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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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11 April 2013

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

Day 101: Counter Plot (The Daleks' Master Plan, Episode Five)

Dear diary,

I'm a bit hit-and-miss with the episodes that survive from this era of the programme. I can easily list all the stories which have missing episodes, I just can't pin-point which odd episodes survive from Seasons Three, Four and Five. It's just a bit all over the place. I came into this story, for example, thinking that it was Episodes Four and Ten which existed in the archives, when it's actually Two, Five and Ten.

Would this, then, be an episode I'd have chosen out of the ones I've watched for this story so far? Well, yes and no. No because I'd have liked to have Episode Four complete in the archives - even if it is a bit of a bloodbath, it's an interesting one, at least! Or Episode One, maybe, to set up the story? Maybe Mission to the Unknown, if I can count that as a part of the tale…

On the other hand, this episode contains one of the scariest moments in Doctor Who so far. Hah! Oh yes, I can see you sitting up at the back there, trying to rack your brains and figure out what's got me so terrified of Counter Plot. Is it the mice? The sinister bald man? The invisible creatures on the planet Mira?

No. It's the Doctor. Babelcolour has a wonderful video on his YouTube page, which collects together a number of short clips he's colorised from the Hartnell era. There's also a rather fantastic Troughton one on the page, too. There's a shot in that First Doctor one, though, which has freaked me out since the very first time I watched it, and it turns out it's from this episode.

It comes from the moment that the Doctor, Steven, and Sara first get caught in the molecular dissemination experiment, and we see the image posterise as they go through the pain of being disassembled. One of the shots features Hartnell rolling his head around in a circle, with a vacant expression on his face and a wide grin. Frankly, it's terrifying. I've genuinely seen that shot in a dream after watching the video, and it's no less freaky in black and white (even if it is less psychedelic). Aside from that potentially scarring shot, it's certainly worth checking out Babelcolour's videos, because they're stunning.

Quite aside from that moment, there's not an awful lot to note about Counter Plot. This is the 'sagging' part of the story, and I'm hoping that it won't be dragged out for too long. Our heroes - and Sara - are transported to what appears to be another jungle planet, and I'm just thankful that their surroundings have yet to be described as being more animal than vegetation.

The invisible creatures are realised quite well (that's an odd thing to say), and I've certainly enjoyed them (even if they seem to serve little purpose). Early on, I did think how nice it would be if they were able to achieve a footprint effect, before realising they wouldn't really have the technology to pull it off - and then they do! Weyhey! Good old Camfield. Incidentally, how did they do it? Is there a series of footprint-shaped bits under the sand that can be dropped down? Stop motion? Someone put me out of my misery, I wanna know!

And then there's Sara Kingdom. She comes around to understanding the truth a little easily, if anything. I thought we were going to see her coming after the Doctor and Steven for a bit before giving in and joining their side in the battle against the Daleks. It's a shame to see her switch teams so simply, and after she's killed her own brother for it. The fact that Bret is her brother is one of the well-known facts about this story, so it's shame to see it treated so simply here, in a moment that you could easily overlook. I had high hopes for Sara, and I'm hoping that she'll live up to them before too long.

If nothing else, the cliffhanger - 'I'm afraid, my friends, the Daleks have won' - is striking, and a wonderful note to end on. Here's hoping that things get back to the higher standard again for the next episode…

Next Episode: Coronas of the Sun

Next Episode: Coronas of the Sun 
10 April 2013

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

Day 100: The Traitors (The Daleks' Master Plan, Episode Four)

Dear diary,

Hooray! This is my one hundredth consecutive episode of Doctor Who (It's not the hundredth episode of the programme, because I took a six-day gap between seasons one and two to listen to Farewell Great Macedon). What better way to celebrate such a milestone than by… Oh. Having a complete and utter bloodbath of an episode.

Yesterday, I spoke about my impatience in waiting for Katarina to die. How I'd spent the entire story so far somewhat on edge just waiting for her to kick the bucket. It felt almost as though she had to die before the story could get going properly. And here, she does die! I've reached that point in the tale and things can continue on from here nicely. It's the one story-point that I know about in The Daleks' Master Plan (aside from the fact that Episode Seven is something of a Christmas special), and now everything else is a delicious unknown. A real adventure.

Except… I'd always thought Katarina's death would be a cliffhanger. An 'end-of-the-episode' shock, leaving you reeling for the next week while you wait to see what happens next. That's why it threw me so much yesterday when the episode drew to a close, everything seemed to be in place and then she just screamed. How were they going to stretch out this episode inside the spaceship for a full 25 minutes before she died? The simple answer: they don't.

Katarina's dead within about five minutes of the episode starting, and then we just carry on with the story. There's a few minutes spent to mourn her before the story moves forward, but it's very quick, very sudden, and very… un-affecting. Yes, yes, yes, I know we're supposed to revere this moment - it's the first time we've seen one of the Doctor's companions (and I've decided that she is a companion, as we'll see below) has died. The problem is that I just don't have any kind of connection to Katarina.

While the idea that she thought she was dead and on the way to limbo was interesting enough to begin with, by the time she was sucked out of the airlock, I'd grown a little weary of it. The problem was that they needed her to be at once blissfully ignorant of everything that she's being introduced to, but at the same time able to pick it up quickly enough to be of some use to the plot. In the end, wether it's because I knew she was destined to die or because it's just the way that the character feels for five episodes, she never quite fitted in for me.

I think I'm right in saying that when Terry Nation first delivered his scripts for this story, he'd not realised that Vicki would be leaving in The Myth Makers, and thought that it was her who would be killed off here. Now that would have been a shocker. Especially had the story moved with the same beats for the rest of the episode, moving on very quickly from the death. In some ways, I wonder if it would have been too distressing for viewers at the time - especially children. Having followed Vicki through the series for a year, to suddenly see her killed in such a brutal manner. In that sense, at least, it feels right that we should have a temporary stand in.

All that said, I still don't believe it when the Doctor says he will remember her always. I bet he'll have forgotten her by the time ben and Polly turn up.

