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Roderick Donald

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12 March 2013
 Day Seventy-One: The Knight of Jaffa (The Crusade, Episode Two)

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

Day Seventy-One: The Knight of Jaffa (The Crusade, Episode Two)

Dear diary,

When people talk about the early years of Doctor Who, the conversation usually turns to the fate of the missing episodes. The chunk of stories missing from the 1960s somewhat overshadows the era as a whole.

Indeed, in the past when I've thought of trying marathons, I've either opted to skip the 1960s altogether, and start from Spearhead From Space, safe in the knowledge that everything from there onwards exists, or I've opted to just skip the missing episodes and to think of the series as being just those stories which survive in full.

What you tend to miss when looking at the big picture in regards to the fate of 1960s Doctor Who is just how much of it does survive. Here I am, 71 days into my marathon, and this is only my tenth missing episode. If you consider the fact that I was able to watch the missing parts of The Reign of Terror in animated form, then you could consider this my eighth really 'missing' episode.

In total, there's only eleven missing episodes from the first two seasons of Doctor Who. That equates to somewhere around 13.5%. It's a shame that no companion of this era has their entire output surviving, but on the whole, that's not a bad track record!

Even more remarkable is the fact that all the 'missing' episodes do exist in the form of audio recordings. I think that sometimes within Who fandom, the staggering importance of this can be missed. If you take a lot of other popular series from the time - The Avengers, Adam Adamant Lives!, even a few episodes of Dad's Army - you'll find that even if they're not missing as many episodes, several of them aren't available in any format whatsoever.

The situation goes so far that there are a few episodes of The Avengers' early 'Keel and Steed' season where we don't have a soundtrack, there are no tele snaps or behind-the-scenes photos… in some cases, we don't even have a copy of a script for the episode! Basically, as Doctor Who fans, we're incredibly lucky that we can experience all of the missing bits of our show in so many different ways.

Unfortunately, none of this changes the fact that I've failed spectacularly to get into today's recon of The Knight of Jaffa. I don't even know what it is that's stopping me from connecting with it: I did wonder if it may be the result of being back onto a recon after so long away from them?

I think a part of it may be that this isn't an era of history that I'm readily familiar with. I know a little about Marco Polo and his travels, the Aztecs is an era that fascinates me, and I can just about remember the basic shape of the French Revolution from my schooldays. The Crusades, however, are just something that I know of in very basic terms, and as a result, I'm not completely sure what's going on in this story.

A fair amount of it can be picked up relatively easily - King Richard and Saladin are at war in the holy land. They don't really want to be at war, but it's the way things are. Saladin's brother has a bit of a thing for Richard's sister (and, it has to be said, Jean Marsh does look lovely in the tele snaps for this episode). Babs has been captured by the 'evil' side, and our heroes need to get her back before they can return to the TARDIS and head off to their next adventure.

The problem is that not knowing this era of history very well means that there's nothing much for me to hook onto. In The Romans, events are building up to the great fire. In The Reign of Terror, we're witnessing the final days of Robespierre. The Aztecs features a relatively generic period, but there we've got people being sacrificed and wearing elaborate hats to keep me interested.

It's not all bad, though. Julian Glover is on top form as ever. Much as I enjoyed The Web Planet on the whole, the performance being given here might as well come from a different programme to the Menoptera and the Zarbi. Then there's the sets, which look beautiful from what we can see here, and what was seen in the last episode.

I'm hoping that switching (briefly) back to a moving episode tomorrow will give me a chance to get back into the story, as it feels like one that deserves to be enjoyed more.

Next Episode: The Wheel of Fortune

 

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! 

 

11 March 2013
 Day Seventy: The Lion (The Crusade, Episode One)

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

Day Seventy: The Lion (The Crusade, Episode One)

Dear diary,

being from the Lost in Time box set, this episode hasn't received the same kind of restoration work that I've become accustomed to over the course of this marathon so far. The print of this episode is grainy and not in the best of conditions at all. And you know what? That gives it even more atmosphere.

