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Roderick Donald

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27 March 2013

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

Day Eighty-Six: A Battle of Wits (The Time Meddler, Episode Three)

Dear diary,

I don't know if I just didn't notice it during The Crusade and the end of Planet of Giants, or if Douglas Camfield has suddenly stepped up a gear in his direction, but this episode continues to make The Time Meddler the absolute best direction that we've had in Doctor Who to date.

The scene where the Doctor confronts the Monk, with a stick to his back, is simply gorgeous, and the close-ups of the characters feel oddly out of place - the framing of them and the way that the camera cuts from shot, to shot, to shot… it's all far better than I've grown used to. It also has an interesting effect on the Doctor - Hartnell has never looked better in the role than he does here.

There's a shot, as the Monk steps outside for the second time, having been taunted by a ghostly knock to the door, when the Doctor steps up behind him, and fixes him in the back with the end of a branch. The way the Doctor stands, the way he acts, the way he speaks to the Monk… Hartnell performs the scene in a way quite unlike any other performance he's given, and it all really works.

And then there's that final shot, as Vicki and Steven crawl through a concealed door in the crypt and emerge out into the Monk's TARDIS. The way that the camera pulls backwards, the doors opening as the pair step inside. Frankly, there's something a little bit magical about that moment.

The problem is that I know it's coming! The cliffhanger to this episode is one of the more well-known from the programme's original run. It's a justly famous cliffhanger - it's fantastic! - but it means that the impact is slightly lessened for me. Imagine sitting down in 1965, having watched Doctor Who for just under two years, following it from the beginning, and then reaching this moment.

Everything you thought you knew is suddenly being re-written! I wondered just a few days ago at the Doctor's comment that he built the TARDIS. Even as late as that, there's still some indication that the ship is his, and it's the only one in the universe. Now we know otherwise.

I must admit, based on how much I'm enjoying this story so far, I was really worried about this cliffhanger. I was worried that it would just pass me by without feeling at all special, in the way that it rightly should do. Thankfully, a combination of the direction, Maureen O'Brien's performance and the way that the whole thing is handled really comes together to make give the scene a real impact, even if you do know what's coming.

Next Episode: Checkmate

Next Episode: Checkmate 
26 March 2013

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

Day Eighty-Five: The Meddling Monk (The Time Meddler, Episode Two)

Dear diary,

I panicked, after yesterday. The pattern lately seems to be of having a very strong opening episode, and then watching as it slowly goes to pot across the rest of the story. Or, at the very least, watching it revert to just being mediocre. Having come from such a strong episode yesterday (It's not the first '9' I've given to the marathon, but I spent a while debating wether or not to give it a full-on '10'…), I really didn't want to watch this one fall from favour so quick.

Thankfully, it hasn't. Weyhey! A large portion of the credit really must be given to the style and direction of the whole thing. These are - quite simply - the very best sets we've had in the series to date. All of them look fantastic, and the whole thing still has a real filmic quality to it.

The direction is first-rate, with the sad exception of the fight sequence toward the end, which just ends up falling a little flat. The problem with it, though, is that it looks like a fight from early 1960s Doctor Who, when everything around it looks like something far more polished than that.

The thing that struck me most has to be the absence of Hartnell. Not because it's badly covered (quite the opposite, in fact. The tape player just about gets away with it), but because it's only been a few episodes since we last saw him dip out for a week - during The Space Museum. It's not often you get two weeks of in such quick succession!

Perhaps the best thing about his holiday, though, has to be the cliffhanger itself. Coming as soon as it does after his last week away, Steven peering into the cell and suggesting that he thinks the Doctor is asleep, and then Vicki simply staring off-camera while she says the Doctor's name are all very reminiscent of Ian's surprised 'Doctor!' in The Space Museum.

Whereas there, though, we don't get to see what he's looking at (until the following episode, and Hartnell's return to work), here it's revealed that the lack of reply is indeed a lack of the Doctor - he's gone missing! It's a great subversion of my expectations, which helped to really make good use of the Doctor being missing for a bit.

Another subversion of my expectations came in the form of the Saxon who doesn't trust Vicki and Steven. As soon as he started to predict that they would regret letting the pair walk free, I knew they'd end up being framed for something. It was a bit of an eye-rolling moment, then, when Vikings came to assert themselves against the woman of the group (The implication seems to be rape, though that's perhaps a little strong for a Saturday tea-time!), and we're quickly being told that it was the work of 'the travellers'.

So it's fantastic that within a few minutes, they've been cleared of the crime by the woman herself, who comes round long enough to murmur 'Vikings'. I'm never much of a fan of 'the Doctor and his friends have to prove their innocence' in these historical stories, so it's great to see that idea being given a new spin here, too…

Next Episode: A Battle of Wits

Next Episode: A Battle of Wits 
25 March 2013

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

Day Eighty-Four: The Watcher (The Time Meddler, Episode One)

Dear diary,

For some weeks now, The Time Meddler has felt like something of a Holy Grail. As I've meandered my way through Season Two, finding it to be mostly average-to-poor stories with the odd flash of brilliance, this tale, nestled in the final slot of the series, has seemed like a beacon of shining light.