Now, this is the best time to bring it up again - Katarina's companion status. Over the years, I've seen many different criteria for what forms a companion. 'They have to have travelled in the TARDIS!', ''They need to appear in consecutive stories', 'They have to be described as one in the press' etc etc. The problem with most of the theories is that they all end up needing to use the 'except for' phrase. For example, I've seen someone say 'If they don't travel in the TARDIS, they're not a companion. Except for Liz, who is'.

More closely tied to this story, I've also seen people say that even though Katarina does travel in the TARDIS, and she is in consecutive stories, she still 'doesn't count' as a companion. Just because, you know?

The best criteria I've ever seen for deciding if someone is a companion or not (aside from just 'gut instinct') is: 'Someone whose presence hasn't got to be explained but whose absence does need to be'. Basically, they're a companion if you expect them to be there. It seems to make sense to me. If Katarina suddenly stopped appearing between episodes, it would need explaining, since she was there in the TARDIS.

Equally, you don't need to explain the Brigadier's absence from Pertwee stories set on other planets, because you don't expect him to be there. He's not a companion, he's an acquaintance of the Doctor's who appears when stories are set on Earth. And don't even get me started on Kamelion, who's absence isn't explained for about a season! To that end, I've decided that Katarina is indeed a companion of the First Doctor - albeit a very temporary one.

While I'm on the subject of the Brigadier - I didn't know that Bret Vyon died here, too! I knew that Sara Kingdom killed him, but I assumed it was at the end of the story somewhere! I thought he was in this one for the long haul! That came as a bit of a shock.

Next Episode: Counter Plot

Next Episode: Counter Plot 
9 April 2013

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

Day Ninety-Nine: Devil's Planet (The Daleks' Master Plan, Episode Three)

Dear diary,

One of the problems with the narrated soundtracks is that they don't always feature the narration where you would like it. The very end of this episode is the perfect example: the ship is taking off, the Daleks have made a bad landing, giving the Doctor and his friends some much needed time to escape, the Doctor turns to ask Katarina to keep an eye on the door… and she screams. CRASH! The theme music kicks in!

Now, I don't have a clue what she's screaming about. Has she turned to find a Dalek in the doorway? Maybe she's stubbed her toe and it really hurts? There was a similar problem with the narration on the Galaxy 4 release, where Vicki turns and screams - it's only later that you actually find out what's happening. Still, it's a minor niggle, I suppose.

Something that keeps surprising me in this story is that Katarina is still alive. I feel like I'm a spectre at the feast, constantly waiting for her to die. I thought it was going to happen at the end of the second episode, as the ship lifts off from the Dalek conference and we've seen Zephon wiggling his plant-like appendages as he breaks free of his bonds. But it didn't.

Then I spent much of this episode waiting for someone to step out of the shadows and do the deed, but they didn't. Later in the episode, I figured that the convicts would be the ones to get aboard the ship and drag her into the airlock, but they didn't (that said, there's one convict unaccounted for, so I think I can probably piece together what she's just seen in that cliffhanger - a madman with a knife). I really wish that I was coming into this not knowing that she was destined to die in this story, because it really does feel like I'm just waiting for that to happen, and that everything else is merely delaying it.

That said, everything that's getting in the way of her demise is still pretty good. The confrontation between Zephon and Mavic Chen is nicely played, and Chen comes out of it rather well. He's incredibly cool and calm, and the kind of villain that you really love to hate. I'm still impressed by his appearance yesterday, which I think is helping me like him even more. I'm not sure where I got the idea from (maybe a piece of fan art? A dodgy photoshop once? I honestly can't remember. Maybe I dreamt it…), but I've always thought of Mavic Chen as being Kevin Stoney in a slightly ill-fitting orange mask, with a dodgy beard attached.

Thinking about it, I might be thinking of his appearance in Revenge of the Cybermen and simply transplanting bits of that costume over to him here. When he appeared on screen yesterday, and he looks fantastic, that just helped to make everything fall into place. Another thing transferring over from yesterday is the great design of the sets - in my mind, the confrontation between the delegates took place in that huge council chamber, with Chen and Zephon stranded in the centre, while the other delegates called on from their places on the sidelines.

I feel that I should probably also mention Nicholas Courtney, considering that we're witnessing his first of many appearances in the series. Suffice to say that he's as good here as he ever is, playing a character who I rather like, but I probably shouldn't. He's cold and hard-nosed, and it's interesting to see his interplay with the Doctor and Steven. I love the fact that he refers to the Doctor as 'grandpa', and generally has very little time for him - it's making for a very interesting dynamic.

Next Episode: The Traitors

8 April 2013

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

Day Ninety-Eight: Day of Armageddon (The Daleks' Master Plan, Episode Two)

Dear Diary,

A few years ago, when I first started reading the Wife in Space blog, it used to astound me how easily Sue could spot an episode directed by Douglas Camfield. I mean sure, every director has a distinct look, but it's not something that I often notice while watching Doctor Who. For Season One and most of Season Two of this marathon, there's a fair few places where I wouldn't be able to tell you where one directer stops and another takes over.

I've never really noticed the direction in Doctor Who before. It's usually being made under such pressures that it becomes very basic, with plenty of use being given to stock framing and basic direction of actors. In fact, then only time I've ever really connected to a Who director was shortly after Blink aired for the first time, and I found myself in an interview for a place at university, studying film production. I wasn't sure what to expect at the interview and was caught completely off-guard when they asked about my favourite example of direction. The first thing I thought of was Blink (since it was the most recent episode to air) and I managed to make up a load of stuff about how much it had affected me.

Of course, I couldn't remember that it was Hettie MacDonald who'd directed it, so I had to stall on using the name for as long as I could. Then I spoke about how Graeme Harper likes to shout 'lots of energy' before each take. Bizzarely, I actually landed a place on the course, but six years on, my own directorial work amounts to an afternoon of Blue Peter and a selection of rubbish student films.

Anyway, it always struck me how easily Sue reacted when Camfield was behind the cameras, but suddenly, I get it. I didn't have a clue that he was the man responsible for tackling this twelve-part Dalek epic, but as soon as I loaded up the Lost in Time DVD for today's episode, it was obviously him.