From early on in the episode, all I could think of was The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, an ITC series starring William Russell and produced in the 1950s. I've mentioned it a few times already throughout this marathon, having watched most of it late last year, but this really is the closest that we've ever come to that series in Doctor Who.

The main things that put me in mind of the series are the medieval knights that we've got, in a forest, and the fact that William Russell has a sword fight. You tend to get all three of these things in your average episode of Sir Lancelot. Add to that the fact that the DVD version of the series hasn't had the same kind of restoration applied to it that Doctor Who gets, and I might as well have been watching that show instead.

After all the running around on Vortis, it's nice to be back down on Earth and back into history again. Though The Romans wasn't to my taste, this story feels like it's going to be more in the mould of Marco Polo or The Aztecs, both of which have been surprise hits with me.

It helps that already we've got plenty of atmosphere in the story. The sets look fantastic, and the fight scenes early on have far more of an impact than any of the stuff we saw at the end of The Web Planet. Here, it feels as though the actors can really go for it, whereas there they were trying not to break any of the expensive costumes.

It has too be mentioned - especially as there's plenty of rumours about it flying around at the moment in regards to any possible animated release of this story on DVD - but here we have got examples of actors being 'blacked-up' to fulfil certain roles in the story. For all that we might look at it now and see how offensive this might be, it's an insight into the way that television was made and seen in this era.

It's also interesting to note that, I believe, this is the first time we've seen actors of colour in the series full stop. It seems strange, seventy episodes in, that we only now have parts for these actors, and in such minor roles, too. It's one of the things that fascinates me about Doctor Who - it's run for so long that we can see tastes and attitudes change over the years.

Tomorrow, I'm back into 'recon' country, for the first time since Marco Polo. It seems a pity that once again it's a story with such fantastic visuals that gets the unfortunate distinction of missing some of its running time. It's great, therefore, to think of The Lion as bang one of the more recent missing episode recoveries, being returned to the BBC in 1999.

If anything it - and the episode of Galaxy 4 which I'll be reaching in just a few weeks - gives hope that more of Doctor Who's lost heritage might still be out there, somewhere, waiting to be discovered…

Next Episode: The Knight of Jaffa

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! 

10 March 2013
 Day Sixty-Nine: The Centre (The Web Planet, Episode Six)

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

Day Sixty-Nine: The Centre (The Web Planet, Episode Six)

Dear diary,

Oh, my patience had to run out sometime, I guess. There's a few elements of this episode that I've still quite liked, but I think the goodwill that I'd been building up over the last few episodes was just dissipated. In short: I think I got tired of forgiving The Web Planet.

The thing is, on the whole, I've rather liked it. It's been a good seven or eight years since the last time I saw it, and I could't really remember my thoughts on it. Over those years, though, I've seen it slagged off so many times that I was dreading reaching this point. Added to the fact that I just didn't enjoy The Romans, I thought I was in for a rough week.

And there's plenty of reasons to not like this story, it's true. It was always going to be a bold choice to have a tale with no other recognisably human faces for six full weeks, and to begin with it pulls it off quite well. In the end though, it just pushes its luck a bit too far.

On the whole, I've really liked the design of the story - I think Vortis itself is quite well done (even if the vaseline is a bit too heavy from time to time: it's still very strong in this episode, for those of you keeping track), and the effort that has gone into designing the Zarbi and the Menoptera is evident, even if it doesn't quite work all the time. The Optera, on the other hand, I'll refrain from saying too much about!

I can't help but feel that this story might be much better regarded had it been made as a four parter. Keep Episode One much as it is, and then just have three instalments of the bug people waging war on each other. After building up to it for six weeks, the fight between the Menoptera and their ant enemies in this episode is a woeful let down. Zaaaaaarrrrbiiiiiii!

The same is true of the Animus itself. For several episodes, it's been no more than a creepy disembodied voice, but here it's revealed to be an odd thing hung from the ceiling. Upon first glance I thought it looked quite passable, but the more you see of it, the less keen I was. I recall the first time that I saw this story: there's a point when Vicki describes it as a 'dirty great spider'. I was dreading it. I hate spiders at the best of times, so I didn't really want to see one.