I mused a few days ago that Ian and Barbara had come to represent everything that I wasn't enjoying about the series, and now is the best time to qualify that statement so that it makes a bit more sense. Everything post-Season Two holds some kind of excitement for me. This story is another vital stage in the arc of altering history. Galaxy 4 has a recently-recovered episode, and the DVD has been sat on my shelf for weeks, now, calling out to me, while I stubbornly refuse to watch before the allotted day in the marathon.

The Myth Makers is hailed as being a rather fantastic tale, and my newfound appreciation for the Daleks means that the idea of a 'twelve-part Dalek epic' seems exciting enough. The only things that was tying me to the middle-of-the-road second season stories were… well… Ian and Barbara.

It's felt like the arrival of Steven would be exactly the thing to kick the series back into gear: a breath of fresh air, sweeping through Doctor Who like a hurricane as it moved everything into a position to be fantastic again. And we start with today's episode which is, let's face it, bloody marvelous.

Yesterday, I talked about the odd way they leave things with Steven, and hoped that they would pick them up properly here. Well the good news is that they not only pick things up properly, but they use the opportunity to create the best opening to an episode that we've had in a long time. In much the same way that The Rescue was used as a chance to re-establish the series post-Susan, the opening to this tale is used to bring us back up to speed again before we continue.

We get mention of the original TARDIS team, Vicki even gives us a recap of what the acronym stands for, and she explains to Steven that the ship can move anywhere in time and space. We're then re-introduced to the idea that it's broken, and thus we never know where we'll be next, and the reasons why it looks like a police telephone box.

And yet, while all this could be incredibly dry stuff for someone like myself, who's enough of a fan of the series as to know all of this stuff like the back of my hand, it's written so perfectly that it never gets dull. Steven is given a wonderful vein of humour to draw from as he encounters all these strange and wonderful new things. (An absolute highlight has to be the Doctor explaining that the ship can change its appearance to look like anything, and agreeing that it would turn into a large rock if it were to land on a beach. Steven then turns to Vicki and exclaims 'You know that large rock over there looks exactly like a police telephone box…').

Quite aside from this, the whole episode looks gorgeous. I spent a little while trying to figure out if it had all been shot on film or if it just looked lovely. The direction is first class and the sets are stunning. There's a moment when two Saxons look over the edge of the cliffs and we see the sky moving above them, and it's flawless. Really impressive stuff.

The only thing I regret is knowing what this story is about. I know that the Monk has lost a wrist-watch. I know that the chanting in the abandoned monastery is coming from a grammar phone. I know that there's a second TARDIS secreted away in 1066. Knowing all of this does take something away from the impact of these reveals, but having come to this story the long way (at the pace of an episode a day) it really does feel fresh, new, and different.

What a great way to start this fabled 'new era' I've been so looking forward to!

Next Episode: The Meddling Monk

Next Episode: The Meddling Monk 
24 March 2013
 Day Eighty-Three: The Planet of Decision (The Chase, Episode Six)

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

Day Eighty-Three: The Planet of Decision (The Chase, Episode Six)

Dear diary,

The Daleks are closing in on our heroes! Trapped in a cave with no means of escape, destined to be exterminated any second! But wait! What's that? A hidden door has swished open, and a strange, huge, metallic creature beacons the time travellers toward it in a barely comprehensible computer language.

As the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki crowd in around the robot, the door closes once more as the small space starts to ascend to the city high above them. It's a lift! It's more than that - it's an escape. Freedom, if only briefly, from the Daleks below. They rise higher and higher into the sky…

And all I can think about is how much I wish my Mechanoid toy had a little top bit that went up and down like the one on the screen! I love the Mechanoid toy for the same reason I think the creatures look great on screen here - it's massive. Compared to all the other figures on the shelf, it's a great big lump, and that makes it impressive.

Ten minutes after the episode had finished, while I way laying on my bed, recreating the fight between the Daleks and the Mechanoids (Oh, shush. We all do it), I suddenly noticed that the top bit of the figure does actually lift up and down! Weyhey! I've had this thing sat on the shelf for well over a year, now, and I've never noticed that it does that. How marvellous.

Anyway. Yes. The fight between the Daleks and the Mechanoids. There's a great piece of artwork on Disc Two of the DVD release for The Chase which depicts the battle between the creatures, and it's something of a Photoshop masterpiece. Both sides engulfed in flames, attacking each other. But, actually, it's fairly spot-on for what we get on screen here in 1965!

I often tell myself that I'm not really all that bothered by Doctor Who not being shot on film. I mean, sure, the ITC serials look lovely made that way, but on the whole I've never really noticed the difference all that much. But then we get that first shot here of a Mechanoid trundling into the battle arena, shot at an off-kilter angle, and I wish, Oh, I wish, that Doctor Who always looked this good. It continues for the rest of the battle scene, with close ups of the Dalek Guns, and fast cuts as the battle rages… Frankly, it's stunning. I think I even prefer it to the revolution scene from The Dalek Invasion of Earth.