For a start, the sets are of a quality in places that is very reminiscent of The Time Meddler. For the last episode, my image of the jungles of Kembel were based more on the look of The Chase than of the animated Mission to the Unknown. As soon as they appeared today, though, I couldn't quite believe it. They're stunning! I mean, really, stunning. I was a little disappointed by the Daleks gathering around the TARDIS - the narration on the soundtrack made it sound more impressive than it actually is - but the shots Hartnell creeping around in the foliage are great. He's got the same confident air here that I praised during A Battle of Wits a few weeks ago - Camfield really brings out the best in him.

Then we've got the Dalek's council chamber, for want of a better description. Oh, sure, it's not the best-looking set we've ever seen in the series - it's mostly a load of drapes and some fancy chairs - but the sheer size of it! There's a shot early on, when Mavic Chen sits at the table writing and a Dalek glides down the ramp to meet him and it feels like ti takes the Dalek an age to reach him! I don't think we've had a bigger set in the programme than this before.

Of course, while I'm raving about the direction (there's only 25% of this story available to watch, so expect me to really latch onto the direction when I can see it!), I have to talk about the way the Daleks themselves look. There's shots of them talking that involve the eyestalks reaching out towards the camera, and just giving them more of a screen presence than we've had before. It just feels like this is the best they've ever looked.

And there's the scene of them burning down the jungle. I have to admit, it was terribly exciting to see them first ignite their flamethrowers. I'm a twenty-three-year-old-man, I shouldn't be as excited by the thought of a Dalek with a flamethrower, but frankly… how brilliant! The way they come on, one at a time…

I mean, in fairness, things then feel a bit dragged out as we watch them - slowly - trundle around and wait for the set to catch fire, but it's still brought about by a terribly exciting moment. If anything, this episode has made me regret that I'm not going to get to see more of this story than I am. I mused the other day that of all the ones to be missing from the archives, Galaxy 4 wasn't perhaps the biggest visual loss. I'm getting the feeling that this one might be…

Next Episode: Devil's Planet

Next Episode: Devil's Planet 
7 April 2013

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

Day Ninety-Seven: The Nightmare Begins (The Daleks' Master Plan, Episode One)

Dear diary,

Oh, lord, that's not a promising title to start on a twelve-day 'epic', is it? I have to confess, I've been slightly dreading this. I've found something of a new love for the Daleks since the start of this marathon, to the stage that by the time The Chase rolled around, I was actually quite excited to have them back again. Now, though, I'm faced with almost two whole weeks of them. I tend to start getting bored (and running out of things to say, too!) during a six-parter! Hold tight, this one could sink the entire experiment…

As per usual, I'm listening to this story via the narrated soundtrack, which is available for download at a really reasonable price! It's one of the few that I didn't already own, and I was dreading the cost, so that was a pleasant surprise. The audio opens with a pre-titles sequence that recaps the ending of The Myth Makers - all the stuff with Steven coming round in the TARDIS and Katarina believing that she's in limbo.

It's a fascinating way to introduce a new character to the show, and very different to any of the other introductions that we've had over the last fifty years. I must confess that I've been really looking forward to her arrival, because I wanted to settle something in my own mind: is she a companion or not!?! I was rather hoping that actually hearing the introduction might clear it up once and for all, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

Whereas the introductions of both Vicki and Steven were used to remind the viewer of the programme's basic premise, reintroducing us to the important aspects of the show, Katarina is just sort of treated with a sense of 'well, here she is then'. Even the Doctor, when he departs from Troy pretty rapidly, doesn't stop to panic that he's accidentally kidnapped a young handmaiden, he simply asks her to carry on looking after Steven. It's all very odd, and all a little rushed.

I don't know if it's this feeling of rushing that's making Katarina feel like a part-time companion, or if it's because I know that she'll be dead before too long. It's a shame, because there's a fair bit of scope in the idea, and the way she describes the TARDIS ('this isn't Troy. This is not even the world. This is the journey through the beyond') is wonderful. That said, she takes to the idea of how to open the TARDIS doors pretty quickly, and seems more comfortable in the ship that Bret Vyon does later on. Is this a case of Clarke's third law? To Katarina, this is all the magic of her Gods. To Brett, it's just a really really bizarre space ship.

The episode proper is a curious beast. For the first half or so, you could be forgiven to assume that it's a repeat of Mission to the Unknown, as the TARDIS doesn't appear until quite some way into the story. That's not a bad thing, though. Already, thanks to that earlier episode, we feel like we have a head start on the Doctor - we know what's going on inside the buildings he's headed for. We know that the Daleks are here on Kembel. We know that the Doctor should be avoiding the strange, spiky plants. Incidentally, the soundtrack narration makes a great point of mentioning that the Doctor doesn't know how dangerous these plants are.

The entire first section of the plot is a perfectly executed way of setting up the background for the story we're about to watch. We follow Vyon's communication from Kembel right back to the SSS central control, where it's being ignored by two people arguing over what to watch on TV. It's this simple, every day situation that makes it feel so natural when we're told of a 'Mars-Venus' game being screened (there's no need to give any more information, this paints in more than enough beautifully), and we're introduced to Mavic Chen, the 'Guardian of the Solar System'.

Sure, by the end of that section, it does feel a little like we've been given one massive info-dump, with lots and lots of information being thrown at us very quickly. Most of it can fade away into the background, though, just there to spark up if and when it's needed. We're told that it's now the year 4000, and we're given the date for the signing of a Solar System peace treaty. We're even given a date for it (was it 3975? Something like that?), and that's all I need to know. It's the 41st century. The Solar System is at peace, and Mavic Chen is the Simon Cowell of his age. Good enough.

Something that I'd been planning to bring up here - ever since the strange culture shock of going from Daleks in a jungle to the plains of ancient Troy - was that we don't need that other story between Mission to the Unknown and this. You could just as easily go from that episode into this one and it would flow just nicely. But then… what took me by surprise is that this episode picks up some time after that one, with Vyon and his comrade here out hunting for the SSS agent we saw back in Mission.

