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Roderick Donald

Welcome to the News & Reviews section here at Doctor Who Online! This is where you will find all the latest Doctor Who related news and reviews split up into easy to use sections - each section is colour coded for your convenience. The latest items can be found at the top, and older items follow down the page.

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9 June 2013
8/10a Day 160: The Macra Terror, Episode One

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

Day 160: The Macra Terror, Episode One

Dear diary,

The first line of my notes for this episode reads: 'Creepy opening noise', which I've later described as a 'factory heartbeat', 'cut through by up-beat music'. It's a great opening to the story, with this 'heartbeat' playing out for quite some time before the Hi-De-Hi music cuts in, and it works especially well on audio. Odd though, I thought, that I didn't have a clue what was going on, because no one stepped in to narrate. It was only a little later, when Colin Baker's voice appeared on the soundtrack, that I realised I was listening to the old version of the story.

A quick trip to the AudioGo website soon rectified it, and while the new version of the story downloaded (narrated this time, in full, by Anneke Wills), I had a chance to muse on how odd that opening had been. I've often heard that the original release of the story's soundtrack (in the early 1990s, I believe) wasn't very good, and a number of people got rather excited when it was announced that the 'Lost TV Episodes' box sets contained a new version.

As soon as I'd loaded the updated edition to my phone and hit play again, it quickly became apparent just how much better this attempt at the story is. For a start, having been given a few seconds of the 'factory heartbeat', Wills' steps into to tell us what's actually happening at this point - and it's quite key to the rest of the plot. There's a bit of me that almost wants to listen to the original version and see how well you can piece things together. The narration is helpful, too, once the happier music kicks in, paining a picture of what's going on.

I'm finding that I'm picturing the colony here as being something akin to the village seen in The Prisoner, which would have gone out about six months later than The Macra Terror. Tellingly, and much like Ian Stuart Black's scripts for Season Three, much of this story feels like it would fit in just as well if you were to remove the Doctor and his companions, and to substitute them with the lead characters from Danger Man, The Avengers, or Adam Adamant Lives!. It's only when a giant crab starts to crawl towards us in the cliffhanger that things really lurch back into being a Doctor Who story.

That's not a criticism, mind. Doctor Who is at its best when aping other styles, and Ian Stuart Black is a writer who understands 1960s adventure better than a lot of people. The whole story is tense and gripping right from the off, with the TARDIS landing right in the middle of a chase (and our regulars getting caught up in said chase almost the minute they step out of the ship), and then onwards through a slightly too happy world, where everyone is smiling, and we're asked to ignore the single mad man ruining everyone else's fun.

All the stuff with the Doctor and his friends being given a relaxation treatment is great fun, and it's a sequence that I'd love to actually watch properly. The Doctor stepping out form a machine freshly pressed and looking terribly clean is brilliant… as is his almost instant reversal to being a bit of a scruffy clown. As I've become used to, Troughton is on sparkling form here, and he's given plenty of brilliant dialogue, too. My notes are filled with snippets of conversation, but my favourite has to be just after their arrival in the colony: 'We're in the future, and on a planet very like Earth,' he declares, before Jamie questions how he knows that. 'I don't know,' the Doctor responds, 'I'm guessing.'

Having seen a few full moving Troughton episodes now, I can just picture him playing this moment, and just thinking about it brings a smile to my face.

Once we move into the later half of the episode, and the squeeky-clean veneer of the colony has been wiped away, we're left with the Doctor creeping around in dark streets and building sites, looking out for the only other person who may know the truth. This episode is perhaps the first time we've really seen the Doctor standing back, knowing exactly what's going on, but playing the fool all the same.

For much of the episode, he doesn't seem to have any idea what's going on, but then he drops lines into conversations that betray a greater intelligence. He makes a point of mentioning crawling along the ground (instantly getting the guard's backs up), and again, it's a scene i can just see Troughton playing.

Ian Stuart Black wrote my highest-rated serial of the First Doctor's run, and if he can keep up this quality for the rest of the story, The Macra Terror could be rating quite well, too.

8 June 2013
8/10 Day 159: The Moonbase, Episode Four

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

Day 159: The Moonbase, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I didn't notice it during Episode Two (possibly because we spent a lot more time in the medical wing), but the set of the Moonbase itself is huge! There's a shot early on, where the Doctor and Hobson walk from a telescope across to a section of controls, and they're walking for ages. Several other shots focus on people in the foreground, with others getting on with work elsewhere (it's usually the Doctor, watching through the telescope) in the back of the shot. It's not often in Doctor Who at this stage that you get sets on a scale like this, so it adds something really different to the story.

It's also nice to see close ups being used here to great effect, much as they were in Episode Two. Once again, we get a great close up of Pat Troughton as he delivers the end of a speech, and it really does help to sell the danger that they're all in. Again, it's an unusual look to a Who story, so it's fantastic to see. Hopefully, when the story sees its release on DVD later in the year, with the two missing episodes animated, they'll be keeping to this style - it really is better than average.

The close ups are also used brilliantly when we're with the Cybermen in their ship - which has a great design, by the way! The hexagons are beautiful, and the weird light-effect pattern being used as a screen is psychedelic. Very 1960s! - and they're framed at slightly odd angles, not usually face-on to one of the creatures. I think it makes the Cybermen costumes look better than they otherwise might, as it has to be said that the more this story goes on, the less keen I am on this design. It's very nice and all, it just looks a bit… tatty.

They're at their best in the first few minutes, and the recap from yesterday's episode as they slowly advance across the surface of the Moon. The shot of their feet marching along is stunning - one of the best we've ever had - and having the title come up over it looks fab, too. It helps that there's loads of Cybermen, so it seems like those feet are coming towards you for ages.

It has to be said that they also look pretty good when being lifted off into space. I mused during Episode One that it was perhaps thankful that it was missing from the archives, so we could imagine the shots of the Doctor, Ben, Polly, and Jamie larking about in zero-gravity looking as good as we wanted… but actually, it's pulled off really well here, with the Cybermen! It does help that the black sky gives more of a chance to hide the wires, but it looks great all the same. It's also a nice touch that they're not just whisked off into the air, but they start to lift a little first, before being swept away. A little thing, but it really helps the moment.

And then, as soon as the Cyber-menace is defeated, the Doctor and his friends slip away before too many questions can be asked. It's something that's become a staple of the series by now, even though it's crept in as a relatively recent thing. Hobsons' comment that it's probably for the best, since there's enough madmen in the base anyway is great, and sums up Troughton's Doctor perfectly. He really is the first 'madman with a box'.