This, though, poses no threat to me whatsoever. Doesn't seem to pose much of a threat to its enemies, either. A few minutes in the Centre with it, and they've gone and destroyed it. Everyone is happy, off we go.

The one thing that I do like about this story episode is that we stay behind on Vortis for a bit after the TARDIS leaves. It's happened a few times in the series, but this is by far the longest example we've had off seeing people get on with their lives once the Doctor and his friends have left. I'd quite like to see a return to Vortis, made on a modern budget. I think the prosthetics and CGI that could be used to realise the world and its inhabitants these days would be rather spectacular.

As it is though, and for all I've enjoyed bits of the tale, I'm not too sorry to be leaving The Web Planet behind.

Next Episode: The Lion

9 March 2013
 Day Sixty-Eight: Invasion (The Web Planet, Episode Five)

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

Day Sixty-Eight: Invasion (The Web Planet, Episode Five)

Dear diary,

A wise man once said of this story “This is the kind of Doctor Who episode that I wouldn't want to get caught watching. I remember the first time I dared to show a non-fan friend an episode of The Tomb of the Cybermen, and they thought it looked awful! Imagine sitting them down to watch this!”. Ok, it wasn't a wise man - it was me. Yesterday.

The Web Planet has become something of a guilty pleasure. I know that I shouldn't like it. Trust me, I know that it's a bit rubbish. But you know what? I'm still really enjoying it! But then… I hit a stumbling block. You see, the problem with the six-parters is that unless they do something new and different in each episode to give me plenty to focus on, I very quickly run out of things to say!

You've just read four days of me praising the designs, keeping track of how much vaseline is being smeared on the camera lenses (we're still on a high use in this instalment), and commenting on the creepy Animus voice. You'd all be bored if I just rambled on about it again today.

So I decided to do something different. I decided to take my comments from yesterday, and put them to the test.

My better-half hasn't had the best week. She's not felt very well, and the car has been playing up. Tonight I was out of work earlier than usual, so she decided to come see me and get out of the house. As the boyfriend, it's my job to make her feel better during a week like this. So what's the right thing for a caring boyfriend to do? That's right! It's getting her to sit down and watch an episode of The Web Planet with me. Obviously. Men, I hope you're taking notes.

I think my friend Tom summed it up best: “Probably not the best episode to show from the last two months…”. But maybe he'd be wrong! Maybe I was wrong yesterday? Maybe I'm not the only one who can see the charm in The Web Planet?

I started by briefing Ellie on the story so far. I summed it up as simply as I could (The TARDIS has been dragged to a barren world. There's something evil at the heart of it that's controlling an army of giant ants. The butterfly people who used to live on this planet are coming to take it back. It's remarkable how easily the four episodes boil down.), and tentatively hit play.

The first thing she asked was wether the Menoptera are actually meant to be butterflies at all. Now she's brought it up, I'm not sure if they are. I've always assumed they're butterflies, but actually they're also a bit like bees in their colouring, aren't they? No stings, though, so I'm guessing more butterfly than bee. I won't even go in to the look on her face when a Zarbi appeared. I think she was assessing how easily she could make an excuse to leave.

She couldn't even look at the screen while we were on the planet's surface, because the vaseline-smeared camera lens was actually making her eyes ache. I'm still not sure she believed me when I told her how they'd achieved the look. Unfortunately, she wasn't much keen on the design of the Animus' lair, either. She just thought it looked like a studio set. And not a particularly great one, either.

Only one moment raised a smile from her, and that's when the Doctor goes back to his ring-controlled Zarbi and tells him that he had 'nearly ended up as lost property!'. I have to admit I'm glad she liked that bit at least, as it's the kind of fun I've been enjoying from the Doctor more and more this series.

At the end of the twenty-five minutes, Ellie only had one thing to say when summing it up. She thought it was long-winded, and I don't think she could quite believe I was sitting through six days of it. Unfortunately, I think Tom was right - perhaps not the best example of a sixties Who episode for a non-fan (Incidentally, Ellie's rather fond of the new series, but she's never really gotten into the classic stuff. Ah well!).