It feels like time has passed in the story, because time has passed for us watching it. That's clever. And because we know that the Daleks are around on Kembel, there's no need to make a big surprise out of it - the first time they appear, they simply turn up and kill a man. No questions asked. It's the most ruthless we've ever seen them, and it's really quite effective. It's just a shame that we spend the first few minutes being told that 'they' are out there, trying to build up at least a little suspense.

Next Episode: Day of Armageddon

Next Episode: Day of Armageddon 
6 April 2013

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

Day Ninety-Six: Horse of Destruction (The Myth Makers, Episode Four)

Dear diary,

Can we please have a petition to change this episode's title back to Is there a Doctor in the Horse?, as Donald Cotton originally suggested? I'm willing to mount quite an aggressive campaign in favour of this.

Do you know, I'd completely forgotten about Katarina. I knew that this was Vicki's final episode. I knew that Katarina existed. And yet I'd not managed to put two and two together to remember that she was actually going to turn up in this story.

It's odd, considering how much time I spent yesterday praising the amount of care and attention given to the departure of companions in these early days, to then be confronted with a new addition to the TARDIS who simply turns up in the last episode, and doesn't even play a vital role until the very last scene! If anything, she feels like a temporary stop-gap companion, but that's possibly because I've always known her to be just that - but there'll be plenty of time to discuss Katarina's companion status during the next story, I'm sure.

Elsewhere, the departure of Vicki is still handled magnificently, right until the end. As I've said, I know that this is Vicki's last episode, but when we hear the TARDIS dematerialise, having seen the Doctor and Vicki venture inside it towards the end… it threw me. I wondered if I'd understood the terms of Vicki's departure wrongly for all these years, and that we might be getting what you might call a Time-Flight situation developing.

But when we cut from that to Trolius injured out on the plains, calling for his newfound love as the city burns before him, and Vicki appears to him, having opted to remain behind so that he wouldn't think she'd misled him… Oh, of course it's well handled. It's actually incredibly moving in a way that I wasn't expecting it to be, and the appearance of Trolius' cousin serves to suggest that there's a real future for Vicki here, in the same way that David's outstretched hand and Ian and Barbara laughing on a bus did for them.

Elsewhere, this is quite a dark episode, especially following the humour that I'd grown used to from the last few day's entries to the diary. The latter half of the episode basically consists of the city burning while the Trojans are massacred by the Greeks. Having experienced this entire story via the narrated soundtrack, I had grown used to the feel of listening to Doctor Who as audio again, and there's not much left to the imagination in this way.

It's perhaps another reason to be pleased that I'm experiencing the story in this way - there's a moment when Peter Purves' narration describes the Greeks opening the gates of the city, and a whole army flooding in to win the war. On screen, I can imagine this being a few extras running in, swords aloft. In my mind, it could almost look like a scene from Lord of the Rings. I do usually picture things as looking more-or-less the way I think they would have done on screen (that's the result of moving through the series at this pace and in this way!), but the sound design here is too good to not suggest more.

On the whole, The Myth Makers has been an odd one. It's moved from something that didn't really appeal to me, to being funny, dramatic and moving to varying degrees throughout it's last three parts. This is the first time in the marathon that I've encountered one of those stories that I really know little about - aside from the departure of Vicki - and so it's a very interesting time for me.

Hopefully, that'll be continuing into the next story. While I know it's the single longest story from the 1960s, features the Daleks and has a Christmas episode hovering around in the middle, I don't really know all that much about The Daleks' Master Plan. And so we move into what I'm likely to be calling Dalek Fortnight

Next Episode: The Nightmare Begins

Next Episode: The Nightmare Begins 
5 April 2013

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

Day Ninety-Five: Death of a Spy (The Myth Makers, Episode Three)

Dear diary,

Something that I've found a little odd so far is the way the Doctor has reacted to being forced to make plans for getting the Grecian army into Troy. Yesterday, Steven suggested the obvious one - let's build a great, big, wooden horse. You know, like it says in all the legends of this war. The Doctor's dead set against the idea, because it was all made up and probably never even happened… and then he goes an suggests that they build gliders and flying machines to sail over the walls of the city!

Still, it's really only an excuse to give the Doctor something to play around with for an episode or so, until they're ready for him to announce his plan to use the wooden horse after all part-way into today's instalment. This way, everything is in place ready for the final episode. I can't complain, though, as we do get some rather nice comedy as the suggestion is made that the Doctor be the first man to fly into Troy, and he swiftly tries to back-track!

The comedy is a bit toned down for this episode compared to the last, although there's still plenty of it in evidence. There's a lovely discussion between Vicki and Steven as they find themselves locked away in the dungeon, where he protests that he's dressed as a Greek to come and rescue Vicki, and she droles 'You've done a beautiful job'. It's nice to see the pair getting some time together again here - I'm really going to miss the pairing of Steven and Vicki.

It's a period in the companionship of the programme that I've never really considered before. In my mind, the Hartnell era is usually Ian/Barbara/Susan - Ian/Barbara/Vicki - Steven/Dodo - Ben/Polly, and then onto the Second Doctor. I wonder if it's because this is such a short pairing together (only 13 episodes, if we count the end of The Chase)? A real shame, though. I even spent some time wondering if I could slip in a Big Finish adventure for the pair before embarking on this story, but it didn't seem right to have a more contemporary tale thrown in. It's definitely going to the top of my list for the future, though!

One of the most interesting aspects of this episode is sadly overlooked rather early on. While the Doctor is being given just one more day to devise a plan to invade Troy, Vicki is tasked to coms up with a way to stop a potential Grecian invasion, and to bring a swift end to the war. Steven sums it up best, when he says that it's Vicki against the Doctor, and knowing the Doctor, he's probably already got a good plan.

There's something quite intriguing about having the Doctor and his companions on opposite sides of a battlefield, each working against the other without truly realising it (come to think of it, isn't there a book along those lines? Though with a different incarnation of the Doctor on each side? Or did I imagine that? If there isn't then there should be!). It's a shame, then, that this is swept under the rug so quickly, when the Doctor's actions see Vicki released from prison and praised for winning the war, without ever lifting a finger.

