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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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25 May 2013

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

Day 145: The Power of the Daleks, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Before starting work on today's episode, I set myself a bit of a challenge. Having rabbited on for the last three diary entries about how great the Daleks have been in this story, and how they're being used so effectively in the cliffhangers, I decided that today would be different. Today, I'd refrain from mentioning the Daleks outside of a brief sentence or two, and concentrate on something else instead.

What I hadn't counted on was that this episode of The Power of the Daleks contains one of the most famous Doctor Who cliffhangers ever. Most fans, when discussing cliffhangers, will have a few that they'll go to as particularly memorable examples - for right or for wrong reasons. Some will call on the end of The Mind Robber Episode One (mostly for Zoe's bum), others will point to the end of The Daleks Episode One, with the plunger menacing Barbara.

Some fans will call on that old favourite from The Dalek Invasion of Earth, or from the end of The Deadly Assassin, Part Three. That one from The Caves of Androzani often gets mentioned, as does the one from Dragonfire, where the Doctor climbs over a rail, down his umbrella and then… oh dear. But somewhere along the line, this cliffhanger tends to crop up. The Dalek production line, with the little plastic toys filling in alongside shots of those handy cardboard cut-outs as the Daleks swell their ranks.

Anneke Wills has said in interviews before now that she sometimes has nightmares about that shot of the Daleks coming down the conveyor belt, and it's not hard to see why. I went back and watched a reconstruction of the scene after I'd heard the audio because, as much as I love the narrated soundtracks, there are some bits of the missing stories that you simply have to experience visually.

The way the shadows fall across the Dalek models as they move along, the lighting really accentuating their shape, as they just keep coming along the production line… the soundtrack spells it out perfectly when it says that the Daleks aren't just reproducing, but mass-producing. It's a chilling scene, and really helps to hammer home the fear that these creatures can instil. I've praised the look of the 1960s Daleks plenty of times in The 50 Year Diary, but it really does feel worth repeating here. Frankly, it's a stunning design, and the ones in this stage of the programme's history are some of my favourites. And look at that! They've got me talking about them again! Terry Nation may have created the Daleks, but for me, it's David Whittaker who gets them best in this era.

So much for not talking about them much today! I can't move from the subject until I mention the way that they act right at the start of this episode, as we make our way out of the cliffhanger. When we finished yesterday's instalment, Lesterson was surrounded by the creatures as they chanted for their power. Having been talked down today, the power is shut off, and the fear that the Daleks cause comes from a totally different place. It's bad enough when they're all shouting in unison, but there's something simply scary about them having to struggle to summon the power for each word.

'Turn… Back… The… Power… Supply…' one of them begs, and it's one of the scariest uses of their voices that we've ever heard. It's fantastic. Having been ordered to back down by Lesterson, the Dalek struggles for a moment before croaking 'We… Are… Your… Servants…' once more. It's so unusual to hear them in this way, and it completely works.

Elsewhere, the story is still chugging along at a nice pace. I have to admit that I'd worried a little at this one - it's the first time we've had a story with more than four episodes since The Daleks' Master Plan (and the first six parter since the Chase, which was ages ago!). I've made my thoughts on the six-part format clear in the past, and on the whole I never think that it works. This is proving me wrong, though! Having spent all this time building up, it looks like everything is in the right place now to really kick off in the final two parts.

We've got the introduction of one of the Second Doctors' catchphrases here (or, at least, one which is considered a catch phrase, though I believe it doesn't last very long) as he comments that he'd like a hat like that. Yesterday we had the first real use of 'When I say run…', so it really does feel like he's establishing himself here. I've enjoyed seeing him spend more time with Ben, though the sailor still isn't really warming to him, is he?

That's not a bad thing - quite the opposite. Ben has been sceptical of all this time and space travel right since the start of The Smugglers, and I like that even after all they've been through, he still isn't quite ready to accept it all yet. I'd worried that by now he's have given in and would just be written as a generic 'companion', but he's holding firm for now. Though, as we stand at the moment, he's now been captured too, so there's a chance that he'll be missing as well as Polly for the next episode. That seems a bit drastic, though, so surely not?

24 May 2013

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

Day 144: The Power of the Daleks, Episode Three

Dear diary,

The problem with a story like The Power of the Daleks, when I'm enjoying it so much, is that I never have all that much to write about once it's finished. It all rather falls into the trap of me simply repeating myself over, and over, and over, etc. To that end, I'd like to apologise - today's post may feel a bit like deja vu in places!

They really are playing the Daleks as a slow-burn here, aren't they? I praised the way the reveal was handled back at the end of Episode One, and the way the Dalek finally spoke at the end of Episode Two, and now we're given another great Dalek-based cliffhanger as the other two pepper pots are reactivated and surround Lesterson, chanting in unison 'we will get our power!'

By the third episode of The Daleks, we were already watching them scheme against the Thals. By this stage in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, the Doctor and his friends were beginning to draw up plans to defeat them. Here, we're edging slowly, oh so very slowly, towards the real threat of the Daleks. I keep waiting for it to fall flat. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I can't quite believe that they can draw the tension out any further, but it's being pulled off with a real skill.

It helps that we're being slowly drip-fed more information about what's happening in the colony. Here, we discover that the guest cast aren't all as naive about the Daleks as we've been led to believe, and that there's several games in play at the moment. It adds a new dimension to events, especially since we know that the Daleks will never consent to being one person's private army. I'm becoming more-and-more convinced that this story could end with everyone being killed - were this a season earlier, I'd be sure of it.

Things like this are all helping to keep the interest levels high. There's so much going on, and all the characters are so richly-drawn, that I'm not being given time to be bored by events. We're still moving along with the story of who shot the real Examiner (thug that's been pretty much confirmed, here, and we're at a stalemate), everyone is double-crossing everyone else, and Polly's been kidnapped. I can only assume that Anneke Wills was due a week off, and won't be with us for tomorrow's episode.

That's not altogether a bad thing, though! The time we spend today with just the Doctor and Ben exploring are fantastic, and the chance to hear more of that is one that appeals to me. He's almost - but not quite - accepting that this is the Doctor, now, so that could be interesting to explore if they're given the time to do it in the next episode. I mentioned back during The War Machines that Polly had always felt like the more present of the 'Ben and Polly' companionship, but that feels less true now that I'm hearing it all properly. Ben is quickly becoming another one of my favourite companions, and it's gratifying to hear him working as well with Troughton as he did with Hartnell.

While on the subject; three episodes in and I'm not doubting this new man as the Doctor at all. It does help, of course, that I know he's the Doctor, and how long he'll stick around, and how often he'll return to the role, but in terms of following the overall story of Doctor Who in order, I'm completely sold. All that stuff during the end of The Tenth Planet and the first episode of this story that made the changeover scary, and something that you wouldn't want to trust has pretty much melted away now, and we're simply left with a new Doctor.

Someone commented to me yesterday that Troughton in his earliest stories plays a Doctor slightly different to the one he plays for much of his tenure, but I have to confess that from where I'm positioned right now, I simply can't tell. He's playing his recorder much more, certainly, but otherwise he just feels right as the Doctor. I've not had cause to question him yet.