Something I did notice, though, is that I spent more time this episode keeping an eye on El's reaction than I did watching the story - but I don't feel like I've really missed anything. Menoptera are planning a slightly different attack. Hartnell and Vicki have been webbed. Etc. Etc. I'm still looking forward to the climax of the tale, though.

(Ellie gave it a 4/10 - it could have been worse!)

Next Episode: The Centre

8 March 2013
 Day Sixty-Seven: Crater of Needles (The Web Planet, Episode Four)

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

Day Sixty-Seven: Crater of Needles (The Web Planet, Episode Four)

Dear diary,

Here's the thing: I don't know what to make of The Web Planet. I'm really enjoying it… but it's rubbish!

I mean, if I'm being perfectly honest, this is the kind of Doctor Who episode that I wouldn't want to get caught watching. I remember the first time I dared to show a non-fan friend an episode of The Tomb of the Cybermen, and they thought it looked awful! Imagine sitting them down to watch this!

And yet, as I say, I'm enjoying it! I can't quite put my finger on what it is about the story, but I'm just caught up in it. I think that when I suspended my belief back at the start of Episode One, I might have suspended a bit too much of it - because I'm watching this and I'm still finding it quite impressive visually. I'm fairly sure that's not a commonly-held view.

The effects of the Menoptera flying in to land are good enough, if you ask me, especially some of the more impressive ones. I'll admit that there's more than a few instances where wires are pretty visible, but again - I'm watching this with a cleaned up picture on a big screen! The biggest downside to that scene, for me, is that they re-use shots several times - and in quick succession. That takes away somewhat from the impressiveness of it all.

Though, it has to be said, all the creatures look pretty interesting on film! There's a few shots close up of the Zarbi that have been shot on film and they look quite good! The Menoptera are less impressive in this style, but they do have to look of a real 1950s sci-fi.

Actually - that's it! Yes! That's what this reminds me of! It looks like an early sci-fi film, with effects and styles on about the same level. It's not as visually impressive as The Dalek Invasion of Earth, or Planet of Giants, but it's still pretty solid. The effect of it looking like early sci-fi extends to the - frankly just plain odd - scenes with the Optera down inside the planet. It's just all a bit amateur dramatics, isn't it.

On the plus side, a friend and colleague recently watched this story before Christmas (it's ok, he's a Doctor Who fan, and was watching the series through as a marathon - it's safe for him to watch!), and we spent much of January communicating only in the styles of the various inhabitants of Vortis. If we weren't jumping about and snarling like an Optera, then we were making sure to do plenty of hand gestures and copy Roslyn De Winter's insect movements.

Something that does stick out in this episode is that again they've smeared a bit too much vaseline on the lans… but only on some shots! We cut from the Menoptera invasion force (with vaseline) to a reaction shot of Barbara (sans vaseline!). Once you've noticed it, it becomes a bit distracting. Did they forget? Had they just used up most of the supply in yesterday's episode?

Oh - and I notice there's a shot early on in the Crater, where a Zarbi starts heading to camera before we abruptly cut away. Trying to avoid another collision?

Next Episode: Invasion

7 March 2013
 Day Sixty-Six: Escape to Danger (The Web Planet, Episode Three)

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

Day Sixty-Six: Escape to Danger (The Web Planet, Episode Three)

Dear diary,

They've gone a bit overboard with the vaseline on this episode, haven't they? There's a couple of shots of Ian and his Menoptera friend that are more blur than they are anything else!

On the whole, as much as it gets laughed about in fandom, I quite like the idea of them smearing vaseline on the camera lenses. Sure, when it's done like this then it seems a bit bizarre, but in the first couple of episodes it really did create an unusual and quite effective look.

You certainly can't claim that this story isn't trying to be unique. It's a bold choice to try and do an entire story with only our regulars as recognisably human, and at least so far it's not doing too badly. What is unusual is that it's only really here that we start to see an ally for the TARDIS crew - the Menoptera are played in Episode Two as kind, but still possibly a threat.