I'm tempted to turn on my own Time Scanner now, and see if I'll enjoy tomorrow's episode or not, but I don't know, since The Macra Terror is another of those stories from this era that I know little about. It’s got giant crabs in it. That's about all I can tell you. I do know, however, that the idea of the Time Scanner is a bizarre one - something that perhaps feels more at home in the TV Comic stories than it does on screen. I don't dislike it, per say, but it does feel a bit out of place…

7 June 2013
8/10 Day 158: The Moonbase, Episode Three

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

Day 158: The Moonbase, Episode Three

Dear diary,

There's a moment in this episode, when Hobson comments that if they can't get the Gravitron back under control quickly, then the weather on Earth will be all over the place. I couldn't help but sympathise with that, as I listened to this episode on a walk home in the pouring rain. Does anyone know who I need to email if I want them to change the settings on their weather plans a little, and bring back the sunnier weather?

On the plus side, the darkening sky and downpour of rain really did help to amp up the atmosphere in this episode. Instantly, I realised why I'd always thought of myself as being such a fan of these Cybermen (and the ones in the next couple of Cyber-stories): they have such creepy voices! There's a real metallic drone to everything they say, and it really works. Even when they Cyberman is mocking the crew of the Moonbase ('Clever. Clever. Clever…'), there's something quite unnerving about the tone.

And these Cybermen are cruel. The ones in The Tenth Planet were pretty heartless, to be fair, wanting to suck Earth's power and then convert its inhabitants to Cybermen to ensure their survival, but the ones we're presented with here are really cruel. I'm thinking, specifically, of the moment when a Cyberman is told that humans can't be sent into the chamber, because they'll lose their minds. They Cyberman assertions how long they'd have before going insane, and then declares that it's longer than they're needed for, so it's no matter.

People often ask me why I prefer the Cybermen to the Daleks, and I think that just about sums it up. Daleks have no care for your life, they'll just kill you. Cybermen will get what they need from you first, and then if they don't kill you, they'll remove all your humanity and then shove you in a tin shell. Lovely.

It has to be said that the Doctor doesn't really do a whole lot in this episode. For the first fifteen minutes or so, he mostly sneaks around, playing with the various sonic controls When you take this and also think of his attempt to break a sonic lock with his recorder during The Power of the Daleks, you have to wonder if he's started to think about creating a Sonic Screwdriver yet. It turns up at the tail end of next season, and this almost feels like the early stages of its invention. I know it's not - they didn't plan things like that so far in advance in 1967 - but it's a nice little happenstance.

The benefit of the Doctor being taken out of the action a little is that it gives his companions a chance to shine. With the room to breathe, Jamie is allowed to wake up and take some screen time alongside Ben and Polly. It's great to see more being made of his 'companion from the past' status here again (Ben and Polly discuss the idea of using radiation to beat the Cybermen, before Jamie chimes in and announces that in his day, they used to throw Holy Water on witches… and that's what leads them to a solution!), and being given more of a chance to stand out.

Perhaps most interesting is the slight rivalry between Jamie and Ben when it comes to their fellow TARDIS traveller. It's very different to see two companions falling out like this, almost puffing out their chest to state their superiority, and I'm hoping that we see a bit more of it as we move forward. Certainly, it helps to remind us that Ben is a 1960s Cockney lad, and Michael Craze plays the scene beautifully. It also gives Jamie a great chance to show us that he's capable of standing up for himself, too.

Even Polly gets a chance to be important again, today. Following on from Jamie's suggestion of using Holy Water, it's Polly who comes up with the solution of disintegrating the Cybermen's chest units, with a number of different cleaning fluids. Ben even christens the concoction 'Polly Cocktail'!

This is more The Moonbase that I remember from my first viewing years and years ago. Full of suspense, with the Cybermen being devious and harsh, and the Doctor accompanied by a brilliant group of companions. The more I watch, the more I come to the conclusion that Season Four really is my season of Doctor Who - I'm loving it!

6 June 2013
8/10 Day 157: The Moonbase, Episode Two

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

Day 157: The Moonbase, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Because I listened to the soundtrack for yesterday’s episode, I didn’t get to see the cliffhanger in any way. It gets repeated at the start of this episode, and I couldn’t help but wonder… how obvious was it to kids watching at the time that these were Cybermen? I mean, there are similarities between this and The Tenth Planet’s design - the handlebar motif, mainly, and the eyes are similar enough, but was it a case of them being instantly recognisable?

I always used to think of the Cyber-designs from The Moonbase as being one of my favourites, but actually, I’m not so sure of that now. Having fallen so in love with the design on display a few weeks back, these just don’t pack the same punch. The moment that really convinced me of that was a shot of a Cyberman stood at the foot of Jamie’s bed.

The entire moment is played to shock you, as Polly turns around to see it, the camera pulling round to show us what she’s looking at. It works very well, but just imagine the shock of the reveal being one of the Tenth Planet models stood there, with a blank cotton-covered face! That would have a real impact.

I don’t think the design is helped by having them do things hat really aren’t flattering. There’s a great scene of the Cyberman breaking into the base via a hole in the store-room wall, as it pushes its way through, sending bags of food tumbling… and then we get to watch for a few seconds as the Cyberman stops and starts piling them back up again. It’s not exactly the most thrilling thing they’ve ever had to do. Or there’s the cliffhanger, which revolves around the Doctor finding another of the Cybermen taking a little nap under a blanket in the medical wing. That’s not their greatest moment, either.

It’s a shame, in some ways, because when they are being used well, they’re being used really well. The shot of them killing two of the crew on the surface of the Moon (and the subsequent shot of the two empty suits laying on the ground) is fantastic, and they do look quite imposing when they take the crew members from the medical ward. Hopefully, now that they’re on display to Hobson, we’ll be getting more Cyber-action that shows them in the best light.

All that said… I love their plan. Poisoning the sugar supply. I really wish that I didn’t know that was coming, since it’s a great reveal and a very clever idea. After all these years, that’s the one plot point that I’ve always remembered from The Moonbase. It helped by a fantastic special effect of the infection taking hold, spreading black lines across a hand. It’s an example of the programme trying a special effect and getting it so, so, right.

This is where, lately, I’ve been telling you that I’m not going to bother praising Troughton. Today, though, I think I need to make an exception. His ‘some corners of the universe’ speech is one of the best known moments of his entire era (it’s Troughton’s equivalent of the ‘one day, I shall come back’ moment), and it really is brilliant. It’s possibly the bit of Troughton that I find myself quoting the most (with the right initiation of ‘they must be fought!’), but even I’d forgotten just how great it was.

It also marks another key point in that journey that I was tracing for the First Doctor, in regards to becoming the man that we know and love today. With occasional backtracks, the Hartnell incarnation was pretty much at this point by the time we reached the end of Season Two. This is a great example of the Doctor really laying out the way that he views the universe. Ben suggests that they take Hobson’s orders and simply retreat to the TARDIS, but the Doctor argues that, no, they have to stay because there is evil to be fought in the base.