As the episode ended, my phone flashed up to warn me that there was only 10% battery remaining, and I listened right to the end of the theme music in the hope that the battery might die and I could make a wonderful (or woeful, take your pick) 'I will get my power!' joke to end today's entry, but it's still clinging on, so I guess I'll have to go without. Bah.

23 May 2013

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

Day 143: The Power of the Daleks, Episode Two

Dear diary,

It's always something of a joke among Doctor Who fans that when you've got a story with a title that ends …of the Daleks, then the cliffhanger to episode one will be the shock reveal of… Dun Dun Dun! You've guessed it. Sometimes it works really well, and this story is one of those times. I praised the cliffhanger enough yesterday, even going so far as to call it the best cliffhanger we'd had since the start of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and now today's episode has gone and topped it!

It's a bold move, still at the tail end of the Dalekmania craze, to make the audience wait this long for some proper Dalek action. We're now 50 minutes into this story, and we've only just heard one of the creatures speak for the very first time (though he repeats himself enough to make up for it). And yet, you know what? It works! If anything, it's making the Daleks here seem like more of a threat, because I'm anticipating a moment when they'll stop playing dead and just massacre the whole bloody colony!

There's a great scene in this episode, where Lesterson is experimenting by hooking up small amounts of power to the Daleks and recording the results. In the middle of one experiment, the Dalek gun goes off and shoots another scientist. It's terrifying! It comes only a few moments after they'd been wondering what the shorter arm might be for, and it comes so out of nowhere that it really did surprise me. There's a real sense of tension to this story that we've just not had with the Daleks before.

So then, when they've finally managed to revive one of the pepper pots properly, it comes along, fixes its eye square on the Doctor, and then announces to the room that it's their servant! I've joked about the repetition above, but it really does work, and it helps to build up the tension. We know what the Daleks are really like, so what's actually going on here!?! We've even been given a handy reminder from the Doctor that a single Dalek is more than enough to wipe out all the life in the colony. It's a clever move to bring the Doctor's greatest enemy back for the first story with a new actor, and it looks like the Dalek's recognition of him may start to swing Ben's opinion a little, but they've never been used in such an odd way before! I love it.

Elsewhere, Troughton is continuing to win my affections with pretty much everything he says and does. We've another scene of him answering questions with a recorder (it's amusing me now, but I'm glad it's not something he'll do for the full three years - it could wear thin very quickly!), and plenty of other humour from him. There's a great moment when he points out that his badge says he's allowed full access, and adds that it doesn't then exclude the laboratory. It's played spot on, and really did raise a smile.

Also brilliant was the reference to China, and the Doctor's vague memory that he'd been there once, and met Marco Polo. There's starting to be more and more of these little nods to the First Doctor throughout this episode, and it feels like they're easing you into accepting this new fellow as the same man. It's interesting to see tis happening as a sideline to the main story, as opposed to getting it out of the way, before going on to do the rest of the plot (Castrovalva, I'm glaring at you…).

Now, it's either going to go one way or another with the Dalek reawoken. There's a real danger of things going off the rails, and leaving us with a standard Dalek runaround. Equally, there's a slim chance that they might be able to sustain the tension built up so far and keep it going for a little longer yet. I'm guessing you can guess which camp I'm firmly hoping for…

22 May 2013

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

Day 142: The Power of the Daleks, Episode One

Dear diary,

I've always found that the events immediately following a regeneration are the bits of that event I enjoy the most. I mean, sure, it's fun enough watching the Doctor take his final few steps and head toward the end, but then you get to start fresh and new! It's exciting! At the end of yesterday's entry, with William Hartnell laying on the floor of the TARDIS, as the picture grew brighter and brighter, I was really, truly, sad to watch him go. Ten minutes into this episode, and Hartnell is old news.

I was worried that it would take me a while to get used to having Troughton around. I've always ranked him as my favourite of the 'classic' Doctors, but having spent so long with only William Hartnell in the role (and Matt Smith, when I watch the new episodes, but really it's so far removed from what Doctor Who is doing in the 1960s that it may as well be a whole different programme), I feared that accepting another Doctor would be a problem. A few days ago, I saw a trailer for Seventh Doctor story Battlefield, and it just looked wrong. That wasn't Doctor Who. For a start, where was the Doctor? My Doctor? The original?

Troughton really does hit the ground running here, doesn't he? With the benefit of watching it 40-something years on, I know that he's one of the best, and that he'll do three seasons and a number of return appearances. I know how good he can be… but there doesn't even seem to be a period of settling in. From the second he sits up in the TARDIS, he simply is the Doctor. Everything he says, everything he does, he's the Doctor. And that's fantastic! Especially in light of the fact that they really aren't trying to reassure you with any of this, are they?

I said yesterday how surprised I was that they were playing the changeover in the Doctors as something to be frightened of, and making it as un-cosy for the kids watching at home as they possibly could. This is carried on completely here into this story, with the Doctor acting more than simply odd… he's really bloody sinister! There's a moment when he mutters out loud to himself 'It's over! It's over!' and he gives a little laugh. That laugh is one of the creepiest things we've ever heard in the programme! It's also a nice counterpoint to Hartnell's line in yesterday's episode ('It's far from being all over!'), which helps to tie it all together a bit.

We get the shot of the Doctor holding the mirror, and the appearance of the First Doctor's face showing up (which thankfully exists among the tele snaps for this episode), but aside from that we're really given very few things to latch onto. This strange little man continues to refer to 'the Doctor' in the third person - even after Ben snaps at him about it - and simply refuses to answer questions, choosing to play on his recorder instead. There's a lengthy scene set inside some guest quarters on the base, in which the Doctor responds to his companions by blowing a few times into the instrument, and it's brilliant. He's very funny, while still remaining very creepy.

I'm also pleased to see that Ben and Polly's characters are still being drawn so clearly as we move into the Second Doctor's era. Polly is far quicker to accept that they're faced with the same man, whereas Ben is still sceptical at the end of the instalment. I'm hoping that it gradually dies away as the story goes on, rather than just disappearing now that we're out of the 'first' new Doctor episode. It's nice to hear the Doctor disregarding Ben, too, as though it's not worth interacting with him until he'll accept that it's still the Doctor in there, somewhere.

The whole episode has been a brilliantly enjoyable experience, and I'm so pleased that I've moved so seamlessly into this new phase of the programme. I was dreading the thought of just not taking to a new Doctor, so it's lovely to find that it's not the case. It helps that the episode itself is a very good one, too. There's a risk that all the stuff outside in the mercury swamp could become a bit tedious, as the new Doctor unwittingly dodges obstacles, but it all feels fresh and different. You just can't imagine Hartnell doing that scene. It's strange that it should feel so far removed from the programme I've been watching since January, but introducing Troughton really does make a difference. It probably helps that I'm listening to this on audio, and while I've the tele snaps of the swamp to guide me, I can imagine it as I like. It's orange in my head, since you ask. Always has been, since the very first time I saw that image of the Doctor walking along, reading from his diary.