It's nice to see - well, what you can see, through the vaseline - the make-up a bit more here. It's an odd design, but it's another one of those things that I think actually works quite well. It looks pretty cuddly, too, for that matter. It has to be said that I thought the flying effect was quite well done. Maybe it's because I wasn't expecting it, so didn't have time to study it all that much?

Something I was expecting, but I didn't know exactly when it was coming; the infamous shot of the Zarbi running into a camera. Confession time - I've been a Doctor Who fan for a decade, but I've never seen that shot before. I know! I've even watched The Web Planet twice before (which means, I believe, that upon completion of this viewing, I get some kind of medal? Yes? Who do I write to for that?), but I always seem to have missed it!

Somewhat telling is that in my head, the Zarbi runs into a camera outside the TARDIS, and it isn't with as much of a bump as we actually get. I don't really know where my memory of that comes from. Must have made it up after years of hearing about the Zarbi and the camera.

Incidentally, I understand that they've recreated bits of The Web Planet for this year's An Adventure in Space and Time. If they don't include a shot of a Zarbi hitting a camera, I'm going to be sorely disappointed. Also, hopefully it'll show just how gorgeous this set can look. You know, without the stuff smeared all over the camera.

I didn't mention it during yesterday's episode, but how creepy is the voice in the tube? Yes, yes, I know it's the Animus, but at this stage I'm not supposed to. It's a whopping good cliffhanger, as the tube lowers and a mysterious voice speaks out to the Doctor, and it doesn't lose any of it's inherent spookiness here. It's a little undermined by having to use those tones to negotiate with the Doctor (at one stage, it basically boils down to 'I will kill you!' / 'Ok. But then this information dies with me!' / 'Fine! …What do you mean 'information'…?')

Next Episode: The Crater of Needles

(EDITED TO ADD: Oh! There you go! I've spent so long throughout this blog monitoring how well they handle the regular cast going on holiday - but it wasn't until almost an hour after writing today's post that I suddenly realised Barbara wasn't in this episode!)

6 March 2013
 Day Sixty-Five: The Zarbi (The Web Planet, Episode Two)

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

Day Sixty-Five: The Zarbi (The Web Planet, Episode Two)

Dear Diary,

I hate litter. Genuinely, I can't stand it when people wilfully drop litter. I've been known to get quite shirty with people when I see them dropping litter out and about. If I can't find a bin, then I'll hold on to whatever litter I've got until I can find a bin. It's the obvious thing to do!

Imagine, then, how it irked me yesterday when Ian has witnessed his Coal Hill School tie being dissolved in the acid, and then throws it away on the ground as he walks away from the pool! I mean, yes, I know the tie is useless to him now (even as a belt!), but still! And then today, having removed his oxygen jacket, and carried it for a bit, he throws that away behind him, too! Vortis may not be the prettiest world he's visited in the TARDIS, but there's no need to leave half his wardrobe scattered about its surface!

Actually, I say Vortis isn't the prettiest world, but as I said yesterday, I really like the design. There's something about the jagged rocks that really works for me, and always has. I've often praised in this marathon the use of the backcloths to give a sense of depth to a set - most prominently in The Aztecs, but in a few other places too. The ones in The Web Planet have always looked quite good to me, and it's always been easy enough to suspend my belief enough for them to really work.

For this reason it's a shame that a few scenes in this episode are spent stood only a couple of feet away from the backcloth, which don't help the illusion much. Nor does the massive great join running up the middle of it!

Yesterday, I complained that as much as I was liking the story, it was a fairly good example of that common conception of 1960s TV - creaky, wobbly, and all together a bit naff. There's plenty in this episode which helps to uphold that, I'm sorry to say. That aforementioned join is one of them, but also the way the Zarbi hobble about (I'd never noticed before how one of them trips over a pair of wings from a recently deceased Menoptera!).

Then we've got the shot of the TARDIS being dragged away across the surface of the planet. In some of the shots it really works, and it looks somewhat unnerving. The TARDIS has always been the 'safe' place - it's usually the place that our regulars spend four-to-six episodes trying to get back to. Here, though, from the spinning console in yesterday's episode to the way that it's being dragged away by some sinister unseen force, it's lost all pretense of being a 'safe' place to be.