Before she's released, though, we get a lovely scene between her and Trolius. I commented when Ian and Barbara left that the programme at this stage was still very good at setting up a companion's departure, and it's been really well handled again, here. Little hints yesterday that the pair may be falling for each other are enough to start the ball rolling, but it's really brought to the fore here, as they talk together - ignoring Steven for the most part - and Vicki sighs that she thinks she'd be very happy here, in time. I really can't fault the work being put into this area here, and special praise must be reserved for Maureen O'Brien, who turns in one of her very best performances in the programme for the scene.

Next Episode: Horse of Destruction

Next Episode: Horse of Destruction 
4 April 2013

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

Day Ninety-Four: Small Prophet, Quick Return (The Myth Makers, Episode Two)

Dear diary,

Well today's episode has certainly picked things up a little for me! I still don't know enough about the events of Troy to get as much from it as I should, but with references to the wooden horse, and suggestions of things being brought into Troy with Greeks hidden inside… there's enough here for me to latch onto.

Perhaps the best thing about this episode, though, is the addition of the Troy characters. They've got a sense of humour to them that really struck a chord with me, creating a historical comedy that I'm enjoying, as opposed to something like The Romans, which didn't appeal. I wonder if it's because I knew that The Romans was supposed to be a comedy, and as such was waiting for it to make me laugh. With The Myth Makers, I was expecting a more traditional tale (and that's certainly what Episode One seemed to promise), so the comedy is an unexpected and happy addition.

I think Paris has to be my favourite of the characters on display, and he certainly gets the best of the more humorous moments from the script. The way he mocks Cassandra over her ability to tell the future ('I'm sure you don't have a monopoly on it') and his sense of pride at having captured the - unguarded - police box from the middle of the plains ('What use is it? What use is it? Well, I've not idea, really…').

It's nice to see Vicki brought back into the action again today, too, and given more of a presence in the story. The moment that she emerges from the TARDIS at just the right moment to be mistaken for a God is still fun, just as it was with the Doctor in the last episode, but it's nice to see her cutting though the pomposity almost instantly, telling the assembled crowd that she's nobody important, just a girl from the future.

All round, there seems to be a lot of open and honest talk about where our regulars have come from. Vicki tells the Trojans, while Steven explains their predicament with the Greeks (calling it a 'miscalculation' on the Doctor's part, who seems pretty pleased with himself to have managed to land on Earth at all). It's unusual to hear them talking like this - not something we're often shown. It's another (albeit minor) step down the road of this history-altering arc we've been on.

Next Episode: Death of a Spy

Next Episode: Death of a Spy 
3 April 2013

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

Day Ninety-Three: Temple of Secrets (The Myth Makers, Episode One)

Dear diary,

It's not a particularly original thing to say, but crikey this isn't half a tonal shift coming from Mission to the Unknown. It seems like such a culture shock to have spent an episode in an alien jungle, with Varga plants and Daleks, alongside a whole host of alien delegates… to suddenly find yourself on the plains of ancient Troy, where a couple of chaps are having at each other.

That said, it's the kind of trick I can imagine the new series pulling - two people from history engaged in battle, when one asks for a sign from the gods, and the TARDIS arrives, right in the middle of the battlefield! That's a more elaborate way of showing the events here (the narration on the soundtrack describes the pair as 'not even noticing' the blue police box. Hm, somewhat less impressive).

And then you've got the Doctor being mistaken for Zeus. It's quite fun, and I like how amused the Doctor is by this notion, especially considering the way that Barbara used a similar situation for her own ends two seasons ago. I like the way he pretends not to know Steven, but suggests that he be taken to his 'temple' (the TARDIS) for his execution, promising to show those who don't believe in him a miracle.

Otherwise, you could be forgiven for assuming that this episode was setting up a holiday for Maureen O'Brien. Having taken part in the early TARDIS scenes, Steven asks her to remain behind in the ship… and we don't hear from her again! Most unusual. I'm guessing that she'll have a bigger role to play in the next episode, though, now that the 'temple' has gone missing.

Now, I have to admit, I'm not particularly well-versed in my ancient Greek mythology, and so much of the stuff in this episode (and indeed through the rest of the story) is likely to go right over my head. I have to admit that there were parts of today's instalment that left me a little cold - longing for a Dalek, even! I dread to think how kids reacted in 1965, getting only a single week of the pepper pots before being plunged into such dense history, but I'm keeping an open mind. I've herd plenty of good stuff about this story in the past, so I'm hoping that it delivers!

Next Episode: Small Prophet, Quick Return

 

2 April 2013

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

Day Ninety-Two: Mission to the Unknown

Dear diary,

When you think about the early years of Doctor Who, the Dalek serials divide themselves up quite nicely. One in the first season, two in the second, a feature-length adventure for the third year, and then back to having two for the fourth, before they disappear from screens for a bit. Watching the marathon in order like this, though, you realise how darn quick this one comes around again - wasn't it only about a week ago that I last watched the Daleks trundling around in a jungle?

Much like the fantastic timings of The Reign of Terror and Galaxy 4 on DVD, this episode has come around just right for me, with the animated version being posted online about six weeks ago. I know there was a lot of talk about the episode at the time, but I purposely avoided it all. I wanted to wait and experience it in context with the rest of the marathon. It's also quite timely considering I realised yesterday that there's about as many missing episodes left to wade through as there are episodes that I've already experienced. That was a scary thought.

So then! This story has the infamous distinction of being the only episode of Doctor Who to feature neither the Doctor or any of his companions. Ellie found it a most bizarre concept to get her head around, and wondered why it was even considered a part of the series. In some ways, I figure that she probably has a point. I'm hoping that events of this story will prove to be integral to the upcoming Dalek epic, but I have a feeling that it could be boiled down to just a few bits of the scenes featuring the Daleks and the array of weird and wonderful alien delegates - something tells me that's all I'm going to need to know from this one.

And that's kind-of ok. Certainly the aliens turning up was one of the stronger parts of the episode. I have to confess that I found the opening to be more than little dull, and I wasn't relishing the project of a full episode of two new characters stood around repairing a spaceship. It's telling that it picks up for me once the Daleks start to pursue them through the jungle, and eventually kill them. The Daleks here are colder than we've seen them for a while, and that's an interesting development.