It’s a real high point for Troughton, and he seems to really relish playing the moment. He’s equally as fantastic during the cliffhanger, when he has to question Hobson about his men searching the medical bay. The camera pulls in really tight to Troughton, who switches to ‘serious’ for one of the very first times. We saw a bit of the serious side to this Doctor in The Power of the Daleks, but this is our first proper exposure to it.

And it really helps to sell the threat. When the Doctor is worried, we should be worried. I’ve grown so used to this incarnation playing everything as a game, it feels genuinely unusual for him to be in this kind of mood. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of chances for Troughton’s clowning around to creep into the story, too, though. The entire scene of him sneaking around in the main control room taking samples from the crew members is brilliant, as he stretches himself up and crouches down in the pursuit of data. Brilliant stuff.

And lets have a hand, please, for Space Adventure, the default Cyberman theme in this era. We heard bits of it yesterday as a cue that something was about to happen, but this is the first time that we’ve had it for any kind of sustained period, during the cliffhanger. I love Space Adventure. It’s quite possibly my favourite of all the music ever used in the series. I hum it when Ellie and me watch any Cyberman episode (It really got on her nerves during Nightmare in Silver a few weeks ago). For a while, it was even my ringtone. These days, I can’t even figure out how to change my ringtone, so it couldn’t be even if I wanted it to.

And now, I’m going to have it spinning in my head until tomorrow’s episode. Sing along with me, now…

5 June 2013
8/10 Day 156: The Moonbase, Episode One

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

Day 156: The Moonbase, Episode One

Dear diary,

Ah, The Moonbase. Before starting on The 50 Year Diary, The Moonbase was one of the few missing stories that I’d watched in any form. Put simply. It’s because the soundtrack is available on the Lost in Time collection, so I think I went through them in the space of a day. It’s recently been confirmed for release with Episodes One and Three animated, but it’s not going to be available until long after I need to watch it, sadly. It’s been a few years since I last saw the story (I bought the Lost in Time DVDs on release, and that was about nine years ago, now), but I seem to recall liking it.

The thing I think I recall the most about this story is that Jamie doesn’t make much of an impact to the plot. I remember at the time thinking that this must be because he was added last-minute as a companion, but then watching The Underwater Menace, where he didn’t feel especially out of place (even if he did feel like he was simply filling a role), I wondered if I’d find myself pleasantly surprised.

Things start well enough, with a continuation of the TARDIS scene from yesterday’s episode, but it’s not long before Jamie has been knocked out and we’re left with him just waking up to mumble from time to time. It’s nice, at least, that what he’s mumbling seems to be tied in well with his Scottish heritage - with a family legend about the ‘Phantom Piper’.
With the members of the crew Who
are left awake for the rest of the episode, there’s quite a lot to enjoy. Being another in the mold of the ‘Base Under Siege’ story, there’s a number of similarities to The Tenth Planet, quite apart from the presence of the Cybermen. We’ve got the international crew (this time, our ‘comedy European’ is from France), A leader Who’s not overly keen on the Doctor (though Hobson is friendlier than General Cutler was), and a number of confined areas that could create good drama. Outside our base of choice, there’s an open expanse that cuts us off from the rest of humanity, with only a radio to keep us in contact (I can’t remember, but I’d not be surprised if the radios get damaged at some point before the story is over).

It sounds like I’m complaining about all these similarities, when the truth is that they work just as well here as they did in The Tenth Planet. The ‘Base Under Siege’ is something Doctor Who can do very well, especially in this era of the programme.

If anything, I think I’m more drawn to this story’s ‘hook’ than I was to the one in Hartnell’s swan song. Mysterious power-drain from a spaceship and the approach of a tenth planet was all very well, but I’m really enjoying the idea of the crew falling ill, seemingly at random, and the idea that there’s someone - or something - listening in to all the base’s radio communications.

I think this episode, much like the last of The Underwater Menace, is helped simply by being missing from the archives. While the Doctor, Ben, Polly, and Jamie all exit the TARDIS and bounce around on the surface of the Moon, I’m free to imagine it looking as good as I want. Were the episode to exist for me to actually watch, I fear that the result may end up looking not all that different to the swimming scene from Episode Three of our previous story.

It may help here that it would be against the black background of space, perhaps hiding the kirby wires a little better than the rocks of Atlantis did, but there’s a danger of it looking not quite as good as I’d like. As things go, it’s a strong start, but we’re about to enter a week or so of episodes existing seemingly at random, as I alternate between soundtracks and the Lost in Time DVDs on pretty much a daily basis…

4 June 2013
8/1 Day 155: The Underwater Menace, Episode Four

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

Day 155: The Underwater Menace, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I’ve been waiting all the way through this story for the bottom to fall out of it and for it to become rubbish. I think it’s fair to say, now that I’ve heard it all, that it certainly doesn’t deserve to poll seven places from the bottom in the Doctor Who Magazine ‘Mighty 200’ survey from a couple of years ago. Let’s make no bones about it: I’ve loved The Underwater Menace.

I think it helps that all the right episodes are missing, and the 50% that I have been able to watch as full episodes is the right half of the story, too. Episode One has to feature the TARDIS materialising on the shores of a volcanic island, and while the tele snaps make it look half-way decent, I think there’s a danger that actually on screen, it may not have fared so well.

Similarly, today’s episode features the destruction of Atlantis, as the ocean breaks through the walls of the city, and rushes in to claim it for the deep. On the soundtrack, it sounds brilliant. The sound of the rushing water is modulated perfectly in every scene, and since I’ve listened to this episode on a train, without the tele snaps in front of me, I’ve been able to imagine it looking pretty good.

There’s a moment when Anneke Wills on the narration describes the giant head of Amdo falling from the wall. In my mind, that looked pretty spectacular crashing into the rising waves. On screen? Well, I’ve yet to look at the images, but I fear it might not have been quite as effective.

It helps, of course, that having seen two episodes, I’ve got a pretty good idea of just how things should look in this final episode. Perhaps the best thing that those two have done for me is working with Troughton’s Doctor. I mused the other day that in my head, all his movements seemed to be based on his appearance in The Three Doctors. That’s no so true, now, and it was very noticeable when he explains his plan to his group of friends.

Again, I’m not going to waste your time by harping on about how great he’s been in this episode, but he’s done it again - knocking it out of the park with his performance. What I will do is draw attention back to Michael Craze as Ben. I spent a lot of time praising him during The War Machines, and while he’s had a lot of nice stuff to do since then, today is the first time that he’s really made me smile. Sneaking the Doctor past a guard, he’s questioned on how they know this is a wanted man. ‘Well blimey,’ Ben replies, ‘Look at him! He ain’t normal, is he?’