It's a shame, then, that some of the 'dragging' shots really don't work as well as the others, and the cuts to Maureen O'Brien playing what appears to be a game of 'Stuck in the Mud' in the console room by herself aren't particularly great. She's been flawless until now, but this isn't her finest moment.

I was also very impressed to see a Zarbi attempting to enter the TARDIS. Having taken away the element of safety that we've always had with it, the ultimate final blow is to show one of the 'evil' monsters inside the ship. It doesn't make it past the doorway, though, and the whole thing is over and done with very quickly. It's a pity, as that could have been a really striking image.

I think that's quite a good theme for the story as a whole, actually; 'could have been'. There's a lot of potential here, but it's not really hitting it.

Next Episode: Escape to Danger

5 March 2013
 Day Sixty-Four: The Web Planet (The Web Planet, Episode One)

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

Day Sixty-Four: The Web Planet (The Web Planet, Episode One)

Dear diary,

Something I've noticed more and more through this second season, but never quite so much as here, if how much Hartnell's 'giddy' performance reminds me of Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor. I've never noticed it before, but there's something in the tone, and in the way things are said that feel very common between both incarnations. The cliffhanger close-up on Hartnell here sees his sporting an expression that I'm sure I've seen on Baker's face, too, at some point. It's strange, but I rather like it, I think.

While I'm on the subject of the First Doctor being a bit giddy… is there something in the air on Vortis? While we're inside the ship, and there's a mystery to be solved about the lack of power, the Doctor is his usual reserved self. Once we're outside, however… It's been happening more and more as the show goes on. The Doctor has taken to giggling far more than he used to. Looking at the First Doctor as a whole, the giggles have always been a part of the character for me - I've just never realised how suddenly they come about, or how strong.

We saw it in The Romans, when he tittered his way through a fight early on, and it's back with a vengeance here. He's almost like a hyperactive child when he's realised there's something real to explore on this planet, rushing off, giggling, while telling Ian to 'Come along! Come along!'.

It is nice to see him back into the explorer mode that we saw way back during the second episode of An Unearthly Child. When we join him outside the TARDIS, he's examining some rocks and taking mental notes about them. I still think it suits this Doctor to be one who travels to learn, as opposed to just because that's what the Doctor does.

I made a note during that scene to mention the slight echo effect on the voice, and then they went and made a big point about the echoes in the air. It really works for me, and I think it helps to make this planet seem a bit different and a bit alien. Following on from some very plush sets for the last story, with lots of drapes and pillows, it's nice to see Vortis as a cold, harsh landscape.

I've seen the look of this story come under fire more times than I can count over the years, but actually I think it works rather well. The design of the world is certainly striking and different to anything we've had before, and despite what people keep telling me, I think it looks good. Even the Zarbi are quite a nice idea, even if the initial shots of them creeping out from behind rocks gives the impression of that old favourite stereotype of classic Doctor Who being a bit creaky…

A constant surprise to me is just how late into the programme's run we're still getting episodes that are entirely carried by the four regulars. Sure, we've got a handful of Zarbi on hand to menace them from behind the rocks, but they don't actually interact with each other - there's just the odd glimpse here and there. It's another chance for our regulars to shine, and for this still comparatively new team to shine.

Next Episode: The Zarbi

4 March 2013
 Day Sixty-Three: Inferno (The Romans, Episode Four)

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

Day Sixty-Three: Inferno (The Romans, Episode Four)

Dear Diary,

I've mused on this before (most notably under my posts about Farewell Great Macedon), but when you watch through these early historical adventures in order, you really do get the sense of an emerging narrative - the kind of thing that we'd call a story arc these days.

To recap; in The Aztecs, the Doctor is quite adamant with Barbara - 'You can't change history! Not one line!' - when she even dares to suggest putting her own stamp on the Aztecs and trying to change the course of history. The Reign of Terror sees Ian and Barbara muse on the futility of fighting for a side that history tells them will lose.

