can't help but like him, even when I know that he's trying to cheat the Governor (and, indeed, the whole planet). I'd imagine that I'll be discussing him more tomorrow - because he may well be one of my favourite things in the story!

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