And then there's the final scene, as the Doctor and his companions make their way inside the capsule and come face-to-face with the Daleks. It's helped by Anneke Wills' narration on the soundtrack, as she described Polly and Ben deftly sneaking along behind the Doctor, who doesn't even turn round as he utters the first line to be spoken in minutes - 'Polly… Ben… Come in and meet the Daleks…'

The tele snaps for this sequence makes it look gorgeous, too, with the cobwebs hung between the dead (?!) Daleks and the real sense of gloom that fills the scene. There's a great shot of Troughton close up as he inspects one, and it simply looks beautiful. Then we've got the realisetion that we're missing one of the creatures, and a real look at a Dalek mutant for the first time. I think, if I'm being totally honest, this might be the best Dalek-related cliffhanger since the lone creature rising from the waters of the Thames a full two seasons ago.

A great start - even better than I could have ever hoped for!

21 May 2013

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

Day 141: The Tenth Planet, Episode Four

Dear diary,

Of all the Doctor Who episodes missing from the BBC's archive, The Tenth Planet Episode Four probably has the most mythical status. It's the one in which William Hartnell changes into Patrick Troughton, of course, but it's also one of those odd ones where we can't very easily trace when the tape went missing. There's no definitive record of its destruction, just the fact that it stopped being around after a certain point.

As I've said, I've never watched The Tenth Planet, so I've never known how justified the status of this episode was. It has to be said that - regeneration aside - there's not a lot in here to make it really stand out from any other episode of the programme around this time. It's quite good, don't get me wrong, but there's nothing all that amazing about it until the final few minutes.

I've always been aware of the resolution to the story - that Mondas ultimately absorbs too much of Earth's power and blows itself up. That's really not the important thing about the story, though. This is often talked about as the very first 'Base Under Siege' tale (something that will be cropping up a lot more in the next four months of this blog!), and that really is the best way to describe it. The appearance of Mondas in the skies, the absorption of power, the Cybermen landing globally, all of that takes second place to the crew of the Snowcap base, and watching them fight off wave after wave of attackers.

It's nice that the Z-Bomb which has been so important since around Episode Two is used as a vital part of keeping our Mondasian friends at bay in this final episode, and I'm sure that the sight of a Cyberman creasing up in pain as he enters the radiation room would have been fantastic. The tele snaps unfortunately miss the shot of his demise (though we do get a great close up of the creature's face), but everything around it looks great.

I really have been won over to the design of the Cybermen throughout this tale, and the shots of them that we do have hear continue to make them look fantastic. There's the one moment when a Cyberman on the radio from Geneva seems to be singing all his lines, but I think I can just about overlook that. Finally, I understand why everyone is always so full of praise for them! On the one had, I'm now quite sorry that they only appear in this one story, but on the other, it gives them a certain charm. They're what William Hartnell's Cybermen looked like.

Now obviously, the thing that gets the most attention in this episode is always going to be the transformation between the First and Second Doctors. I've seen the actual change hundreds of times over the years, but this is the first time that I've ever watched the events leading up to it. The whole thing is played as being very sinister - the Doctor's cryptic mumbling is especially unnerving. 'It's all over,' he slurs, 'that's what you said. But it isn't. It's far from being all over!'. It really is an odd sequence, and no attempt is made to have this as a comforting change over between the two actors. The entire thing is played as a new kind of threat, and worthy of a cliffhanger because it's scary, not simply because it's what we'd now call a 'regeneration'.

I'm really pleased that the change is filtered in right from the start of this story, with the Doctor commenting early on that his body seems to be wearing a bit thin. It makes it all the more rewarding when you know what's coming, and saves it from just being something bolted on to the end of the story. I'll be offering up more general thoughts about William Hartnell's tenure in my 'overview' post (which you should find just above this one in the Doctor Who Online news feed), but I'll say here that I genuinely am sorry to see him go.

21 May 2013

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

Day 141 Extra: The First Doctor Overview

Dear diary,

Well this feels strange. Posting two diary entries in one day. Am I not all written-out, yet? Those of you who've already read today's regular blog entry (which should be immediately below this post on the DWO news page) will have already seen me reach the end of the William Hartnell era of Doctor Who. I figured that it was fitting, at the end of this first stage, to take a look over the first 141 days of the marathon as a whole, and collate some of my thoughts, before I dust myself down tomorrow, and venture into the Troughton era.

In the sidebar to the right of this entry, you should see an image, with a little 'enlarge' button underneath it. If you click on there, you'll be able to properly ready a list of average scores for the First Doctor stories, listed from the lowest ranking (The Space Museum, in case you hadn't picked up on my natural lack of affinity for it) through to the highest (The War Machines, a fact which surprised even me, frankly).

Do note that on the list, I've omitted Farewell, Great Macedon and The Destroyers, because it wasn't ever actually broadcast, and I've lumped both The Destroyers and (controversially) Mission to the Unknown together as being part of a Dalek spin-off, so I've not counted either of those, either.

During the blog posts for the first season, I used to work out the story average and post it during the final episode of each tale. I stopped doing that from Planet of Giants, mostly because I didn't want to know. I liked the idea of reaching this stage, and seeing how the era rates as a whole. What surprises me is how much some stories I thought I'd really hated have actually averaged out with fairly respectable scores.

I think what's surprised me most is the way that the averages per season have worked out. At the time, it felt like Season Two was a real slog, and that I just didn't enjoy it. As it happens, though, it's come out with an average score of 6.4. That still places it in the last place of the first three seasons (I'm discounting Season Four, since we're only a few episodes in), but it's only barely behind Season One (6.5) and not all that far behind Season Three (6.8). When you throw The Smugglers and The Tenth Planet into the mix, the First Doctor's era averages out at a very respectable 6.5 - placing it smack-bang between 'Above Average' and 'Well Above Average' on the ratings chart I posted way back on Day Four.

Right from the start, the main thing that I wanted out of this marathon was a real connection to the classic series. Over the last ten years, I've found that while I really enjoy the early Doctors, I've never been able to develop any kind of meaningful relationship with either them or the companions of the era. The way I explained it to a friend recently is that when Catherine Tate returned to the series in Partners in Crime, and then remained with it for another twelve consecutive episodes, shown one a week, I built up a proper connection the the character.

When Donna leaves at the end of Journey's End, it's emotional because I'd grown to love the character over the course of that season. I really cared for her, and once she was gone, that was it. I'd seen all of her episodes. The classic series, though, possibly sue to the way that the DVD have been released over the years, has always felt a bit more… interchangeable for me. I know that Sarah Jane Smith joins in The Time Warrior and leaves in The Hand of Fear, and I can pick up any one of her adventures from between those two. But equally, I can watch Death to the Daleks, and then head off to watch Time and the Rani or something.

I wanted to see if watching the series at a set pace - a single episode each day - would help me to form the kind of connection to the old characters that I do with the current ones. Thankfully, the answer is that yes, it does.