Oh, but really, this episode belongs to Ian and Barbara. I commented the other day that I was starting to get a bit sick of them, and that I was about ready for them to leave. All of that's still true - I'm excited to be moving onto a new era post-schoolteachers, but that doesn't mean that I won't miss them. The latter third of this episode is a masterclass in how to handle the departure of companions from Doctor Who, and thinking it over, I'm not sure it's ever been bettered.

The way that the Doctor explodes at them when they suggest using the Dalek time capsule to get home is the thing that I've always remembered from watching this scene in the past, but it's so much deeper than that. When the Doctor and Vicki exit the ship, and we see it depart into time and space, Vicki turns back to watch as it goes, staring into the empty space that it's left behind.

But - and this is the best bit - the Doctor doesn't. He stops, looks away. We don't even get a close up of Hartnell here, because it's not needed. The whole point is that the Doctor is trying to not interact with the moment. To pretend it's not happening, because it's too painful to accept. The whole thing is beautiful. And then, following Ian and Barbara's return to Earth, the Doctor watches them on the Time-Space Visualiser, just to make sure that they've made it ok. I'd forgotten that bit, but it's lovely.

The one thing that I did find odd was the way that Steven was handled toward the end of the story. Having seen our heroes escape the city, we watch it destroyed as the Doctor explains that Steven likely hasn't made it out. There's no real moment to mourn him: he's just one of those casualties the TARDIS crew encounter on their travels. I thought this was an strange way to leave it, but then we see him running through the jungle looking for the Doctor - hooray! He did escape!

But that's it. I thought that we'd maybe see a shot of him discovering the TARDIS. Something, at least, to set up his return in the next episode. Ah well, I guess I'll see if it's resolved any better tomorrow…

Next Episode: The Watcher

23 March 2013

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

Day Eighty-Two: The Death of Doctor Who (The Chase, Episode Five)

Dear diary,

If I thought it was a shame that they ruined the reveal of Bizarro Doctor yesterday by mixing between shots of Edmund Warwick and William Hartnell, then nothing could have prepared me for today. I still maintain that even though Warwick isn't a great likeness for Hartnell, I could probably suspend my belief enough to accept him as the robot Doctor during this episode.

As it is, by swapping between the two actors for that role… I sort of lost track. Partly because there was more than one occasion when I wasn't sure if it was meant to be the Doctor or Robodoc, and partly because I wasn't trying all that hard to keep track.

Hartnell plays the role of the robot perfectly when he encounters Barbara in the cave - he's sinister and menacing, and it's genuinely un-nerving to see the Doctor being played in this manner. In some ways, it's not all that far removed from the way that he was playing the Doctor in An Unearthly Child. Having since watched him soften into the giggling chap more prominent in the second season, this is really effective.

The issue is, then, that a few moments later, when the Warwick-Doctor pins Barbara down with his cane, it would be a lot more effective to see Hartnell playing the part. Don't get me wrong, it's a pretty dramatic moment as it is, but it could be so much more!

I think it;s in evidence during the confrontation between the real Doctor and his robot double - both halves of the conversation played by Hartnell himself. The effect works much better here, even if you do get the impression of Ian and Barbara watching a game of tennis…

Otherwise, this is just another fairly run-of-the-mill episode of Doctor Who. The design is quite nice (I love the mechanic city), if not outstanding, and the regulars all go about their business as usual. It's odd to see an Episode Five carried almost entirely by our four regular characters, but I think they get away with it - I didn't get the impression that the episode was lagging particularly.

It's interesting to note that the Daleks here aren't played for laughs as they have been elsewhere in the story. Once they've arrived in the jungle, they just go about there business of trying to capture the TARDIS crew (even if they're not very good at it!). In some ways, this is a bit of a shame: they're just sort of there, as opposed to being an interesting part of the narrative.

What I do love, though - and it's happened a few times in this story - is that they refer to the Doctor and his friends as 'the humans'. No attempt is made to correct them. The Daleks at this stage don't know that the Doctor is an alien, and so the programme keeps to that logic! It's a minor thing, but it really works for me. I can't remember if there's a specific point where they discover that he's not quite your average Earthman…

Next Episode: The Planet of Decision

Next Episode: The Planet of Decision 
22 March 2013

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

Day Eighty-One: Journey into Terror (The Chase, Episode Four)

Dear diary,

There's a point in this episode, when the Doctor and Ian have discovered the laboratory, and Ian tells the Doctor he's rather not know that's laying in wait under the sheet on the table. “Where's your sense of adventure?” the Doctor asks him. “It died a slow and painful death,” Ian replies.

I've always cited Ian and Barbara as being among my favourite companions - and some of the best examples of companions that Doctor Who has ever produced. However, as anyone who's been following the blog along will have no doubt noticed, I've been less than impressed with the state of the show in its second season that I was with the first.

Sadly, Ian and Barbara have come to represent all that I'm not liking with the programme at the moment. They're the only real thing that's still there from the beginning (the Doctor is enough of a different character now that he may as well be brand new), and the longer they stick around for, the more I'm growing tired of them.

That's not a slight against William Russell or Jacqueline Hill at all, by the way. They both continue to be fantastic, though I'm starting to notice more and more instances of them just sort of coasting through scenes (or, to use another phrase I've been saying about Who this season, they're slipping into auto pilot). I think it started somewhere around The Web Planet, and it's been becoming more and more noticeable as we've gone on.