One of the things I did pick up on during this one, and possibly as a result of this coming so close to The Chase*… Terry Nation does *really like the idea of plants that are part vegetation, part animal, doesn't he? I know that it's something of a joke within Doctor Who fandom - one of those ideas that he reuses time and time again, but actually, it's glaringly obvious when you sit down to watch it! We had a cliffhanger built around it in The Keys of Marinus, last week the Doctor was commenting on how fascinating it was on Mechanus, and now we've got the Vaaga plants here.

Actually, though, I'm not really complaining. The idea of the Vaaga plants is by far the most interesting one that Nation has given us in this theme. I like the idea that they are part animal because they've taken over a living creature, and it does make for quite a chilling moment as several of the plants move in on the spaceship and its remaining crew, even more so when you remember that one of the plants was their former crew-mate.

It's another area where it's perhaps better than this episode exists now as animation rather than physically in the archive. The effect of the Vaaga plant shuffling toward you, or as a person transforms into it, it rather well realised, here, though I'd imagine it could look less effective in the studio in 1965. The same is true for the moment that the Daleks destroy the spaceship, and it's described as 'just falling apart' - something that would either really work, or really not in the studio.

On the whole, I think I was rather fond of the animation used here. It took me a while to get over the fact that the Daleks all seem to have the wrong dimensions (but then, I'm a Doctor Who fan. Of course that was going to irritate me!), but I think it helped this episode fare better in my estimation than just the soundtrack might have. I don't think this was as polished at The Reign of Terror or The Invasion, but it's certainly nice to have it in existence.

Barring unforeseen miracles, this is the last time that things will fall into place just in time for the marathon. The other upcoming animations - for The Tenth Planet and The Ice Warriors - won't be available until long after I've passed those stories in the run. It's a shame, as I head deeper into the wastelands of 1960s Who, but it's been nice to have so many things arrive just in time so far.

Next Episode: Temple of Secrets

Don't forget to 'like' the 50 Year Diary Facebook page ! I'm sure I'll be using it to ask questions etc in relation to the marathon! 

1 April 2013

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

Day Ninety-One: The Exploding Planet (Galaxy 4, Episode Four)

Dear diary,

well here's a first for the 50 Year Diary - I watched today's episode twice. No, no, not because The Exploding Planet is the best episode of Doctor Who ever made, but because having listened to the narrated soundtrack release, I really wanted to see how the new recon on The Aztecs disc two held up.

The answer? It makes things seem a little rushed. It's odd, really, as I spent the audio version of the episode thinking on how little tension there is. They spend the time with Steven constantly asking the Doctor for a time update, and then they take a stroll back to the TARDIS before the world blows up. It's all very leisurely.

The recon, though, just makes the wrong things happen very quick. The Chumblies throw an ammonia bomb into the Drahvin's spaceship, so they all hurry outside, where they spend twenty seconds saying hello to the Chumblie, before they all turn on their heel and go back inside! At lest in the full length audio, they're outside for a while, and the Chumblie tells them when the air inside the ship is safe to enter again.

The other thing lost in the cut-down version, which really is a shame, is some depth to Steven's character. Everyone knows the big twist to Galaxy 4 - the beautiful aliens are evil, while the hideous ones are the good guys. You see it coming before you're halfway into Episode One. What's nice in the full-length Episode Four, though, is that when Steven is left alone with a Rill, he asks why he should trust the creature.

He muses that they must have given the Doctor enough evidence to be working with them, but that he's less sure. How does he know they're any different to the Drahvins? This goes on for a few moment,s before he concludes that the Doctor will have made the right choice, and he agrees to help work on the power transfer. In the cut-down version, most of this exchange is cut, and he simply agrees to help out with the power transfer as soon as the Doctor leaves the room.

If anything, this makes me even more glad to have Airlock back in the archive. The story could fall very very flat: there's nothing particularly new and exciting about it, after all. One of the most interesting things in here, though, is the way that Maaga acts during the third episode. We've seen her as steely and uncaring, dishing out punishments to her crew if they fail to obey her orders. We've seen her talk down to them, and ruthlessly trap Steven in the airlock.

But then there's s moment in that third episode, when she laments being stuck on this planet with her soldiers because they are just that - soldiers. She talks of how she tried to tell her commanders that they weren't right for a mission like this, but that they sent them along anyway. The character is given in that scene far more depth than we see anywhere else in the story. It's the one moment when she's not just your cardboard cut-out villain of the week. It's something of a redeeming feature to the character, and to the story itself.

Of course, she then goes on to talk about the thrill of watching the Doctor, his friends, and the Rills as the planet explodes around them, so there's a chance that she's just plain mad, too.

And one last thing, is the serial called Galaxy 4, or Galaxy Four? I've gone with the former because it's the more common (and I seem to remember about five years ago, when they announced the episode 42, Russell T Davies described it as being the first Doctor Who story to feature a numerical character in the title since this one), but the Target book opts for the latter version. What's everyone's preference?

(You have no idea how tempted I was to give this a '10', just for April Fool's sake. But then I figured you'd all see the score, figure I was mad, and leave for ever. Come back! Come back, I cry!)

Next Episode: Mission to the Unknown

Next Episode: Mission to the Unknown 
31 March 2013

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

Day Ninety: Airlock (Galaxy 4, Episode Three)

Dear diary,

I've been a good boy with this marathon. I told myself that I'd take it an episode a day, and stick to the era that I'm currently in. That means that since January 1st, the only episodes of Doctor Who that I've watched are the ones you've seen me write about for Doctor Who Online. I caught a 30-second clip of a Colin Baker episode the other day when a friend was watching and it completely there me. Who was this strange man? Why does he call himself 'the Doctor'? And what's with all the colour!

Something that's come along quite nicely for the pace of my marathon is the DVD releases this year. The Reign of Terror came out just about a week before I needed to watch it, and The Aztecs special edition - including today's episode of Galaxy 4 - was out just a couple of weeks ago. The problem is that because I'm being a good boy and not skipping ahead, I've not been able to watch this one! It's only been back in the archive for 18 months, and so the thought that it was sitting on the shelf while I was wading my way through The Space Museum was slowly killing me.