It's not always in ways that I've expected, either. From dipping in and out of stories, I'd always regarded Ian and Barbara really highly. I thought the pair were fantastic, and rated them quite highly in my list of favourite companions. When it came to actually spending the time with them from their first episode to their last… I was sick of them! By the time The Chase rolled around, they couldn't leave quickly enough. Conversely, Steven Taylor - a companion I'd never really given much thought to - left before I wanted him to! I'd happily have had a few more episodes with him.

Perhaps the biggest success, though, has been William Hartnell as the Doctor. I'd seen enough of his era in the past to know that I liked the First Doctor, and that I enjoyed his era of stories. He was just one of the 'old' Doctors, though. I could dip in and out and mix his stories with any number of others. There wasn't time to form any kind of attachment. Having now spent 141 days with him, though, I don't really want him to go.

There's been a bit of a back-and-forth going on in my head this last week or so, as I alternate between excitement for Troughton's arrival (I've always thought of him as my favourite classic Doctor), and sadness for the departure of Hartnell. I think now, having reached the moment of the changeover, I'm back in the excited camp. The thing is, I never expected to find myself this attached to the First Doctor, and I'm thrilled, because I feel like I've gotten more from his era by experiencing it in this way.

On the whole, Doctor Who's first three seasons seem to be the most inventive, and wide-reaching ever produced. The budgets are tight, the studios are cramped, every episode tries to do something that they're just not quite capable of… but they pull it off. It's been a pleasure to watch through, and I've never thought higher of this era.

Now, though, it's time to pull out a recorder, don a large hat, and move forward into the Troughton era. I'm excited, for this stage of the blog, to see if he comes out as my favourite still, when I'm watching him in order like this. I don't doubt that it's going to be tricky - with this many missing episodes to wade through - but if it gives me anything like the appreciation for the era that the last 141 days have for Hartnell… I'm in for a real treat.

Now, though, it's time to pull out a recorder, don a large hat, and move forward into the Troughton era. I'm excited, for this stage of the blog, to see if he comes out as my favourite still, when I'm watching him in order like this. I don't doubt that it's going to be tricky - with this many missing episodes to wade through - but if it gives me anything like the appreciation for the era that the last 141 days have for Hartnell… I'm in for a real treat. 
20 May 2013

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

Day 140: The Tenth Planet, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Regular readers will know that it’s not just 1960s Doctor Who that I’ve got an interest in, but television from that period in general. Anything from the resumption of broadcasts after the Second World War up to about the end of the 60s is the era of television that takes up the most space on my DVD shelves. Either side of the pond will do me: I’m just as happy to sit down in front of an episode of I Love Lucy or The Honeymooners as I am anything made on these shores.

But the best thing about British TV in this era – for a Doctor Who fan, at least – is spotting those actors that you know from the TARDIS turning up in other things. The Avengers is great for this. Nicholas Courtney turns up in the episode Propellant 23, broadcast just over a year before the start of Doctor Who. While the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan were busy convincing the Thals to take a stand and invade the Dalek city, current companion Anneke Wills was playing the part of Jane Wentworth, dressed as a pussy cat, in the episode Dressed to Kill.

Just a few episodes later and, oh look, it’s Barry Letts’ turn to take a role in the programme. We’ll be hearing more about Letts cropping up in this diary a few months from now. Letts’ Doctor, Jon Pertwee, turns up in the programme in 1967, and the final season in 1969 contains an episode starring both Roger Delgado and Kate O’Mara. It’s a Rani and Master team-up, 16 years early! Even Peter Cushing stars in the episode Return of the Cybernauts! In some parallel world, that’s the title of a Doctor Who episode starring Cushing as human inventor Dr. Who, after his series of movies transferred to TV.

It’s not just Doctor Who actors that turn up in the programme, of course, and it’s just as great when the likes of John Le Mesurier or Penelope Keith are a part of the cast, but there’s a special kind of thrill in seeing these actors you know so well from the world of Doctor Who appearing in something else, usually long before they arrive in our favourite sci-fi show.

Occasionally, as I’ve been watching through this marathon, I’ve taken a bit of a detour in my own time, to watch other programmes from the same week. I’ve dipped in to all-sorts as I’ve gone along, but I don’t tend to mention them here on the blog because, well, you’re here on Doctor Who Online to read about Doctor Who. You’re probably not all that interested in my thoughts on an episode of Coronation Street from mid-1964.

Today, though, I’ve got to mention my detour. A couple of nights ago, having finished up my entry for The Tenth Planet, Episode One, I sat and watched an episode of Adam Adamant Lives! broadcast 8th October 1966 (the Thursday between Tenth Planet One and Two). It’s important because in a small role at the start of the episode, we’ve got TV character actor Patrick Troughton. It’s interesting to see him here, so close to taking on the part of the Doctor. The filming dates aren’t as close together as the broadcast ones are (the episode, D For Destruction, was filmed early September, so about six weeks or so before work began for him on Who), but I think I’m right in saying that this will have been one of the last things broadcast starring him before the regeneration occurred.

I’ve been holding off on watching this episode for a while, now, because I was keen to see it in context of my Doctor Who marathon, and I was hoping I’d have a lot of interesting stuff to say about his performance, and the way it ties in with his time in the TARDIS. As it is, though, he only appears for the first five minutes or so, before disappearing from the rest of the story (though a main character for the remainder is played by Ian Cuthbertson, another alumni of The Avengers, and who will be turning up in Doctor Who about a year from now in my marathon for a role in The Ribos Operation).

The other problem comes from the fact that, having spent the last five months making my way through the First Doctor era of the programme, trying to pin-point the way Troughton plays the part seems impossible! I’m going to be keeping it in mind, though, and hopefully I’ll be able to raise some interesting points about the performances in a few days time, once Troughton has actually taken over.

What was more startling to me, though, watching this episode last night, is how similar Polly Wright is to the character of Georgina Jones in Adam Adamant Lives!. Georgina is the equivalent of the companion in that series, and can only be describes as being ‘fab’. Visually, there’s a striking resemblance between the pair, and she even wears a similar hat in this episode to the one Polly was sporting at the end of The War Machines.

Polly’s first appearance in Doctor Who came just two days after the first episode of Adam Adamant Lives! had appeared on screen back in June – I think it certainly says something about the feel of 1966. Polly and Georgina are both trendy young girls, who find excitement getting caught up in adventure. At this point, Polly (and Ben) are just along for the ride, though they're both growing to enjoy life with the Doctor.

I did wonder what this episode would feel like, being without the Doctor and the first story to really feature the 'Base Under Siege' format, I thought it may end up just being a bit of a runaround, with little actually happening. That's why I've saved my thoughts on the Adam Adamant Lives! episode for today - I figurers there was plenty to talk about for yesterday's episode without chucking all that in.

As it happens, though, there's lots and lots I could talk about from today anyway! I'll skim over much of it quickly, to focus on just one point. So, in brief: The Cybermen look fantastic as they move slowly through the blizzard. The 'massacre' of them by their own weapons is also quite effective. I'm absolutely converted to these Cybermen, now. They're lovely. It's nice to see the first use of a ventilation shaft in the series as a way of transporting a companion from 'A' to 'B', even though it's massive! At one point, Barclay announces that he'd never be able to fit through the ventilation shaft. You'd fit a fully-grown Krynoid down that!