They then go on, in the same story, to wonder what will happen if they try to change history, and it's suggested that history will find a way to persevere. This is seen to be true in Farewell Great Macedon (even though it's not technically part of the 'canon' of this arc, if we're dealing exclusively with the early years of the programme).

Here, though, we enter a new territory, when the Doctor becomes actively responsible for giving Nero the idea to burn down Rome. The great fire, which Vicki describes as being read about in history books for 'thousands and thousands of years' all stems from the Doctor's actions in the court.

He refutes this thoroughly to begin with, pointing out again that history would have found a way to give the emperor the same idea. And then there's a wonderful moment;

                THE DOCTOR

Now look here, young lady, let's settle this! Insinuating that all this is my fault!

[He stops. Thinks. The penny drops, and he bursts into a wide smile as he begins to laugh]

My fault! Haha!

This is surely the moment that the Doctor realises that history is a little more flexible than he thought. He's well aware that the fire had to start somehow, but now he's realised that he can have an actual impact on historical events - even if it's just to ensure that they run the way that they're supposed to.

A couple of stories time from now (and following a trip back to the Crusades), the idea of the historical story will be well and truly shaken up. I'll examine the 'arc' more when we reach that point, but it's genuinely fascinating to see the way that things are building up as I make my way through.

Elsewhere in this episode… well, the good news is that I've enjoyed it more than I have the last couple. I'm not sure quite why that is - perhaps venting yesterday has helped to clear my mind somewhat? I've found everything about this episode much more enjoyable than I have so far, right up to Derek Francis' performance as Nero.

He seems to have decided that if this is to be his last episode, then he's going to really just go for it. His scene early on, when he takes a soldier's sword, only to cut the man down with it, while dryly declaring 'He didn't fight hard enough' is possibly my favourite Nero moment (is that a thing? Does everyone have a favourite 'Nero Moment'?).

And then we're back to the villa, the TARDIS team reunited and ready to head off on another adventure. I can't decide whether Ian and Barbara not running into the Doctor and Vicki during their simultaneous trips back is a great end to the repetitive 'not-quite-meetings' that we've had over the last couple of days or a really annoying one. I'm not going to dwell on it much, as I'm not sure I'll like the answer.

What I am sure I like is the last five minutes or so. It's great to have all four of the regulars back together again, and I love how well Maureen O'Brien has slotted into the group. In many ways, she seems to have found a comfortable nook that I'm not sure Carole Ann Ford ever had.

Oh, and returning to my musings on Ian and Barbara's status during Episode One; yes, they're definitely more than friends by now. Just look at the way they resort to a play fight mere minutes after they get back to the villa and find it deserted. It's quite sweet, in its own way…

Next Episode: The Web Planet

3 March 2013
 Day Sixty-Two: Conspiracy (The Romans, Episode Three)

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

Day Sixty-Two: Conspiracy (The Romans, Episode Three)

Dear diary,

I'd been banking on this episode to turn things around for me. The last two have been alright, but I was hoping that Episode Three and it's fabled farcical style would be the one which raised this story up in my estimation. I'm quite keen on a good comedy historical (The Unicorn and the Wasp remains, five years on, my favourite 'new series' adventure, for example). Unfortunately, that's not happened.

You can't tell, but that ellipsis says a lot about this story so far. The way I'm doing this marathon is that I'm sitting down to watch each episode, then once it's over, I take a glance at any notes I might have made and then write up my thoughts, before posting them to Doctor Who Online. Then I carry on with my day. Nice and simple. I'm used to the routine, now, having down it for over two months.

Sometimes there's plenty to say, sometimes there's not so much, but either way I tend to find something to write about. Today's been a bit different, though. I typed that first paragraph, then just sort of… stared at the screen a bit. I even tried staring at the keyboard for a while, just in case that had some inspirational effect. It didn't. It never does, really.

In the end, I gave up. Went to Asda (other supermarkets are available) to do the shopping. I've got kitchen roll again, now, so the misses can stop pointing out that I'd run out. Got some new bin bags, too. I even bought an easter-egg-sized Kinder Egg, just to see if it had an extra large Kinder Egg tub inside it (It did. It was awesome.).