This is yet another example of the fantastic dialogue littered through this story, and once again I’ve got notes of seemingly every other line. It’s a real pity that Geoffrey Orme didn’t write another Doctor Who story - I’m crying out for more of his work. Some of the particular highlights from today’s episode include Ben asking the Doctor if he knows what he’s doing (‘Oh, what a question. Of course I don’t’) and the poetic ways in which the destruction of Atlantis get described (‘The everlasting nightmare is here at last’).

And then we’ve got a lovely scene at the very end, with the Doctor and his trio of companions safely back inside the TARDIS, where they tease him about being able to pilot the ship. There’s yet more great dialogue (The Doctor claims that he can steer the ship if he wants to. He’s just never wanted to), and a real sense of bonding between them.

It acts as a nice counter-balance to the start of the story, and it’s the other half of Jamie’s ‘introduction to the TARDIS’ scene. Having the Doctor questioned about how well he can steer the ship seems to have become something of a staple when new companions are introduced. Here, the Doctor decides to take up the challenge, and sets course for Mars. And then the TARDIS goes haywire. How very fitting!

On the whole, I really have loved this story. It’s far, far, better than reputation would suggest, and I’m really hopeful that the recently recovered episode will convince more people to look more favourably on it as a result. Certainly, it’s low standing among fandom currently seems thoroughly undeserved. Plus, now we’ve got half the tale in the archives, surely that makes it a candidate for an animated release?

8/10 0
3 June 2013
8/1 Day 154: The Underwater Menace, Episode Three

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

Day 154: The Underwater Menace, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Nothing in the world can stop The Underwater Menace, now! I have to admit that I wasn’t looking forward to the episode today. Until relatively recently, it was the only episode to have survived from the story, and the one on which much of the negative feeling towards this tale seemed to stem from.

Obviously, today’s episode is home to the moment that most fans know of for this story - the last line, as Joseph Furst’s Professor Zaroff stands tall, centre frame, and shouts ‘Nothing in the world can stop me now!’ (You have no idea how hard it was not to type that in the more traditional ‘Nuffink in ze vorld can schtop me nao!’. Oh dear, I just have). It’s usually held up as a good example of why we should be beating The Underwater Menace with a stick.

What I’ve never known, though, is the context to that line. It comes seconds after Zaroff has shot dead the leader of Atlantis, and ordered his guards to kill two other men (the gunshots are heard, bot those two deaths are off-screen). It’s the ultimate climax to a scene in which Zaroff finds his work threatened, and reacts by taking control of the entire city - making sure that, actually, nothing in the world can stop him now! Except the Doctor, who he knows to be a threat, and Who he knows is still running around somewhere. Slight drawback, that.

I sort of crept into this episode a little, waiting for something, anything, to come along and ruin it for me. Waiting for that moment when the penny would drop and I’d suddenly realise why everyone thought so little of it. If I’m being honest, I don’t think the swimming fish people really do the story any favours. I was surprised, when we first see them in the water, when they’re swimming at the surface being stirred into a revolt, just how good they looked. Some on the rocks, some bobbing in the water… I thought we were going to get away with it.

But then we have to go underwater. I guess the clue was in the title of the story, really. The first thirty seconds o so of this swimming sequence surprised me. It actually looked quite good. Sort of. It certainly looked better than I thought it was going to. The problem is that this scene then goes on. And on. And then, just to make sure, it goes on a little further! Ultimately, there are just too many chances to see the wires - and too many chances where they’re simply too obvious to ignore.

Overall, that entire sequence with the fish people swimming around comes across looking like some kind of strange European film from the silent era. The bizarre soundtrack doesn’t do it any favours, and nor does the fact that I still don’t really know what was going on in that bit of the episode. I was just hoping it would be over quickly so that we could get back to something else. Anything else!

Thankfully, there’s plenty of other stuff to love about this one. The scene in the market is another example of the story going more than a little strange on us, but it leads to the sequence in which the Doctor and his friends kidnap Zaroff - and that has to be one of the best things the series has done in a long time.

From the Doctor gleefully bouncing through the market, calling out Zaroff’s name, to the chase through the tunnels and that final moment when the Doctor blows powder into the Professor’s face… it’s a great scene, and another chance to really showcase Troughton. To be honest, we’re at the point now where I’m not even going to bother praising the man. Just take it as read that I really love him, ok?

What does surprise me about this story, though, is just how quickly Jamie has taken to this business of travelling in time. Just a couple of episodes ago, he was wondering what he’d gotten himself into - coming from four episodes where he didn’t really feature all that much. Now, he’s happy to just get on with things and do what the script requires of him. It’s a bit strange, and I was hoping that we’d see a bit more easing him into things, possibly with Ben acting as a kind of older brother, teaching him the ropes.

As it is, he feels like he’s simply there to fill the generic ‘companion’ role in the script, going off to do what the Doctor asks of him because someone has to. I’m hoping that it might just be a temporary lack of characterisation for him, and that we might see this addressed a little better in the final part, as we move back towards the TARDIS again.

2 June 2013
5/10 Day 153: The Underwater Menace, Episode Two

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

Day 153: The Underwater Menace, Episode Two

Dear diary,

This episode, along with the third part of Galaxy 4 have something of a ‘magical’ feel to them. The thought that they both spent so long sitting in a private collection, while the rest of the world thought them lost makes them seem somehow even more special than any of the regular 1960s episodes that have just always ‘existed’. While the aforementioned Galaxy 4 episode has recently seen release slightly patched up on DVD, this episode has yet to go through any kind of major restoration process, so the occasional break in the footage or dirt on the print really help to add to that feeling of watching something newly recovered.

What’s nice about the timing of the episode’s recovery in relation to this marathon is that this will be one of the first times it’s been reviewed in context of all the other 1960s episodes since its first broadcast, 47 years ago. No pressure there, then!

And, excitingly, it’s the first time I’ve been able to properly watch Troughton moving in the run of The 50 Year Diary! For some reason, since the start of The Power of the Daleks, I’ve been basing all of the Doctor’s movements on the way he behaves in The Three Doctors. To be perfectly honest, I don’t even know why I’m doing that. Maybe it was the last story with Troughton in that I’ve watched? Maybe it’s because he plays his recorder far more in these early stories than in the later ones, and he plays it a fair bit in The Three Doctors, too? Whatever the case may be, that’s the way I’ve been imagining him.

But it’s wonderful to actually see the man. You forget just how much Troughton simply dominates the screen - even when he’s not the main focus of the scene. There’s several moments in this episode where conversations take place between Professor Zaroff and Damon, but all my attention is going on the Doctor in the background, as he fiddles with bits of the set, or looks around pulling funny faces - all totally in character.