The thing that really strikes me, though, is the addition of General Cutler's son to the story. He was introduced late in yesterday's episode, and to begin with I was a little weary of it. In some ways, it felt like the story was trying to have its cake and eat it - you get the shock of 'Zues IV' being blown up, but then they can carry on with the 'we have to get the spaceship back down to Earth' story, because they've sent another one up. As it happens, though, this part of the story becomes one of the most interesting now. It's not often in Doctor Who, at least at this stage in its life, that we see something like this happen. A justification for the base's commander to be behaving so ruthlessly. Here, though, it adds a whole other layer to the idea, and when Cutler throws Ben over the railings, having found him tampering with the rocket, it's all the more believable, because of his personal stake in the situation. It's really great to see this being added, and I'm hoping that there's more like it to come in the future.

19 May 2013

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

Day 139: The Tenth Planet, Episode Two

Dear diary,

When people talk about the Cybermen - and, more specifically, about the designs of the Cybermen - the versions seen here in The Tenth Planet always seem to crop up. They appear quite high on the list of 'favourite designs' among many of my friends who are fans of the show. When this design cropped up on the cover of The Silver Turk (one of the Big Finish Eighth Doctor audios) a few years ago, people were falling over themselves with excitement.

Maybe it's because I'm used to everyone banging on about how great this version is that I've never really been able to see it myself. They look pretty good, I guess, but I've just never had that kind of love that other fans seem to hold for these ones. It's perhaps telling that in my Cardiff flat, the Cyberman action figure I keep on display is one from Earthshock (for some reason, beside a Cybermat from Revenge…), and I've got a version from Tomb in a box here somewhere, too. The Tenth Planet figure is in a box way back home in Norwich. That toy, much like this design of Cyberman, is considered 'one of the best', but again, I've never really got it.

It probably didn't help, then, that while I was watching this episode, I had Ellie with me. She wasn't actually paying all that much attention to Doctor Who - to tell the truth, she was the other side of the flat, doing a puzzle - but she was in the room all the same. I'd banged on while we had dinner about why the episode I was watching tonight was a very important one, but I think she was trying to block out most of it. She wasn't able to ignore it, though, when the first Cyberman began to speak. I won't repeat what was said (this is a well-mannered website!), but suffice to say she wasn't impressed with either the design or the voice.

As I watched on, wondering why people always pointed to these as their favourite Cyber-design, I started to really be swayed by the tone of the voices, and the way that the eyes look actually dead when the Cybermen have their mouths open. I found myself starting to find them quite menacing, and the way that they're shot as the enter the base (the way Hartnell follows their legs as they move along a platform is gorgeous) started to really stoke a chord with me. Just as I was starting to realise all the things people love about them, Ellie piped up again. 'Actually,' she announced, 'they sound better like this. It's more enjoyable to listen to'. Hah! Didn't want to watch Doctor Who, but can't help listening along anyway. I must be doing something right.

By the end of the episode, I was completely sold. The reason people love the Tenth Planet Cybermen so much is that, in the actual episodes, they really are fantastic. I'm really hoping that tomorrow I'll find myself falling even further in love with them, but yeah, suffice to say that they've won me over pretty darn quick.

The first (proper) appearance of the Cybermen isn't the most important thing about today's episode, though. At least not by the standards of this marathon. William Hartnell doesn't appear in tomorrow's edition, because he was too unwell to take part. Episode Four of the story doesn't exist in the archives (save for a few brief clips and - mercifully - the actual regeneration itself), which means that I'll be listening to the narrated soundtrack of that one to round out the story… and the First Doctor's era. That means that today is the last time that I get to see William Hartnell take part in a full episode.

(He'll turn up as a cameo in The Three Doctors later in the year, but this is his last proper appearance for me. I'll discuss more about his time in full after Episode Four, in a special 'First Doctor Overview' post, so I'm not going to be getting all nostalgic for his time here and now. All the same, I couldn't let this moment pass without saying something.)

It's a good job, then, that he gets a pretty good part to sink his teeth into here. The Doctor is on fine form, ordering around members of the base, taking quiet satisfaction when he's proved right and no one has believed him, and giving one of the more famous speeches from his era. 'The emotions! Love! Pride! Hate! Fear! Have you no emotions, sir?' is one of those First Doctor moments that fans just know. It's up there with the whole 'One day, I shall come back' speech, and quite rightly so.

18 May 2013

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

Day 138: The Tenth Planet, Episode One

Dear diary,

RIght then! Here we are! The Tenth Planet! Arguably one of the most important stories in the entire, 50-year history of Doctor Who. Not only is it responsible for the introduction of the Cybermen - who, I'd argue, are one of the most recognisable monsters from the programme, up there with the Daleks - but also the first story to change from one incarnation of the Doctor into another. Without this story, the history of the show could have gone very differently.

And you know what? I've never seen it. Thinking about it now, I'm not quite sure why I've never seen it. I've owned the VHS for almost a decade now, but when I came to watch it today, I had to actually unwrap the tape. That felt novel. It's been a good few years since I've had to unwrap the plastic on a VHS tape. Im sure there's been several occasions over the years where I've sat down with the intention to watch it, but for one reason or another, I've simply never made it through to even starting on the story.

Still, for me here and now on the 138th day of this marathon, it's a good thing that I've never seen the story before. It feels strange to be so far through that I'm almost out of William Hartnell-era Doctor Who, and I'm glad that the last Hartnell story I'll see is the last Hartnell story. It would have been a shame to go out on The Smugglers or something.

So, another story and another new way of doing the titles. Here, they appear on screen following a jumble of letters. It's another attempt to be futuristic and represent computers, as in The War Machines, but here the title and the letters are overlaid to shots of technical equipment, and follow on from a shot of a rocket taking off. It's a different setting to open in, but it works.

More and more lately (since the early part of Season Three) tracking shots that end with the TARDIS materialising have become fairly common. That's not a complaint - they're always done well, and it looks fantastic appearing into the snow-swept landscape on show here. It's also nicely led in following discussion of looking out through the periscope of the base. It's a shame that the inside of the TARDIS isn't really looking up to much at the moment. The doors are the most noticeably damaged bit, with the backs of the top roundels sitting lower than they should, leaving a very obvious gap on the set. It's very noticeable in some shots from The Smugglers of the Doctor and his companions in the ship, and it's a shame to see the same is true of the actual episodes themselves.

Stepping outside, the snow effect really works for the most part. It's at its best during some close-up shots of the regulars, where the thickness of it really does help to sell the effect. It probably helps that because I'm watching on a VHS, with less of a polish that the DVD will have later this year, things are looking a bit rough round the edges - some of the less-well-realised parts of the snow are probably covered up a little.