During Episode Two of The Space Museum, when the pair spent a lot of time arguing with each other - and with Vicki - I said that it felt like a relationship on the rocks, just sticking together out of habit. We get more of that here, when they argue with the Doctor about leaving Vicki behind, and not being able to go back for her. It just feels more-and-more that the time has come for Ian and Barbara to go. By the time they do leave the series, I'll have spent eighty-three days in their company: perhaps just a little too long.

Still, it's great to see their exit already being set up. It's been a good few years since I last saw The Chase, and enough time for me to have assumed that they simply decided to hijack the Daleks' time capsule to get them home in the closing moments of Episode Six. It's nice to see that actually, using the other time machine is an idea introduced here. As with Susan's exit earlier this season, a lot of thought is being given to departures at this stage.

Elsewhere, the haunted house set looks fantastic. I'm not sure how I feel about the idea that it all turns out to have been a fun house exhibit - I wonder if the Doctor's theory that it may be a product of the collective human imagination may be more interesting as a concept. Incidentally, this is the perfect type of story to utilise this setting for - it feels just right to see our regulars exploring a house like this, but I fear it would have grown tiresome after an episode. The appearance of Frankenstein's monster and Dracula are another one of those things that this story gets derided for (and another example of something I was dreading), but they're a great addition.

Plus, the Frankenstein make-up is great!

And then we're onto the robot replica of Doctor Who. You could *almost get away with the resemblance not being the best, if only they didn't cut to a close-up of Hartnell at the very end! Noooo!

Next Episode: The Death of Doctor Who

Shhh. For *this story, that's his name. 
21 March 2013
 Day Eighty: Flight Through Eternity (The Chase, Episode Three)

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

Day Eighty: Flight Through Eternity (The Chase, Episode Three)

Dear diary,

Let me get this one off my chest before I begin. Last week, I took issue with the fact that Vicki had read about Daleks in her history books, but had never seen an image of one. Let alone the fact that she's still using history books as opposed to reading it on the iPad 9, or having it downloaded to her brain during her hour-a-week studies, it just seemed plain weird.

And yet here, as they gaze out from the top of the Empire State Building, she recognises it as 'Ancient New York'. She knows so because she's seen pictures of it in her history books from before the Daleks destroyed it during their invasion of Earth! Were they just really selective about which pictures they wanted to show in the books?

(I must point out that, while hearing both statements so close together in a marathon format like this is annoying me, there's plenty to love about this. It's great to see them continuing to remind us that Vicki is from the future. She's such a 1960s character at times, it would be very easy to simply forget that she's not contemporary. It's also a lovely touch to add reference to the Dalek invasion - it really just helps to tie things together nicely.)

So! Flight Through Eternity. I'm not gonna lie: it's episodes like this one that I was dreading when I started this story. I mused just a few days ago that after the epic scale that was The Dalek Invasion of Earth, reducing the Daleks to a comic runaround would be more than a little disappointing. Well… I was wrong!

Hah! This episode is brilliant. Say what you want about Morton Dill (and believe me, I've been active in fan circles for long enough to know what people generally say about him!), but that whole sequence is sheer greatness. It's played as comedy - and everyone knows it's played as comedy. It just works. It's also home to what might be my favourite exchange in the series so far - “You're from Earth!” / “No ma'm, I'm from Alabama!”

Plus, it's great to see Peter Purves turning up. I once cast him in a film I made at university, along with Sarah Greene. He's always been a favourite. We'll be seeing a lot more of him before long, so chances are that I'll ruminate on that at some point!

The really interesting thing about this, though, is the Doctor's comment that a piece of the TARDIS operating equipment has 'been in the ship since I constructed it'. That's my bolding on that quote, by the way. Hartnell delivers the line as completely matter-of-fact, as if it's no great surprise.

Now, I know that there's implications in the first story that the TARDIS was the Doctor's own invention (and that Susan came up with the acronym), but it's not often we get such a blatant statement about the ships origins. What's everyone's thoughts on the matter? Did the Doctor build the ship? Does he mean he built that piece of the ship? What's everyone's thoughts? Leave a comment ,or pop on over the the 50 year Diary Facebook Page to share your thoughts…

Next Episode: Journey into Terror

20 March 2013
 Day Seventy-Nine: The Death of Time (The Chase, Episode Two)

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

Day Seventy-Nine: The Death of Time (The Chase, Episode Two)

Dear diary,

This is a tricky one. I've enjoyed today's episode, but at the same time is hasn't done much new or interesting It's the same kind of Doctor-Who-by-numbers that I've complained about a few times during this second season.

And yet, I really have enjoyed it…

The big problem here is that they're simply over stretching themselves. The Aridian costumes aren't great, and I can't even cover for them by attempting my 'squint-at-the-screen' technique. They're just not good costumes. The design is (more-or-less) sound - it's the realisation that falls down.