Indeed, Troughton is more expressive than Hartnell (and he was pretty expressive himself!), and there are a number of times the camera comes in for a close up on the Doctor’s reaction to really get a point across. The look he gives when breaking the power supply is priceless. Also of note is the little jig - for want of a better word - he does when given some priest clothes. He looks positively thrilled to have been given such an elaborate hat!

I think my favourite moment may be when the Doctor tries to convince Thous, the leader of Atlantis, that Zaroff isn’t quite as sane as they might like. ‘The professor is a wonderful man, a worker of miracles,’ the Doctor explains, calmly. ‘But… have you noticed his eyes lately? When he talks of his project, have you noticed his eyes? They light up like this! The professor is as mad as a hatter!’ As we move through this latter part of the exchange, Troughton makes a point of giving a good, comical, stare. It’s a lovely moment, and one that would be hard to appreciate simply through audio.

The scene between the Doctor and Thous is just one example of the brilliant dialogue on display in the story. As always, the sign of a good episode is that I can’t write my notes quickly enough before there’s something else to jot down - and this episode is a real example of that. From notes on the Doctor trying to explain Zaroff’s insanity in a different way (he knocks on the side of his own head, before dead-panning ‘No answer. Sad’), to mocking Zaroff’s plans to drain the ocean into the Earth’s core (‘Bang!’), The Underwater Menace is a humorous story, and it’s giving me plenty of things to enjoy.

It may not be to everyone’s tastes, and I’m wondering if the level of humour in the story is responsible for that? A couple of months ago, in my preview for Cold War, I described it being ‘a very funny episode’, mostly in relation to David Warner’s character. The first comment the preview generated was someone complaining, sarcastically, that there really wan’t enough humour in the programme at the moment. Any kind of humour in the programme seems to get some fans’ back up.

It doesn’t always work for me - I really didn’t enjoy The Romans, for instance, and that’s considered to be one of the best examples of Doctor Who doing comedy - but in this story, I can’t help but loving the more playful side of the series. The Second Doctor seems to bring a kind of natural humour to everything he touches, so it’s lovely to see it being used so well here.

1 June 2013
5/10 Day 152: The Underwater Menace, Episode One

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

Day 152: The Underwater Menace, Episode One

Dear diary,

Ah, The Underwater Menace. It’s not got the best reputation in Doctor Who history, has it? In the Doctor Who Magazine ‘Mighty 200’ poll in 2009, it came in at #194, just seven from the bottom of the list. Only The Space Pirates is below it from the 1960s, and The Highlanders came in almost 50 places above it! You’ll forgive me if I tip-toe cautiously into this one…

My concern was pretty short-lived, though - because this first episode is really good! We haven’t had TARDIS crew this story is the largest that we’ve had since Ian and Barbara left in The Chase (yes, yes, we technically had Dodo, Polly, and Ben in The War Machines, but Dodo didn’t do a lot, and the others weren’t abducted until the very end), and there’s a real feel of those early episodes present here.

The first ten minutes of the story feature the Doctor doing some experiments on various rock pools to try and establish where - and when - they’ve landed, while the companions excitedly scramble off to explore. It feels reminiscent of anything from Marco Polo, with Susan’s excitement at finding a giant footprint in the snow, to The Chase, with Vicki and Ian tearing off over the sand dunes like giddy teenagers.

And this foursome are all gelling brilliantly together! Right from the early TARDIS scene, where we hear their thoughts about what they’d like to see next (though I only know it’s their thoughts because I’m sure I’ve read it somewhere - the audio makes it seem like they’re just saying things at random. Prehistoric monsters!). The whole opening, with just the four of them carrying the story is great: it feels like such a long time since we’ve had anything quite like that.

As standard, the introduction of a new companion is used as a chance to reintroduce the series for viewers Who might need a top-up. It’s all done rather in brief here, with the main emphasis being that they can go anywhere and everywhere in the TARDIS, and the Doctor comments ‘that’s the fun!’. Troughton’s Doctor is still winning me over somewhat effortlessly, and he’s as fantastic here as I’ve come to expect. There’s a wonderful moment where he saves a slave girl from a spear and absentmindedly apologises, with a wink to her. It’s such a simple scene, but it really made me smile.

He’s perhaps at his best though, when speaking to Professor Zaroff. The professor’s reputation - much like The Underwater Menace as a whole - isn’t a great one. I fail to see why though, as he’s brilliant here. My favourite moment could be when he muses that he could feed the Doctor to his pet octopus (‘yes?’). I think I’ll be saying that more often when people annoy me. On a related note, does anyone know where I can get a pet octopus? He’s nicely set up in this opening episode as being a great scientist, Who was reported dead about twenty years ago. In reality, he’s relocated himself to this unusual civilisation under the sea - Atlantis.

We also get our first introduction to the fish people, Who are one of the defining images from this story. Now, I’m listening to this episode on audio (with the knowledge of how they look), so I can imagine them swimming around nicely in their farms. There’s a very real chance that it didn’t look that slick on screen. They’re often mocked for their design, and while it’s true that we’ve had better in the series, there’s nothing all that wrong with it, I don’t think.

On the whole, I think I’m just full of praise for this episode. There’s a lot more in my notes that I haven’t even mentioned here (From Polly working out what the date could be based upon the Olympics… Speaking several languages, as Jamie chimes in with Gaelic… The intonation Troughton uses when he describes something as being ‘impossible’, which is almost perfectly copied by Matt Smith when describing Clara in a recent episode… The cliffhanger putting a companion in a kind of danger we’ve not really seen in the show before…), but the gist of it is that I’ve really enjoyed this one.

I think it helps that I’ve come to it from a story that just didn’t click with me. Sometimes simply changing to something different that’s more in tone with what I like in the series is enough to really swing my score around. But now, The Underwater Menace is about to get really fun! We’ve now got two episodes in a row that I can actually watch! With moving pictures and everything! Having come from almost two weeks of solid soundtracks (including one target novel…), actually being able to see moving pictures again fees like something of a miracle…

31 May 2013
5/10 Day 151: The Highlanders, Episode Four

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

Day 151: The Highlanders, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Please forgive me. I was weak. The Highlanders wore me down. The thought of having to listen to another 25 minutes of it was honestly too much to bare. I gave in. I cheated. I’ve not actually listened to Episode Four. Well… not properly, anyway.

Y’see, I really couldn’t bare the thought of having to sit through another episode of The Highlanders. I’ve been putting it off all day in the hope that somehow, magically, I’d discover that it was only a three-part story and that I’d have therefore finished it. Unfortunately, as the day wore on, it became increasingly apparent that wasn’t going to happen. Bah. 