Elsewhere, many of the effects on show come across as looking a bit like a 1950s B-movie. When the Doctor and friends crowd round a screen and watch as the mysterious Tenth Planet approaches (and just how fast is it spinning? Malaysia comes around twice in about a minute!) it looks pretty hokey. A shame, because I'd have loved this to be the stand-out shot from the episode. In many ways, it feels like a step backward, and I imagine I'd be more forgiving of the effect had it occurred back in Season One. Coming now, though, after stories like The Ark have pulled off better effects as if they were child's play, it's disappointing.

I'll discuss the Cybermen properly tomorrow, once they've fully arrived in the story, but I can't go by without mentioning today's cliffhanger. It's one of those moments that most fans of the series have seen in one shape or another, as the silver giant turns around, pulls off the cloak and kills a couple of guards. It's a striking moment, and easily becomes the best part of the episode. There's a great, lingering close-up on the Cyberman's face, really making sure that the image has bled into your brain for the next week, while you wait to find out what on Earth it is…

17 May 2013

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

Day 137: The Smugglers, Episode Four

Dear diary,

At the end of all that, Polly has really settled into the idea that they're trapped on the TARDIS from now on. Having retreated back to the ship, she asks the Doctor wether they'll be going forwards or backwards in time next, and it serves as another opportunity for the Doctor to remind us that he has no control over where - or when - they land. Thankfully, Ben does chip in with the hope that it's 1966: I'd worried that we'd see that just swept under the carpet now that they've had a full adventure away from their own time.

Much like The Savages, this is a story that tends to be forgotten when I think about the early years of Doctor Who. It's the penultimate one of the Hartnell era, but it doesn't really have anything all that special about it to help make it stand out from the crowd. At lest The Savages has Steven departing from his life in the TARDIS. While I've enjoyed listening to the story more than I might have expected to, I think it's destined to sink back into that state of simply being forgotten as part of the overall picture.

There's nothing much in here to really latch onto. Most of this episode is spent with people simply talking at each other, and then there's the occasional fight to break things up a little. It doesn't help that by the time we'd reached this episode, I'd pretty much forgotten who most of the characters were, and I'd lost track of who was meant to be the bad guy, and who was the good one - especially by the end when the Doctor's newfound 'moral obligation' means that he's determined to help the Squire, who I think was being treated as something of an enemy a few days ago?

In the end, I turned to Jonathan Morris' handy guide in the recent tele snaps special, but even that didn't help, 'cos I'd forgotten some of the names! Ultimately, I think mush of The Smugglers will have become a blur by the end of this season, the space it currently occupies in my head being taken up by all the other stories to come.

It's a shame, really, because there is a lot to like in the story. Ben and Polly are used well for the most part, and we get a chance to see some of their skills in action. While Polly takes very quickly to the idea of travelling in time, it's good to see Ben being skeptical, and it's great that he still doesn't particularly want to be there at the end. Had this story survived in the archives (or were it to turn up at some stage), I think it would have a much better chance of holding my attention - the location work seen in the tele snaps and the surviving 8mm footage really does make it look like there's a scale on display that we don't often see in Who of this era.

And so, as the Doctor and his new companions look at the scanner, out over the 'coldest place on Earth', we head into the final story for the First Doctor. I'm really not sure how I feel about this…

16 May 2013

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

Day 136: The Smugglers, Episode Three

Dear diary,

As Polly's screams ring out into the closing theme, I realised that actually, the companions in Doctor Who at this stage don't really scream all that much, do they? Susan, Barbara, and Vicki have all had a couple of them, but they've not been a common part of the series in the way you'd expect, based on the number of jokes made about it. I'm so entrenched in this era of Who, now, that I can't even really remember if the later companions scream lots more than this, or if it's just a myth that's built up over the years.

Early on in this episode, I couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for our two newest companions, as they find themselves confronted once again. 'We haven't done anything!', Ben protests. 'We haven't killed anyone, and we haven't smuggled anything!'. At this stage, they were still separated from the Doctor, and I realised how odd it was to see this.

I commented lots on it during the Dodo episodes, that she and Steven would be separated off to have the bulk of the adventure, while the Doctor went off elsewhere to reduce the strain on Hartnell. There, it felt perfectly natural: Steven had been travelling with him for quite some time before it started becoming a common occurrence in the series, so you felt as though he knew what to do. Here, Ben and Polly have only just arrived in their first new time period, and they're already left to fend for themselves.

When the Doctor swans in a few minutes later, it's with a kind of lofty carefreeness. Much like the way he followed after them upon first exiting the TARDIS in Episode One, he's watching his new friends with amusement more than concern. he knows what's going on, and he's enjoying their reactions to things. We've also reached another key point in the evolution of the Doctor's character here, which is important as we draw ever closer to the first regeneration.

During Season One, I found it fun to highlight the various steps in the Doctor's transformation from the insular, grumpy sod we see in An Unearthly Child through to the kind of character he becomes in all his subsequent incarnations. There's several key moments (mostly based around Barbara shouting at him) that lead to our first big revelation in The Dalek Invasion of Earth - that the Doctor will stay and fight the Daleks, because that's the right thing to do.

Here, we see again that he's fully completed his transformation into being 'The Doctor'. It's been there, without much of a song or dance for the most part, ever since that Dalek invasion, but this is the first time in a while that the Doctor has stopped to point out that this is the way he behaves. It plays into the idea of using this story to establish the programme for a new audience - he explains to Ben that they can't just leave for the TARDIS, because he has a 'moral obligation' to stay here and see that things are left safe.

We're close to the Troughton Doctor, now, with his speech about 'some corners of the universe', so it's important to see the First Doctor stepping up and reminding us of who he's become now, in time for his fall under the next story.

15 May 2013

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

Day 135: The Smugglers, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Before embarking on this episode, I popped in the William Hartnell disc of the Lost in Time collection, so that I could check out some of the surviving bits of The Smugglers on there, and have those in mind while listening through. Most of the clips like this that we have (and, I believe, all of the ones for this story in particular) are the result of censorship cuts in New Zealand when these serials were sold there in the late 1960s.

It would appear that the New Zealand broadcasters had a different view on what was acceptable in a children's series than we did in the UK, and so there's lots of moments from the programme that were cut out - usually only a few seconds here or there. I've seen several of these clips before when the DVD first came out and I savoured all these brief snippets of stories that I may never get the chance to see properly.

Some of the clips always struck me as being a bit odd: a few frames here, or the odd second or two from here, just to lessen the impact. Others seem far more fitting, and I think that might be the case with the clips for this story. The death of Longfoot in Episode One is quite brutal, as the knife lands squarely between his shoulder blades for example. It's ironic, in a way, that the only clips we have of The Smugglers, and of many other missing Doctor Who's only survive because someone once deemed them too much to be broadcast!

The compilation of these clips on the DVD also includes a few minutes of silent 8mm camera footage from the location shoot. It's obviously shot as behind-the-scenes footage either by a member of the crew or by a curious on-looker, as we move from shots of the Doctor being piled onto a cart, to others of pirates reading the day's newspaper, or shots of the BBC cars and vans parked around. This footage comes in handy, though, as another opportunity to see how this story might have looked - the locations really are gorgeous. I'm coupling all of this (and the tele snaps) with my own memories of Cornwall, where the other half and I spent a week last summer. I even keyed The Smugglers up on my phone ready to listen to while we were down there, but I never found the time to actually hear it.