And then, on the day of the DVD's release, my friend Nick Mellish (who's opinion on Doctor Who I'd trust any day of the week. Even if he is wrong about Time of the Daleks. We wrote a whole book about it once) popped up on Facebook: “I've just watched Air Lock! A new-old episode of Doctor Who! Amazing. I mean, sort of: fair to say that the episode and story itself are rather patchy affairs, but it has its moments. Some brilliant stuff hidden in there. But, Will! New Who! A new episode! Let's face it, that's bloody wonderful regardless of quality.

Now, for me, there's slightly less of a thrill about the episode. As I said the other day, Season Three is my weak area of the Hartnell-era. I've seen bits of it (The War Machines) before, and other bits (The Gunfighters) I've been holding off watching until I finally did a marathon like this. The rest of it just doesn't exist, so I've never sought to find it. That means that many of the episode this season are going to be 'new-old' episodes of Who. Heck, the last two episodes were! And the next several are!

But there's still something special about Airlock. I think it's the magic of knowing that it was sat, unknown, in a collection for years. Waiting patiently to be discovered and reappraised again. It also helps that until a few years ago, with the recovery of a single photograph, we didn't have a clue what the Rills actually looked like! There wasn't any surviving material to show us. Throughout the 80s and 90s, you could only speculate as to what these 'hideous' creatures resembled. And now we've got a whole episode which features them! Sure, they're behind a glass screen, but we get the basic idea.

And I think, on the whole, that's why I'd much rather see at least one episode from every missing story returned, rather than a single full story. Don't get me wrong - I'd love to have a full story come back to the archives, so that we can enjoy it as originally intended from start to finish, but being able to actually see this episode has helped, a bit, to raise my opinion of the story as a whole, just as the surviving Episode Three did during The Crusade.

So! Anyway! The episode itself. My first port-of-call when loading up the DVD was to take a brief look at some of the recon bits from Episodes One and Two. Not the full thing, just snippets here and there. They look great, there's some really effective stuff in there, including the CGI Chumblies which are just adorable. Actually, that's true of the live-action Chumblies in the rest of Episode Three, too. I've long thought that Chumblies are meant to be a little bit naff, this kind of rubbish monster from the start of Season Three which doesn't quite work…

But they're ace! For a start, they've got lights inside them which flash around its body! I'm fairly sure that Peter Purves didn't describe that to me on the narrated soundtrack! They make them look far better than they might have otherwise. And the way they move is smooth and fun, gliding around the Rill's spaceship as they escort Vicki and the Doctor. Of course, it's not entirely flawless - I'm not keen on the way that the top 'dome' wobbles for a while when they come to a halt - but it's better than I'd anticipated.

Really, 'better than I'd anticipated' is a pretty good way to describe many of the things we see here. Catching the tail-end of the second episode on the recon, where the Doctor and Vicki explore the Rill ship, I was thinking how great it would be if the ship could have really looked as good as the backgrounds here, with the metallic frame and the sheets between them… and it does! That's what the ship really looks like throughout Episode Three!

On the whole, there's a lot of excitement associated with this episode, but the story itself still isn't the most fascinating thing in the world. I'm going to take the fair option and ration my excitement at actually seeing some of the story against how much the story itself is grabbing me, giving this episode:

Next Episode: The Exploding Planet

Next Episode: The Exploding Planet 
30 March 2013

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

Day Eighty-Nine: Trap of Steel (Galaxy 4, Episode Two)

Dear diary,

This isn't likely to be a particularly popular comment, but I don't think that Galaxy 4 is one of the greatest losses among Doctor Who's missing episodes. That's not to say that I'm glad it's missing - I might be enjoying it even more were I able to see it properly - or that I wouldn't want to see more of it returned to the archives, but I'm glad that we've lost this one, as opposed to, say, The Time Meddler.

Yes, yes, I'm sure you can judge from that opening paragraph my feelings towards today's episode. It's that same sense of disappointment that I found myself experiencing during Season Two - It's not that there's anything wrong with the episode, it's all just too bland. The Doctor and Steven get caught in the TARDIS, where bombs are set off outside, but there never feels like any real threat.

Then the pair wander back to the Drahvin spaceship and discuss the poor quality of its design. Then they argue with Maaga a bit, before she takes one of the Doctor's companions hostages, and he goes for another walk. Ooh, exciting.

That's not to say that the episode doesn't have its merits. Steven still proves to be a real boon to the series, and his discussion with the Drahvin soldier, as he tries to convince her to go and get the better gun is fantastic. Steven knows the way that this works, and he's able and willing to play the situation to get the result he needs. It helps to give us a glimpse at his intelligence while painting a picture of the way the Drahvin society works.

I also have to give praise for the scene in which the Doctor and Vicki observe, note, collate, conclude… and then she throws a rock at a Chumblie. It's another example of the series injecting just the right amount of comedy, and I have to admit to laughing out loud when Vicki explained her method to the Doctor. It feels as though Vicki's character has been given a bit more of a rounding out over the last couple of stories again, which is nice to see.

But tomorrow is surely the bigger excitement. An episode of Doctor Who missing from the archives for several decades, and now back in its rightful home, fully restored and out on DVD just in time for me to reach it with this marathon. And just think, it's only a single dawn away!