And speaking of which - the Dalek falling into Ian's trap. I was really looking forward to this. Right from early in the episode, there's some gorgeous shots of the Daleks taken from a low angle, which not only makes them menacing, but shows off just how beautiful the 1960s Daleks really are. The build-up to this pivotal moment, then, still being shot from below as the Doctor and Ian build the trap had me really excited to see the Dalek tumbling down into the pit…

And then it's all done with a shadow, and is over in a matter of seconds. We don't even get a shot of the Dalek shell at the bottom! It's disappointing, because it would have made for a real stand-out moment in this story; especially so soon after The Dalek Invasion of Earth.

It's not all bad, though. The shot of the city collapsing around Ian and Vicki is rather well done, and we get to see a Dalek with an unusual new arm attachment, which looks rather snazzy. While I'm at it - Oi! Character Options! Where's the release of this Dalek? Please? I'd buy one.

I also really enjoyed Ian and the Vicki teasing each other as they try to make their escape ('You fool!' 'You… nit!'), and it's lovely to see the Doctor and Barbara given some time together again. It feels like an age since we last saw them paired together (Was it The Aztecs? No wonder it feels so long…).

So, on the whole, there's a lot to love, but it's got the same problem that much of Season Two seems to have - there's just nothing all that special about it.

Next Episode: Flight Through Eternity

19 March 2013
 Day Seventy-Eight: The Executioners (The Chase, Episode One)

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

Day Seventy-Eight: The Executioners (The Chase, Episode One)

Dear diary,

I've been dreading this story. But I've been really looking forward to this story. But, then again, I've been dreading it. But really looking forward to it. Dizzy yet? Yeah, me too.

Here's the thing: as you may have guessed from the last month or so, I've not been enjoying Season Two as much as I enjoyed Season One. Once I'd gotten The (surprisingly great) Dalek Invasion of Earth out of the way, everything's been a bit… meh. And then there's The Chase.

This is another one of those stories that's always just sort of been there. I've never loved it, but I've never disliked it. It just sort of exists, keeping the second season going for six weeks. I remember it being quite fun, so I was looking forward to watching that. And then I watched The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and it was epic, and gorgeous, and brilliant. I really loved it, and I'd loved the fact that it brought the Daleks down to real locations and made them gritty.

Suddenly, the thought of a six-week 'romp' through time and space seemed far less appealing. And thus, for a few weeks, I rather put The Chase out of my mind, figuring that I'd just deal with it when I got there and then move on. So, I made my way through The Romans and The Web Planet, and The Crusades , not really looking forward to this comedy Dalek adventure. But then I reached Episode One of The Space Museum.

The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki turn a corner and come face-to-face with… a Dalek. And you know what? I was excited. For - I think - the first time since their appearance in Bad Wolf, I was excited by the prospect of the Daleks coming back. Then I had to sit through the three remaining episodes of The Space Museum, before I got a glimpse of a Dalek in front of a rather cheap looking wall. Ooh, thrilling.

Suffice to say, when I got up this morning, I wasn't relishing the prospect of today's episode. Having enjoyed their Earth-bound exploits so much, I was about to find myself subjected to a cheap Dalek story that wouldn't be very good. Bowl of cereal at the ready, I loaded the DVD into the Mac and grudgingly chose the first episode.

And then, I spent twenty-five of the most enjoyable minutes I've ever had watching Doctor Who. I'm not being funny, but this episode is brilliant. I tried to take Rob Shearman's advice yesterday and look for the humour in The Space Museum. There's no looking for humour here - it's holding up great big signs right in front of you!

The Doctor fixes his machine and gets irritated at Vicki's whistling, while Ian reads a book about 'Monsters From Outer-Space', which he declares “a bit far fetched”. I was laughing, out loud, to myself as I watched. That doesn't happen all that often. It's so rare to see the TARDIS crew just kicking back and enjoying themselves.

They go on to watch a bit of the Time Telly, before heading out onto a desert planet, which they treat as the equivalent of a day trip to Brighton. It's all really great fun - it's almost a shame that the Daleks have to turn up and spoil it for them.

Even then, there's plenty of drama, as Ian and Vicki find themselves cornered by a monster in a secret chamber, while the Doctor and Barbara get caught out in a sand storm, losing the TARDIS under the sand itself. The cliffhanger of the Dalek rising from the sand is't as effective as the similar one from earlier in the season, where the creature glides out of the Thames, but it's still rather good - and I love the sound of it struggling to get out of the ground!

The Daleks themselves look as impressive as ever when they're stood around in their control room, and they looks genuinely scary as they pour into their time machine. It's a shame that they didn't have the timings a little more spot-on, to avoid the occasional pauses between creatures making their way inside.

Frankly, I loved it all.

Mind you, I wondered about Ian and Barbara being a couple during The Romans, but he and Vicki here are like a pair of teenagers on a first date to the beach! In some ways, it's quite endearing!

Next Episode: The Death of Time

18 March 2013
 Day Seventy-Seven: The Final Phase (The Space Museum, Episode Four)

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

Day Seventy-Seven: The Final Phase (The Space Museum, Episode Four)

Dear diary,

I think it's pretty fair to say that The Space Museum has left me more than a little cold since the start of the second episode. In an attempt to rectify this, and give the story a chance at redemption before it draws to a close, I've not dived straight into this episode.