As for the episode itself… well, the winning streak had to end sometime, I suppose. It's not that this is a bad episode, just that it hasn't grabbed me in the way that the last few have. Yesterday, I sang the praises of 'Doctor Who gets kidnapped by pirates' as a hook for a story, but today it seems to have already worn a bit thin. I'm not sure why that is, because there's plenty in here that I really did enjoy.

Ben and Polly, for instance, continue to entertain me, and they're great value when they play the part of witches to escape from imprisonment. They've both got very distinct personalities that work well against each other. There's also the opportunity for some great dialogue between the pair - I love Ben musing that he can't check himself back into the Navy in a 17th century barracks! They're still getting the hang of all this, and so don't settle into things quite as well as the Doctor has.

I don't know what's lacking at the moment, but I'm hoping it turns up tomorrow. I'm keen for the last Hartnell historical to go out with a bang!

14 May 2013
7/10 Day 134: The Smugglers, Episode One

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

Day 134: The Smugglers, Episode One

Dear diary,

At this point in its life, Doctor Who has very much dispensed with the idea of basing the historical stories around a particular event or person, in an attempt to be educational, and has instead switched to focus on a generic 'era' of history. A couple of weeks ago we had a tale set simply in 'The Wild West', in which events differed wildly from the real historical facts, and today we've simply been given a historical based around the idea of 'Doctor Who gets kidnapped by pirates'.

It sounds like I'm complaining about this, but that's not the case. While I found myself enjoying the stories that fulfilled the programme's original brief to educate as well as entertain, by the end of Season Two my interest in that type of tale had started to wane a little. Season Three then started out by giving us tales set in Ancient Greece and a period of French history that just wasn't of much interest to me. All in all, the historicals had started to lose any of the stuff that kept me interested, and I found myself looking far more forward to the futuristic tales.

Today, though, has proved that a good historical tale can still work well for the series - it just needs a broader appeal. 'Doctor Who gets kidnapped by pirates' is a perfect pitch to keep me interested at this point, and it allows for a great episode. One of the things that needs to be addressed is the location filming for this story. I'm listening to the soundtrack as usual, with the tele snaps on hand to follow along with.

Following in the footsteps of the last few stories, it once again looks completely unlike Doctor Who. There's scores of location filming for this story, starting with the TARDIS stood just inside a cave mouth on the beach. It's strange to think that we've only recently started having the TARDIS materialise on location as opposed to in the studio somewhere, as has been the norm for much of this marathon so far.

It looks fantastic stood on the shore, and so does the rest of the filming. A number of the early tele snaps for this episode show the action taking place outside, and it gives them a sense of scale that we're not used to in the show. It's odd that an image of a church sat the other side of a field should look so odd, but it's still rare to see such an open space in Doctor Who.

Elsewhere, it's all fairly standard pirate fair. There's some hidden gold stashed away nearby, and a group of ruthless pirates want to get their hands on it. They've got a pirate ship out in the bay, where the Doctor has been taken to meet the captain - who has a hook for a hand! It really works that all of this is so cliched, though. The fun here isn't telling a bold new pirate story, it's seeing what will happen when the TARDIS arrives in a traditional pirate tale. I'm surprised we've not had a talking parrot yet.

I'm pleased to say that the arrival of Ben and Polly to the ship is handled just as well as I was hoping for. I commented the other day that their initial suspicion about the police box was very reminiscent of Ian and Barbara, right back in the pilot episode, and that continues on into their early exchanges with the Doctor here. Indeed, it's so similar in places that I can't help but wonder if Brian Hayles was given the script to An Unearthly Child to work from.

They're astounded by the sheer size of this ship once they've barged their way in, and the Doctor angrily snaps at them. 'What are you doing in here? How dare you?' - Hartnell is even playing it in a way closer to his original style that we've seen since that first season. Much as I've grown to love his cuddlier side over the stories, it's great to see that he can still do the fierce Doctor when called upon.

Ben and Polly react in a similar way to our old schoolteacher friends, too. Polly is more willing to believe that they have travelled in time (she's genuinely disappointed when they see the church and assume that they're still in 1966. Quite how seeing a church is a sign of that I've no idea, though), whereas Ben is skeptical from the very start. There's a logical progression to his character here - in The War Machines he was very respectful to the Doctor because the man is his elder, and appeared to be in control of the situation. At the very least, he seemed to know what was going on. Here, though, he's talking about space/time travel, and telling the sailor he'll not be getting home any time soon. Ben's confidence has been shaken, and I'm looking forward to watching it build back up throughout the story.

As I'd hoped, too, the start of this episode takes the opportunity to remind us all about the premise of the programme (probably for the best - this episode was broadcast following the programme's longest break since the very start), but it does it in less of a heavy-handed way than The Massacre did. The Doctor tells his new companions that he can travel anywhere in time and space, but that he can't personally control where they go. He muses that he thought he was going to be alone again, but we don't get the roll-call of companions this time. Once that's out of the way, given just the right amount of time to breathe, we're off and into the adventure proper.

I'm pleased to see that the streak of strong episodes we've been having is being upheld by The Smugglers, too!

13 May 2013

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

Day 133: Daleks: The Destroyers

Dear diary,

Oh, this marathon has changed me. I try not to quote myself too much, but I think today call's for a bit of a flashback. January 6th, 2013. Day Six of The 50 Year Diary. The Daleks, Episode Two…

“My name is Will, and I don't really like the Daleks… Give me a Cyberman any day.”

Why, then, 127 days on, does it bother me so much that the Daleks take a bloody age to show up in this story?! We've got a fantastic cold open, which sets the scene nicely, introduces a couple of characters, then implies a Dalek massacre in which they shout 'Attack and destroy!' a couple of times, and then… nothing! It's a further twenty minutes until we hear another Dalek talking properly. My god, I'm fickle. It's all about the pepper pots, now.

Way back when I was drawing up my schedule for this marathon, at the end of last year, this story and Farewell, Great Macedon were both added in between seasons. Macedon was included because I was interested to know how a story written at the time - but not made - would fit with the established history of the show. It was an interesting experiment, though I know some people weren't keen to see me going 'off book' for the week. Hopefully you won't mind today's little side step, and will be glad to know that I'm not planning any departures from the televised stories when we reach Troughton's Doctor.

The Destroyers was slotted into the schedule because, well, it's always fascinated me. Terry Nation's desire to get the Daleks their own show minus the Doctor is well documented. We're told about various pitches to America, which will be the reason the Daleks soon disappear from this marathon for quite some time. Mission to the Unknown could almost be viewed as a back-door pilot for the series (even if it wasn't made that way).