Thankfully, I then mentioned it to my good friend Nick Mellish, who sympathised and then commented ‘great novelisation, though…’. That’s when it hit me. There
was a way of finishing this story with as little pain as possible. It just involved the (slightly odd, considering my disdain for it) process of doubling the length of the final episode to just about an hour. I went on a bit of a spending spree on the AudioGo website as I approached the Troughton era, mopping up all the soundtracks that I didn’t yet own. This led to me amassing a number of points on their system, so I traded them in for a download of Anneke Wills reading the Target novelisation of this story.

Yes, yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking. No, I’ve not technically listened to Episode Four of The Highlanders. Know what though? I don’t care! Because listening to the Target version of the last episode, I’ve really enjoyed it! Haha! It took a bit of guesswork to work out where I needed to start listening to the audio (which meant I got to hear the novel’s version of the lovely scene between the Doctor and Polly yesterday), and I ended up settling for listening to the cliffhanger from Episode Three again, before moving into the final stretch.

I’m pleased to report that within about ten minutes, I was fully up to speed. There were even things coming through now that I’d missed in earlier episodes and now made sense. I don’t know if it’s the result of swapping formats, or if it’ Anneke Wills’ spirited delivery of the material (the first time she launches into one of Ben’s lines left me wondering if I should laugh or applaud - but it works!), or if it’s just that Episode Four is the best of the serial, but I was actually enjoying The Highlanders.

I can’t tell you how pleased that makes me. I really don’t like not enjoying episodes. I also really don’t like that it often leaves me with little to say here in the diary, because I’m simply not enthused enough to bother. I think the real seal of approval came once I’d reached the end of the reading, and I genuinely considered skipping right back to the beginning to see if I’d enjoy the whole story more listening to it in this way. Ultimately, I decided that was stretching things a little too far, so opted not to. One day, though…

Surprisingly, for the first two thirds of the episode, there’s still no indication that Jamie is going to be anything other than a one-story character. There’s a moment when the text describes the ‘four fugitives’ inside a barn, referring to the Doctor, Polly, Ben, and Kirsty. A few scenes later, when the action relocated back to The Annabel, Polly and Kirsty are carefully rowing a boat around the ship’s hull to smuggle in weapons for rebellion… and Jamie is described as being asleep inside!

It actually feels a little out-of-place when he jumps off the ship and stows away on the smaller boat, only to emerge a little later as a guide for the TARDIS crew. From there, it seems that he’s just caught up in events, and only ends up going along with them because if he remains behind, he’ll be killed pretty fast (which bodes well for The War Games, which drops him back of here and now, with the redcoats advancing!). I know from later stories in this era that Jamie is a great companion, but for now, he just feels a little tacked-on. A real shame, considering the role he’ll be playing for the next two-and-a-half seasons!

On the whole, The Highlanders hasn’t been a high point of the marathon for me. There were moments when I considered just skipping an episode and hoping that none of you would notice. I’m glad that the Target novelisation has been enough to turn things round for me at the very end, though I’m going to be left with a nagging wonder wether I’d have enjoyed the episode so much by continuing with the soundtrack. On the one hand, you’ve got the Doctor reunited with Ben and Polly, and cooking up a scheme, but on the other… the thought of actually listening to it leaves me cold. And a little bit sick. But - hooray! - it’s over, and with it goes the format of the ‘pure’ historical for a good long time, yet.

It’s been an odd path they’ve travelled down since the start of the series - with stories like Marco Polo and The Aztecs serving as early indications that I’d be enjoying these stories. By the time The Reign of Terror rolled around, though, they’d started to leave me cold. With a few notable exceptions (The Gunfighters, I’m looking at you), I’ve sort of had enough of them as a format. Thankfully, Innes Lloyd felt the same way!

30 May 2013
5/10 Day 150: The Highlanders, Episode Three

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

Day 150: The Highlanders, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Let’s get the inevitable out of the way first - no, I’m still just not into The Highlanders. No, I still don’t know why that is. Frankly, I think my brain has decided that it doesn’t like this story, and it’s sticking with it, no matter what. The fourth episode could be a compilation episode of the best bits from The Power of the Daleks, and I think I’d still not much like it.

Where things really are succeeding is in the make-up of our current TARDIS team. Ben and Polly are real sufferers of the missing episode plague (they’ve only got 13 episodes surviving of the 40 they made, and half of those which survive are with Hartnell), so I’m really getting used to hearing them on audio - and loving them! They still feel fresh and new even in their fifth adventure, and I’m still loving how true to their personalities they’re being. If anything - make sure you’re sitting down, I’m about to praise this story! - The Highlanders is progressing them and helping them to evolve.

It had become almost a running joke that stories would involve Polly being asked to put the kettle on, but here she’s really being utilised properly. She’s been really pro-active since the start, looking after Kirsty (even though they did fall out at one point) and trying to make sure she can get her friends back to the safety of the TARDIS. She was responsible for trapping Ffinch in yesterday’s episode, and for tricking him again today (though, has his name changed between episodes?). It’s nice to see her finally being given a chance to do something - she’s really capable when being written well.

And Wills’ bounces so well off Troughton’s Doctor. There’s a lovely scene in this episode - actually, I think it’s the standout of the story for me - where Polly asks the Doctor is he’s got a plan for them to use. ‘No…’ he replies, dryly, with a yawn. ‘Oh, I know you better than that…’ Polly smiles. There’s a pause. It’s a long pause. ‘Well…’ the Doctor concedes. It’s the first time that I’ve actually wanted to properly watch something from The Highlanders, because you can actually hear the pair of them sparking together.

Ben, too, is given some nice stuff to do (I love the way he asks to read the contract that would basically sell him into slavery, and rips it up in front of the solicitor), but he’s taking more of a back seat to Polly, spending this episode stuck aboard the ship. Indeed, aside from the cliffhanger here, this is very much more Polly’s story than it is his.

Or, indeed, Jamie’s! I really thought he’d have more to do by now. I don’t know quite what I was expecting, but… well, he more of a background presence than I’d anticipated. I maintain that were you watching this story knowing that a new companion joins the TARDIS, but not knowing Who, you’d put your money on Kirsty. Heck, I’d even put more money on Perkins (though only because I want to see the Doctor threaten him with ‘illness’ through time and space) than I would Jamie. What an odd, low-key start for the longest-serving male companion!