Next Episode: Airlock

Next Episode: Airlock 
29 March 2013

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

Day Eighty-Eight: Four Hundred Dawns (Galaxy 4, Episode One)

Dear diary,

A nice shiny new recon of Galaxy 4 came out a couple of weeks back, as a special feature on the new release of The Aztecs DVD, as a place to house the recently-recovered third episode. Unfortunately, the recon on the DVD isn't a full length one, and the rest of the episodes have been cut down. In the interests of doing this marathon properly, I've therefore decided to stick with the audio release of the story - though I did get a nice 5-minute clip of real footage in today's episode…

One of the things I like about the narrated audios is that they allow my mind to wander a little, and take one-or-two liberties with the visual representation of the story. Having come from eighty-seven consecutive days of watching early Doctor Who evolve in its style, anything I'm imagining here isn't wildly different to what I'm used to them achieving in the studio (the planet isn't some far-flung alien visa, for example, with the suns blazing in the sky as though they were made of pure CGI), I am able to forget about any odd technical glitches, such as any damage to the set, or a snippet of boom shadow.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Peter Purves describes the world onto which the TARDIS has landed: 'the ground here is black and smooth'. I've worked in studio TC3 at the BBC Television Centre (may she rest in peace), and so the description of a studio floor was enough to pull me right out of things for a moment! I might not imagine a vast, sprawling landscape, but I might have at least imagined some sand on the ground…

In all, this first episode is something of a come-down from the highs I've had with The Time Meddler. It feels like a hangover from Season Two (which, being made at the end of that production period, I guess it is), and not one of the better examples of the run. There's some nice enough elements, but the whole thing is just a little bland.

The standout has to be the TARDIS crew, who have very quickly settled in, and who I'm liking a lot. The opening scenes here, in which Vicki cuts Steven's hair while the Doctor operates the ship are somewhat reminiscent of the first episode of The Chase, and suggest a team that are settled in with each other.

One of the complaints that I've often read about this story is that it was re-written at the last minute to incorporate Steven instead of Ian and Barbara, and that therefore, many of Babs' lines were relocated to the new arrival. While that may feel like the case in one or two places here, it helps to bed in the idea that Steven is comfortable in the TARDIS, and gives the impression that some time has passed since we left them at the end of the last season. I'd be willing to suggest that they've had one or two adventures together since then.

Steven's sense of sarcasm, which I so praised yesterday, is still in evidence, too, when he discusses Vicki's hair-cutting skills. All in all? A team I'm really enjoying, and I hope it continues through the rest of the story.

The one other thing that I wasn't expecting was a line from Maaga, when she describes her crew as 'products. Inferior products. Grown for a purpose and nothing more.' As soon as she said it, I was reminded of the Flesh from Matt Smith's second season - there's certainly something of a parallel! Are some of the Drahvins grown from the stuff? Assuming nothing comes along to contradict it further down the line, I'm going to be taking this as part of my own personal cannon from now on…

Next Episode: Trap of Steel

Next Episode: Trap of Steel 

Don't forget to 'like' the 50 Year Diary Facebook page ! I'm sure I'll be using it to ask questions etc in relation to the marathon! 

28 March 2013

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

Day Eighty-Seven: Checkmate (The TIme Meddler, Episode Four)

Dear diary,

Ever since watching The Aztecs, I've made a lot of reference to a loose 'arc' that runs through these early stories, particularly in the historicals. For want of a better term, in my mind I've been calling it the 'altering history' arc. At various points since then, I've speculated that what we've been watching in these stories is the First Doctor learning about the way history works, shifting from a view that you cannot change it, to the dawning realisation that, actually, you can.

Where this episode is interesting, then, is in the way it gives a slightly different viewpoint to the whole thing. In The Aztecs, when Barbara tries to change sacrificial ways because she believes a more civilised society can be born, the Doctor is very blunt with her: 'You can't re-write history! Not one line!'. At the time, I said that during this stage, early on in his travels, that's what he believed. Across the following historical stories (and culminating in The Romans, in which he becomes the reason for the great fire of Rome), I've suggested that he's discovering for the first time that history is more malleable than he might have first thought.

Here, though, when talking to a member of his own race for the first time (or, at least, the first time that we have seen, and presumably the first time since he left home, Susan notwithstanding), he describes 'the golden rule of time/space travel' as being that you must 'never, never interfere with the course of history'. It would be far more in keeping with the early Doctor's personality for him to have known this all along, and to only be so blunt with Barbara because he didn't want her to mess around with established events.

Tell her that the rules say she can't alter history, and she may argue that rules are made to be broken. Tell her that she can't, or that it's impossible, and there's less of a debate to be had.

And yet, all of this still allows for a learning curve in the Doctor's case, albeit one which stretches far beyond these first two seasons of the show (but so broadly that it would be difficult to keep track of it after The Time Meddler). By the time that the Doctor reaches his Eighth incarnation in the Big Finish audios, he rips a hole in the Web of Time by saving his companion's life. By the time of The Waters of Mars and his Tenth incarnation, he's learnt that he can - or can at least try - to bend time to his own will.

Once he's regenerated into Matt Smith's incarnation, messing around with time to get the desired effect is all par-for-the-course. This little arc, which I've been following for a few months now, becomes a thread that links all of Doctor Who together, very loosely.

Quite apart from all this 'arc' stuff which I keep retro-actively shoe-horning into the early seasons, this has been another great episode. If anything, it all seemed to be over a little quick. The final confrontation between the Doctor and the Monk took place early on, and then the rest seems to fall to the Saxons and the Viking's battling it out, with the Monk caught in the middle.

That's not to say that there isn't still some good stuff involved - Steven is still proving to be a great companion, and I've taken to him in the way I loved Ian in the early days. I hope the quality of writing for the character stays this high outside of a Dennis Spooner script. He's got a thick vein of sarcasm running through him, which helps to make the character seem all the more real.

The Doctor's joy at having tricked the Monk is fab, and it's great to see the Doctor behaving in this way. Throughout the story, it's felt like the Doctor has finally struck the perfect balance between the dark, sinister character from early Season One and the giggling fool we've seen lot so f in Season Two. Crucially, we've had to say goodbye to Ian and Barbara, who the Doctor himself said were treating him like a doddery old man. Perhaps now we're back to seeing a more 'true' Doctor, though still softened by the time he spent with them?

On the whole, the second season has been a bit of a let down for me. While there were several stand-out episodes, there were far more that really didn't chime with me particularly well. I'm excited to be moving onto the show's third season, though, and seeing what it will bring. Of all the Hartnell seasons, the third is the one I have the least prior exposure to (mostly due to the high number of missing bits!), so there could be anything waiting for me just around the corner…

Next Episode: Four Hundred Dawns

Next Episode: Four Hundred Dawns 
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