But then there's The Destroyers. A pilot for a Dalek-based series that actually got approved by the BBC. Sets were under construction to actually produce this one, before the plug was pulled. We very nearly had this series - or, at the very least - this pilot. Is there any wonder it's always been of interest? I figured that this was the best placement for it on my journey because, while it would have been produced and aired some time after Troughton took on the role, it features the return of Jean Marsh as Sara Kingdom, and revolves heavily around the Space Security Agency. It's very much from Season Three.

The story serves very much as a set up to the potential series, reintroducing us to Sara, and bringing in a few other members of the SSS, including Jason Corey, and android Mark Seven. The trio have arrived on an asteroid where a base has recently been attacked by Daleks, and they've captured Sara's brother, David Kingdom. Thankfully, she's not given a chance to kill this one.

What follows gets us fully up to speed on everything we need to know for the series to work. We're given some background on the SSS and the Daleks, and we end with the trio arriving just too late to save David from being taken off-world by the Daleks. In the closing moments, we're given the shocking news that they're planning an invasion of Earth!

It's all a bit lightweight, with the story full of typically Terry Nation set-pieces (of course carnivorous plants play a vital role!), but that's pretty much exactly what you'd want from this series. I want it to be a serial that doesn't take itself too seriously, which you can put on and just enjoy. I imagine that it would have worked well almost as a televised Dan Dare, with several 12-part stories tying into a larger, ongoing narrative. This could have worked especially well if the series had run year-round, like Doctor Who of the time.

Crucially, it feels as though Mission to the Unkown could be an episode taken from this series, used to set up a story in which Sara, Mark, and Corey arrive on Kembel, to stop the Daleks from forming the Galactic council. Mavic Chen could even become a recurring foe throughout the series, discrediting them with Earth! The more I think about everything this series could be, the more I want it to actually exist.

The only problem is that in my mind, it's being made on film, with the production values of some of the ITC serials of the time. Done in that way, The Daleks could be something really very special. I fear, though, from past experience, that being made as a BBC co-production would mean it never quite lives up to what it should be. I can already picture the scene early on, where Jean Marsh narrates that they're 'surrounded' by Daleks. There's be cardboard cut-outs everywhere.

On the whole, I've enjoyed The Destroyers, and I'd have loved to see it made at the time. There's an awful lot of potential in here, and it's a real shame that there won't be any more of it.

12 May 2013

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

Day 132: The War Machines, Episode Four

Dear diary,

The notes for this story have only taken up a single side of paper in my notebook, because I've mostly been enjoying The War Machines too much to break away and write things. There's one note that keep reappearing, though. At the top of Episodes One, Three, and Four, I've scrawled 'Titles' (Actually, under today's episode, it's down as 'TITLES!!!!').

The War Machines is one of those rare 20th-century Who stories that breaks away from the usual format for its episode title. Here, we're given the title and the episode number in a 'computer' font (we all know which font that is, even if you've never seen the story), as they arrive on screen in what can only be described as a 'computerised' way. Right from the word 'go', we're being told that this is a story about computers and technology.

It's important to remember that this is only the second story to have one big title, as opposed to a name for each individual episode. There was a style guide for that, established right from the very start of the programme. The opening titles sequence dies away, and we're given an image over which the title - and then the writer's credit - will sit. For a time during Seasons One and Two, the action on screen would pause, and the actors would hold their pose, while the text appeared.

The same layout was used for The Savages, as confirmed by the tele snaps for Episodes Two and Three. It would appear that the episode number was simply added as an additional caption between the two standard ones. This, then, is the first opportunity for the programme to experiment with overall titles, and to start looking at a way to do them from now on.

I can't say I particularly like the titles for The War Machines any more or any less than the regular ones, and the same can be said for stories like The War Games which also employ different title styles. Equally, there's nothing wrong with doing them in this unusual manner, either. It just doesn't make all that much of a difference to me!

The other note that I've had scrawled at the top of several episodes over the last week is 'Ian Stuart Black'. The Savages and The War Machines is the first example in Doctor Who history of a writer being responsible for two consecutive stories (though Terry Nation came very close right at the start of the first season). In fairness, Black was only brought in to do a redraft of The War Machines, it having already gone through a version or two. As a fan of 1960s television in general, and not just Doctor Who, Black's name appears in the credits to several of the DVDs on my shelf, and I've alway been quite keen on his work. I'm pleased to see that my enjoyment has carried over to his Who writing, and I'm looking forward to The Macra Terror more now that I've realised it's Black's third script for the programme.

A couple of times over the last few days, I've compared Ben and Polly coming into the show as feeling like a new start, and I've linked it to the addition of Jenna-Louise Coleman to the current series of Who. I wasn't until today that I realised there were more similarities between the two eras than I'd ever thought about. Both get their breath of fresh air in a story that brings the Doctor back to modern-day London, and the enemy is based in the most modern building in the city (The Post Office Tower and the Shard aren't likely to be compared very often, but there's certainly a link here!).

On both occasions, the enemy is ultimately defeated when the Doctor reprogrammed their soldiers (he sends the War Machine to destroy WOTAN, and reprograms one of the 'Spoon Heads' to go confront Celia Imrie), and he picks up a new companion - or two, in Hartnell's case - along the way. All we need is to see the First Doctor ride an anti-grab motorbike up the side of the tower, and the comparison is complete!

It's strange, given how alien all of this story felt in the first couple of episodes, that the First Doctor looks so completely right as he strolls along a street to confront the War Machine. Shortly after, there's a shot of the Doctor in the back of a car and whereas before it seemed totally odd to see him in a taxi, now it just feels very natural. I think it has to be a success of the story that it all holds together so, so, well. And we've got the first real hint of something that we'll see far more later on in the programme - the Doctor slipping away as soon as things are complete, before he can be questioned or congratulated.

It's nice to see him waiting around outside the TARDIS for Dodo at the end, as I'd worried that having vanished mid-way though the story, she'd be instantly brushed under the carpet as we move on to the next set of companions. It's also interesting to see the Doctor feeling rather put out that Dodo simply 'sends her love' after everything that he's shown her through time and space. It's reminiscent of the departure of Ian and Barbara, in that the Doctor is a little hurt they would choose a normal life over one with him.

And Ben and Polly really do feel like such a breath of fresh air at the end. It's great the way that they get caught back up with the Doctor - 'Shh, watch him! I'm sure there's something strange about that police box…' - and it's very much in the style of that very first introduction to the ship right back in An Unearthly Child. I'm hoping that it's a sign (along with not showing their reaction upon entering the ship) that we'll be seeing the introduction of two new companions used to take stock and reintroduce the series again.

The Third Season has been something of a revolving door for companions (We've had Vicki, Steven, Katarina, Sara, Dodo, and now Ben and Polly since the start of Galaxy 4), so the way that they work within the series hasn't been as developed as it was in the first two years. Dodo serves as the best example, being introduced in the midsts of a massive info-dump.

Still, The War Machines has been a massive high for the series - the highest I've rated a story so far! - and a fantastic way to end this this run of adventures. I'm taking another slight side-step tomorrow (for one day only, though, promise!), and then we're down to the dying days of the First Doctor. An interesting time indeed!

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