I’m sorry to say that all of the praise I can heap on our TARDIS crew still isn’t enough to raise the story in my estimations. Still, only one more episode to go, so things still have a chance to turn around. I’m going to try really hard tomorrow. Promise…

29 May 2013
5/10 Day 149: The Highlanders, Episode Two

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

Day 149: The Highlanders, Episode Two 

Dear diary,

The Highlanders is proving to be one of those awkward stories where I just don’t really have all that much to say having finished each episode. I’ve ended up listening to the latter half of the episode twice, because by the time I came to write about it, I simply couldn’t remember what had actually happened! The answer, seemingly, is ‘not a lot’.

I don’t know what it is about this story that hasn’t appealed to me, but something really isn’t clicking. What I will say is that I’m still loving Troughton’s Doctor, and the way that he feels so different to Hartnell. I commented on it yesterday, and during The Power of the Daleks, too, but it’s worth repeating. I love the way that he bamboozles people into letting him out of the prison, and dressing up as a washer woman is fantastic - and completely bonkers. I have to admit, I can see it wearing a bit thin in the long run, but since I know it does get toned down, I can at least enjoy it now.

Still, as much as I’m enjoying Troughton’s presence in the series, I’m sorry to say I’m going to have to give this one a measly…

Wait, what’s that? Yeah, that is a woefully short entry for today’s episode, isn’t it? Shortest in the history of The 50 Year Diary, in fact. But fear not! I have an ace up my sleeve! It’s time to take a bit of a side-step into unexplored territory…

The Highlanders Episode Two was first broadcast on Christmas Eve 1966 (and can you believe it’s been a year since The Feast of Steven and the middle of The Daleks’ Master Plan? The series has changed so much since then - this really is a programme that’s constantly evolving…), the same day as TV Comic issue #784. This is a particularly important issue of the publication,because it sees the arrival of the Second Doctor in comic strip form.

I’ve always had something of a soft-spot for the world of Doctor Who comics. I tend to count Doctor Who Magazine’s The Flood to be my favourite Who story ever, in any medium (seriously, it’s stunning), and I don’t think it’s hard to argue the virtues of much of that run of Eighth Doctor comics. Recently, I had a good chat with a friend about what we’d each do given a season of Doctor Who to preside over, and I suddenly realised how much all my choices were inspired by Scott Gray’s work on the comic.

And yet, there seems to be something of a stigma attached to the comic medium. People don’t tend to talk about it. When I first waded into Doctor Who fandom about a decade ago, people often talked of the books and the audios - but the comics were the younger sibling, the one no one liked to mention and simply pretended wasn’t there. Even among those Who did accept the sheer brilliance of the comics, any of the stuff from the pre-Doctor Who Magazine era tended to be dismissed as a load of old rubbish.

I always thought it was magical, though! I loved that it presented a kind of Doctor that didn’t really exist on the TV series (‘Die, hideous creature, die!’ etc.), and one Who travelled with his two grandchildren, John and Gillian. It’s an absolute world away from Doctor Who in any other format, and it’s filled with a kind of light-hearted, joyous charm. A sense of sheer, child-like fun. And, let’s be honest, that’s exactly what I need when I’m lagging in the middle of The Highlanders.

To that end, this evening I’ve sat down to read The Extortioner, the first Second Doctor story, and the one which started contemporaneously with this episode. Unfortunately, I’ve been looking at it in a digital format on my computer, rather than in the form of the actual aging comic books (though I did continue to sniff an old Beano book of about the right vintage between parts of the comic, just to give the illusion).

Coming in at just eight pages (two per issue), this strip is never going to be the most in-depth Doctor Who story ever, but it’s fun enough if you just go along with it. The Doctor on display is nothing like either of the two we’ve had so far in the series, but he’s a good enough version of the character, if you can suspend your belief a little further.

There’s also an appearance from the Doctor’s lighter, the laser beam inside of which has apparently saved the day for him at least once before now. It’s interesting to see him using this to cut his way out of a cell, since we’ll be seeing the introduction of the Sonic Screwdriver at the end of next season.

The plot itself - the Doctor arrives outside a volcano. Inside, he finds an evil madman, Who has missiles aimed at a number of planets, and plans to fire them if these planets will not send him all their valuables - can only really be described as ‘comic strip’, but it’s something that I reckon a young me would love to read if I were a fan of the programme on TV. It’s not the best example of the Doctor’s comic adventures (I tend to love the ones where they fight off the Tenth Planet Cybermen with flowers. Very 1960s), but it’s proved an amusing distraction from The Highlanders if nothing else, which I imagine is a role it would have filled back in 1966, too. Having come from six episodes where the Daleks are plotting and gliding around on a planet with mercury swamps to please the eye, this one must have felt like a bit of a comedown…

Oh, and the comic agrees with me that his name is 'Doctor Who', so that's always a plus!

(If I’m rating The Extortioner as a story - and heck, if I rated The Destroyers, then it only seems fair! - then I think I’d be giving it a ‘5/10’. Nothing special, but good enough…)

(If I’m rating The Extortioner as a story - and heck, if I rated The Destroyers, then it only seems fair! - then I think I’d be giving it a ‘5/10’. Nothing special, but good enough…) 
28 May 2013

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

Day 148: The Highlanders, Episode One

Dear diary,

I’ve been looking forward to this one. It’s always fascinated me that the Second Doctor picks up Jamie in his second-ever story, and then he stays as a companion right to the end of the era. That’s dedication! As the theme music died down and Fraser Hines’ voice introduced the story, it felt perfectly fitting.

And then Jamie’s hardly in this episode! Hah! It’s brilliantly low-key, and there’s no way you’d guess that he’ll be joining the TARDIS before the story is out if you didn’t already know. I do wonder if that means it could feel a little sudden at the end, but I’m hoping that we’ll see his role growing as the episodes go by. What we do hear of him is good so far - it’s unusual to have a companion’s first appearance accompanied by a description of his pointing a gun at the chest of a current crew member!

If anything, it seems more likely that Kirsty would join as a regular: she’s certainly given more to do here than Jamie is. I’m enjoying her pairing with Polly, and the way that the relationship is being played. Polly talking about modern things and Kirsty just not getting it is fantastic, and not something that we often see in the historical stories. I’m particularly keen on Kirsty’s assertion that ‘they don’t make biscuits for dogs!’ (I imagine Polly has a small dog at home. Wonder who’s looking after it?), and Polly catching the confused reaction to ‘fillings’ and simply substituting it for ‘teeth’.

Otherwise, I have to admit that I’m just not all that caught up in events. It’s been a long time since I really found myself swept up by one of the historical episodes, and sadly this one isn’t really doing it for me either. As I always seem to say in these stories, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not for me. Once again, it’s one of those historical settings that I don’t really know all that much about, but there’s enough information given in the narration and via the Doctor for me to make sense of it, so I at least vaguely know what’s going on. I’m crossing my fingers that things will fall into place for me as the story goes by.