Instead, I spent a few minutes watching a special feature on the DVD in which Rob Shearman defends the story. If there's anyone I'm willing to listen to on the subject then it's most certainly Rob - writer of the excellent The Chimes of Midnight, one of my favourite of the Big Finish plays. The first episode of Chimes shares several similarities with the opening of The Space Museum (the Doctor and his companion Charley cannot be seen or - properly - heard by the inhabitants of a large house they;ve landed in… Charley is unable to write her name in the dust on a table without it vanishing again), but then the story continues to be strong throughout.

Rob brings up a number of points about things he loves in this story, often referring to the fact that it's got a thick vein of comedy, and that it often lampoons earlier ideas in Doctor Who. Looking back, I think he's right, but it did little to improve my opinion on the earlier episodes. In fact, I think the only thing that it did do for me was to highlight how often Tor puts his hands on his hips. That was fun, and surely a good example of a Doctor Who drinking game?

For all my complaints about The Space Museum, though, I do have to confess that the ending is rather clever. The Doctor and his companions have spent so much time trying to alter their own destiny in this story, that they're completely unaware of the effects they're having on those around them - and ultimately it's the effect they've had on others which saves the day.

This should be an interesting concept throughout the tale - another vital step in the arc of not changing history - but it ends up just feeling a bit lacking. It doesn't help that the characters remind us every five minutes that they're trying to change their future; it all gets a bit monotonous by the end.

It is nice to watch Vicki's relationship with Tor developing in this episode, though. Coming so soon after The Dalek Invasion of Earth, you could be forgiven for thinking it might be setting up for her departure, staying behind to help build this new world. She certainly shares more chemistry with the boy than many later companions will with the people they depart for!

(Oh, and while I'm - tangentially - on the subject of Daleks, I'm disappointed by how cheap the cliffhanger looks. Still, I'm quite excited to have the pepper pots back again, and that's not something I ever expected to say!)

Next Episode: The Executioners

17 March 2013

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

Day Seventy-Six: The Search (The Space Museum, Episode Three)

Dear diary,

There's more shots of the police box exterior to the TARDIS in whiz episode than I think we've had in any other episode to date. That makes this the perfect opportunity to mention… just how gorgeous is the Hartnell era TARDIS?

I've praised the design of the interior before now (well, at least most of the time - it never looks so good when it's been hastily assembled in a corner somewhere…), but I don't think I've ever mentioned the exterior before now. I've never really given it much thought in the past, but I think this early version is my favourite of the classic bunch.

There's something about it that really works for me. It could be the fact that it looks a bit battered, and therefore really sells it as something that's been tumbling through the Time Vortex (or the Asteral Plane, of whatever you want to call it at this stage). The police box goes through a similar period of looking battered in the 1980s, but it's never quite as good as we see it here. And yet it's the one version of the ship that I don't own in toy form! I really must get around to fixing that.

As for the episode itself… well, it's much the same as yesterdays - nothing particularly wrong with it, but there's just nothing all that great to hook onto, either. It's great to see Ian given plenty to do, even if he's not quite in character while he's doing it. Equally, it's good to see Vicki being given a strong role in the story, too, as she starts to stir up the revolution.

I have to ask, though, since when has Vicki been able to reprogram a commuter like that? The whole scene outside the armoury put me in mind of a similar one with Zoe during The Invasion; but I had no idea something like that had occurred here, too!

What's that? What do you mean I'm struggling for things to say in relation to this episode? I resent that accusation. Although, um… er… Realistically, one of the problems with the show going into a kind of auto pilot like this is that I don't really end up with much to discuss. I could go into the suggestion that this is the only story of the early period in the show's history which hasn't seen some debate over its overall title, but that seems to be stretching it a bit.

Besides, The Dimensions of Time would be a much cooler overall title, anyway…

Next Episode: The Final Phase

Next Episode: The Final Phase 
16 March 2013
 Day Seventy-Five: The Dimensions of Time (The Space Museum, Episode Two)

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

Day Seventy-Five: The Dimensions of Time (The Space Museum, Episode Two)

Dear diary,

Urgh. Me and my big mouth: “On the whole, though, even if the next three episodes aren't all that… this one is fantastic.” Is the way I summed up yesterday's episode. Thing is - now I've gone and jinxed it! Of course today's episode wasn't going to be as good as yesterday's. That'll be why I've got the mother of all toothaches, today. It's the universe trying to teach my mouth a lesson.

I'm usually pretty contrary when it comes to opinions on Doctor Who. I'd rather watch Twin Dilemma than Androzani, I've never really cared for Talons of Weng-Chiang (Though, having listened to series five of Jago and Litefoot this week, I can confirm it's still one of my favourite things ever), and I'm rather fond of a Sylvester McCoy story which shares a name very similar to today's episode.

Therefore, I thought this was going to be a walk in the park. I'd seen (most of) yesterday's episode before, so I knew how good that was. I'd not watched the rest of the story, but hey! If fandom-at-large dislikes it, then chances are that I'd actually enjoy it. The problem with this theory is that sometimes - just sometimes - stories get a bad reputation for a reason.