I do need to mention the latest step in my argument that our lead character’s name (at least at this stage of the programme) is ‘Doctor Who’. Here, he introduces himself as ‘Doctor Von Wer’ (which translates from German, roughly, as ‘Doctor Who’), and when one of the soldiers questions him ‘Doctor Who?’ he replies ‘that’s what I said’. Frankly, his name is ‘Doctor Who’. It is! For now, it is!

As a character, I’m still enjoying the Second Doctor, and he’s still very unlike his predecessor. Pretending to be a German Doctor in an attempt to talk people out of killing him is fun, but it’s certainly not something I can imagine William Hartnell doing. The First Doctor would have simply raised his voice, promised the soldier a ‘jolly good smacked bottom’ and gotten indignant if they tried to hang him anyway. We’ve got another mention of the Doctor wanting ‘a hat like that’ (I’m hoping we get at least one in each story, though I know it’s faded away by later in Troughton’s run) and his playful, child-like side is coming out more, too.

Here’s hoping that the second episode will give Jamie more to do, and capture my imagination a bit more…

27 May 2013

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

Day 147: The Power of the Daleks, Episode Six

Dear diary,

The thing that bothers me most about the missing episodes is days like today. Much of this episode is very action-packed, with Daleks fighting humans in the corridors of the base, and the Doctor weaving and ducking through it all. Anneke Wills tires her best to capture the frantic energy of it all in the narration, but it just doesn’t translate all that well to the audio medium. I think it’d have the same problem in a recon, too.

It’s a shame, because bits of today’s episode sound pretty epic. The Dalek guns firing, cries and screams and shouts from all directions… I’d be keen to see this one properly. There’s a danger that it may actually look rubbish, and only having it in this form is a blessing in disguise, but I can hope it’s pretty damn great.

I did worry that this episode might be a bit rubbish. Having come through five episodes in which the Daleks scheme and plot and are built up as a real threat, with tension bubbling right to the surface, I was fearful that it would all fall to pieces once they had fully amassed and army and set about trying to conquer the colony. It’s been a while since we’ve had a Dalek story like this, where they’re simply trying to survive rather than invade, and I didn’t want the ending to let it all down.

Thankfully, I don’t think it has. True, I’ve not enjoyed this episode quite as much as I did the previous five, but it’s been far from a bad episode. It just felt a lot more like generic Doctor Who than the rest of the story has. It’s telling that for all the other episodes, I’ve noted down reams and reams of Dalek dialogue to mention when I’m writing my entry, but today I’ve not written a single piece of it. I think from the moment they start chanting about conquering and destroying (at the end of yesterday’s episode), they fall back into just being the generic monsters again.

But that’s ok! I’ve noted down plenty more of Lesterson’s dialogue instead! He really came into his own yesterday once he’d had a breakdown, and that carries right on into this episode. Too. The crowning moment of his character has to be the scene where he tries to distract the Daleks, and he does it by cooing to them, in a mock-Dalek voice ‘I am your servant’, before being exterminated when the Daleks acknowledge that he gave them life. It’s probably the best Dalek moment in the episode, too, as it shows them at their coldest.

Overall, The Power of the Daleks has been a huge success. I did toy with rating today’s episode a bit higher, just so it would nudge it into the top spot, but I couldn’t do it without having to reach a bit. As it is, the story sits joint top of the ratings with The War Machines. Maybe, in the back of my mind, I’l always consider this to be just a bit ahead of that story, though.

It perfectly handles the changeover from Hartnell-to-Troughton, from the first episode largely focusing on the aftermath of that transformation, but it not even being mentioned by the end. I was expecting to have some kind of tacked-on TARDIS scene, in which Ben admitted that actually, this new chap is alright. I’m glad they didn’t do that - it works so much better when we’re left to just accept the Doctor because that’s the way the story has gone.

Troughton really is already filling the role admirably, and any worry I had about leaving Hartnell behind has long since dissipated. It’s not wonder that the first ‘regeneration’ was so successful - Troughton simply is the Doctor. The next four months should be a lot of fun, if this is any indication…

26 May 2013

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

Day 146: The Power of the Daleks, Episode Five

Dear diary,

There'a a lovely moment towards the end of this episode where we listen to a good thirty seconds of the Daleks shouting 'exterminate!' over and over, before cutting away to another scene. It's perfectly effective and all (though 'exterminate' doesn't pack the same punch as the other chants we've had in this story), but when we cut back to the Daleks a few minutes later and they're still chanting it, they don't half come across like loonies. One of them then gets a message through to give new orders and there's a moment of it effectively hushing the others. It's quite charming in a way. Completely bonkers, though.

But elsewhere, they're still the best Daleks that we've ever had in the series. They're scheming and manipulative and… so scary in places that that the only reaction is to laugh-out-loud because it's so bizarre. There's a fantastic moment - it might even be my favourite moment in the story so far - when a Dalek is asked why they want to create their own static power, and it replies with a voice growing louder, and ranting, 'With static power, the Daleks will be twice as…!', before realising and catching itself, lowering the tone to a creepy drawn out 'useful'.

These really are Daleks unlike any we've ever seen before. Way back at the beginning, in The Daleks, they were painted as these sneaky creatures, using Susan as a pawn to draw the Thals out of hiding so they can massacre them, and they trick Mavic Chen in Masterplan, but here they're really going at it. There's another scene in this episode where one is laying the power cables around an office, and Lesterson is trying to convince everyone that the Daleks aren't taking orders from him, so the Dalek replies that he's doing what he was told to do, and then calls Lesterson 'master'. If a Dalek could smile wryly, this one would be doing so.

Lesterson himself is fab in this episode, too. The Doctor is somewhat relegated to the background, so we're really given plenty of time for Lesterson to take centre stage. The first half of the episode is based around him trying to convince everyone that the Daleks aren't to be trusted, and he's just hitting stumbling blocks because he was too good at making everyone love them. I think it's fair to say that he'll end up exterminated by the end of the story.

Robert James is turning in a fab performance throughout the whole story, but especially now that he's having to lose his mind. I won't quote them all, but my notes for this episode are filled with snippets of his dialogue - it ranges from cries that the dales are duplicating themselves to a wonderful Frankenstein moment, when he screams 'They forget that I gave them life! Now I've taken it away again!', and it's not long before he's shouting that he's going to 'wipe out the Daleks!'

If anything, this story is making me sad that we didn't get that Dalek spin-off that I tasted back with The Destroyers a couple of weeks ago. Had Nation run the show, but invited Whittaker to penn the odd serial like this, then it could have been fantastic. There's enough going on in this story that I think you could remove the Doctor and his companions, substitute them with SSS agents and it would still be marvellous. Here's hoping that things remain strong for the final part - this could become the highest-rated story so far!

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