On the whole (starting positive), there's nothing wrong with this episode. It's a perfectly good twenty-five minutes of Doctor Who. My issue with it is that this is Doctor Who on auto pilot. There's nothing particularly new or interesting here.

Ian, Barbara and Vicki spend much of the episode roaming around the corridors of the space museum, and getting gradually more and more irritated with each other. It almost feels in places like the dying days of a relationship, when you're with each other out of habit rather than because there's any genuine affection. This could be a nice bit of foreshadowing - we're not all that far from our schoolteachers leaving the series now - but sadly, I think it's more just happening to fill time.

Then we've got the Doctor being interrogated by the Governor of the planet. It should be quite a good scene, as the Doctor bamboozles his questioner by displaying daft images onto the screen in an attempt to throw him off. His answer to the question of how they arrived at the museum - by flashing up a Penny Farthing - is great, as is the footage he plays of sea lions to demonstrate where he's come from and the (slightly bizarre) image of Hartnell in a bathing suit.

But it's all just a bit bland. I've grown used to the Doctor having this sense of humour across the rest of this second season, so it's just part and parcel of the series, now. It all just falls a little too flat for me.

Next Episode: The Search

15 March 2013
 Day Seventy-Four: The Space Museum (The Space Museum, Episode One)

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

Day Seventy-Four: The Space Museum (The Space Museum, Episode One)

Dear diary,

According to fan 'wisdom', The Space Museum is similar to An Unearthly Child - a great first episode, followed by three not-very-good ones. I'll admit that I've never actually watched this one properly, so I can't really give comment on that theory for a few days, but they've got one thing right at least: this first episode is brilliant.

I've always thought of this one as being the Edge of Destruction Season Two style. There's strange things happening in the TARDIS, and our heroes don't know what's causing them. Then they venture outside, where they don't leave footprints, can't be seen, and can't hear the people they meet.

If anything, though, I think I prefer this to The Edge of Destruction. It's certainly very effective right from the off (and in answer to my musing yesterday as to how good the cliffhanger might have looked when moving: the brief clip here looks very unsettling. Great stuff!), and it builds up a certain amour of tension as the piece goes on.

When the reveal comes that our regulars can't interact with anything on the planet, and Vicki manages to put her hand right through one of the exhibits, it's very well done. Looking back, I realise that there are a few instances earlier on where the Doctor has stopped her before she can touch anything. It's a great effect, too.

It's a little sees effective when the Doctor demonstrates the same thing with the TARDIS they find. Due to the angle of the police-box and where Hartnell's stood, he seems to be both behind and inside the box all at the same time - and at moments when he's not supposed to be.

And then there's that cliffhanger! Except… it's not. I've always thought that the cliffhanger to this episode was the TARDIS crew turning around to find themselves on display in a series of glass cases. I had no idea that there's a couple of full scenes after that point, where they muse on how it might have happened, and how they might be able to escape that fate.

All the same, it's a compelling moment, and really helps to build into the spookiness of the whole episode. When the actual cliffhanger comes, it's only effective because the Doctor has just spelt it out in great detail - 'When those glass cases disappear, then we've arrived and we're in great danger!' 'Oh, look! The glass cases have gone!'.

The most effective part of the cliffhanger has to be the way that the time travellers freeze in place and the 'men-in-white-outfits' approach the TARDIS, and watch as the footprints appear in the sand.

As for the idea of the Museum itself… I like it. It's great that there's a Dalek in there, and it's fun to see the Doctor, Ian and Barbara all taken aback by it. I have to ask, though, did Vicki's history books not have pictures of the Daleks? If I were to Wiki 'Dalek' right now, there'd be plenty of images to look at alongside the descriptions!

It's a bit of a shame that we don't get more things from past adventures in the museum - it could be a fun trip down memory lane while they explore, and fitting for Ian and Barbara's penultimate story. I'd have liked to see a Key of Marinus, Perhaps, or one of the Sensorite guns. Maybe even just as a background prop?

On the whole, though, even if the next three episodes aren't all that… this one is fantastic.

Next Episode: The Dimensions of Time

I've set up a Facebook page for the 50 Year Diary. If you enjoy reading the blog, please do pop over an give it a like! I'm sure I'll be using it to ask questions etc in relation to the marathon! 

14 March 2013
 Day Seventy-Three: The Warlords (The Crusade, Episode Four)

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

Day Seventy-Three: The Warlords (The Crusade, Episode Four)

Dear diary,

The one down side to listening to this story as a narrated soundtrack, rather than as a recon is that it's very easy to not notice that you've hit the 'shuffle' button. Ten minutes in, I thought it was all a bit muddled and over very quickly, and that's when I realised what I'd done!

A quick reset back to the start and I was off again. Know what, though? It's still a bit muddled and over very quickly! I wonder if it comes back to my complaints from earlier in the story - because I just don't know this period of history, and I don't know the real-life stories of the characters we meet, it seems as though the story just… ends?

What happens to Joanna, for example? Yesterday's plot was constructed largely around her being married off in an attempt to end the war, we get that wonderful blazing row between her and Richard, and then… she's not even in this episode! Did Richard go ahead with the plans to marry her off? Did he end them?

It almost feels as though the entire story has swung off in a different direction for this episode, without really considering what's come before. There's even a moment when Richard tells the Doctor that he's not really angry with him (which is the state we left things in yesterday, and which was a very powerful moment), because he knows that he didn't betray him.

Then the Doctor slips away to the woods, and they're on their way. It has to be said, Ian's bluffing about the Doctor having killed many of his men as a distraction to get them inside the TARDIS was a great one - I think that was probably my favourite part of the episode today.

Overall, I think The Crusade has been a bit hit-or-miss for me. On the one had, you've got some fantastic performances from the guest cast, all of whom are really going for it. The script is rich, and dripping with detail on the period, it's just a shame that it really means nothing to me.

Perhaps most successful, though, is the design of this story. Frankly, it's gorgeous. The sets used for both of the major encampments for the story are stunning, and it's a perfect example of the BBC being far more comfortable with designing sets from history, rather than far-flung alien worlds.

And then we've got that cliffhanger. I hope it looked as good on screen as it sounded, described by William Russell on the soundtrack. It's eerie, and that's always a good sign…

Next Episode: The Space Museum

I've set up a Facebook page for the 50 Year Diary. If you enjoy reading the blog, please do pop over an give it a like! I'm sure I'll be using it to ask questions etc in relation to the marathon! 

13 March 2013
 Day Seventy-Two: The Wheel of Fortune (The Crusade, Episode Three)

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

Day Seventy-Two: The Wheel of Fortune (The Crusade, Episode Three)

Dear diary,

I promised myself that I wouldn't do it. As soon as I reached the end of yesterday's episode, and the 'next' caption came up, I decided then and there that I wouldn't do it. But you know what? I just can't help myself. All together, now: “WHEEL of FOR-TUNE!”.

Ahem. Now that that's out of the way…

It's uncanny, you know. Back onto moving images for just a few minutes and again I'm instantly put in mind of The Adventures of Sir Lancelot - even without William Russell really appearing in the episode! I suppose it was inevitable, really, though. We've got castles and kings, and knights in shining armour. There's a princess and a ward… we're only a horse and a moat away from remaking that series.

The thing is… part of the reason that I like The Adventures of Sir Lancelot is because it's light-hearted and fun. It's unashamedly for children, and it's not trying to do anything other than entertain its young audience for a half an hour on a Sunday afternoon. There's very clear lines of good and evil, lovely shots of horses riding through the countryside and every episode sees William Russell given a sword fight. If you're really lucky, you might get two.

The Crusade on the other hand is much more measured than all that. This is a story as much about political intrigue as it is about the kind of knights fighting the Crusades that we were promised at the start of Episode One. When the TARDIS first arrived in the woodlands, the suggestion was that we were in for something of an action-packed story, but that's simply not come to pass.

There's plenty to like in the story, all the same - Joanna finding out that Vicki is really a girl is good fun, for instance, and I love all the stuff with Haroun ed-Din and Barbara. In just a few short scenes, we're given an entire backstory to the character that feels real and we sympathise. We know that his wife has been killed, and so when his daughter states that her mother is merely missing, Barbara's reaction says it all. Even if Babs does nearly tell the girl that her mum is really dead. Tactful!

I've mentioned in the past that the more relaxed pace of the classic series allowed for the kind of character development that just isn't always possible in a single 45-minute episode today, but these few brief scenes are an absolute masterclass in how to create characters that we care about, and are fully three-dimensional. It's a moving few moments, and perhaps one of the best characters that we've seen in the series, even if his role is a minor one.

The stand-out moment for me, though, has to be Richard and Joanna's fight. Bloody hell - it's some stunning performances from Julian Glover and Jean Marsh. You almost forget that you're watching an episode of Doctor Who, because all of a sudden, it's not about getting Barbara back, or fearing for Ian's safety. It's not about the Doctor an Vicki having a giggle over her clothes.

It's now about these two siblings, and King Richard's betrayal of his sister, who only a few scenes earlier confessed that she was his favourite. And as if these performances were't already some of the best that we've seen in the series, the whole sequence is framed by each of them getting the chance to be angry towards the Doctor. Frankly, I loved that bit, and it really helped to pick me up toward the end of the episode.

Tomorrow sees me return to the world of the missing episodes, and I'm taking a slightly different tact with it. The recon for Episode Two simply did nothing for me, and I spent a great deal of time thoroughly confused (For example - as far as I could tell in the cliffhanger, Barbara had her own hand over her mouth to keep her quiet. It wasn't until watching the recap today that I realised it was Haroun ed-Din's hand!).

For the next episode, I am going to give the narrated soundtracks another whirl, and see if that helps me enjoy the rest of the story. If nothing else, it will allow me to focus more on these standout performances on their own merit, without trying to process the tele snaps, too. I'll probably give them a look-over once I've finished with the soundtrack, but I'll play it by ear!

Next Episode: The Warlords

I've set up a Facebook page for the 50 Year Diary. If you enjoy reading the blog, please do pop over an give it a like! I'm sure I'll be using it to ask questions etc in relation to the marathon! 

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