Then I came home, sat here and stared at the screen some more. Frankly, I've just not got anything much to say about this episode. I don't know what it is that's stopping me, it's just… not there today.

The best that I can figure is that this is almost a bit like the season stalling a little. Planet of Giants wasn't the most thrilling story, but visually, it was very impressive. If nothing else, I was kept interested by the design of the piece. The Dalek Invasion of Earth had an epic scale that hadn't been attempted in the series yet, and every episode was better than I could remember. Even The Rescue had a great (if bizarre) looking monster to keep me amused.

The Romans, though…

I did wonder if it might have been because I've grown to love the serious historicals that I've been through so far, more than I have before. Had that style of story ruined my enjoyment of this more light-hearted take on history? The more I thought about it, though, the more I remembered that I've tried to watch The Romans before, and I don't think I made it as far as this. So it must just be the story that's not connecting with me.

It's a real shame, because there's some good performances being put in, and the humour is well judged at times. Even the perspective effect used on the corridors is very good.

But then we've got 25 minutes of the Doctor and Barbara just missing each other. Over and over. And over. And then, over again! I praised it yesterday when it happened twice, but now the joke has kind of worn off. I spent a while wondering if I liked how it had been choreographed with their movements in and out of scenes, before deciding that if I'd been reduced to considering that, then something really wasn't right with my interest in the story itself…

Next episode: Inferno

2 March 2013
 Day Sixty-One: All Roads Lead to Rome (The Romans, Episode Two)

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

Day Sixty-One: All Roads Lead to Rome (The Romans, Episode Two)

Dear diary,

Some stories are easy. There's been more than a few episodes since the start of this marathon where I've had so much to say that I actively need to hold things back to talk about on another day, because there's a real danger that I'll just waffle on for ages.

This isn't one of those days.

Honestly, I really don't know what I'm going to talk about with this episode. There's nothing wrong with it, I've enjoyed it well enough, and it has all the elements that have been very strong in the series of late but it's just all a bit par for the course.

I think it must be telling when the thing that impresses me the most about a story is the fact that Ian has a bit of stubble! Yeah, yeah, I know this sounds like a minor thing, but actually, it was fairly impressive. Because of the way modern TV is made - with things shot so much out-of-sequence, and across a different period of time (modern telly Doctor Who takes about 18 days, for example, for an episode. Give-or-take.), it's often quite fun when you see a character with a bit of real stubble. It usually means that they've had to film those scenes early on in production, before they can have a good shave.

Here, though, with the production process meaning that they have to shoot one episode a week in order, we're able to see the time passing for the characters in almost real time. It's been about six days since Ian was captured, and it would have been seven for the audience watching at home. The stubble just helps to sell that idea. As I say - it's a tiny thing, but it interested me at least!

Something else that I couldn't help but muse on here is the way that the TARDIS crew seem to often end up separated so much. In The Dalek Invasion of Earth, they're all over the place, and they manage to work their way to meet up again in Bedfordshire (though Barbara tells Jenny this is a good plan because that's 'surely' what the Doctor would do), and in The Rescue, Ian suggests they return to the ship, as that's likely to be the best place to meet.

The same is true for many of the other stories (Planet of Giants sees Barbara and Ian transported to the lab, while The Reign of Terror sees them, and Susan, carted off to Paris), and it's fun to see this idea being played with here. Twice, the Doctor and Vicki nearly encounter Barbara - first in the market at the slave auction, then again at Nero's palace. It probably shouldn't be as amusing as it is, but considering how much I love the same trick being pulled with the Doctor and Donna in Partners in Crime, it's hard not to smile.

Oh, and speaking of which, it's just downright weird to see the Doctor declaring to a man 'Oh! So you want to fight, do you?' before giggling his way through the battle. Down. Right. Weird.

Next Episode: Conspiracy

1 March 2013
 Day Sixty: The Slave Traders (The Romans, Episode One)

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

Day Sixty: The Slave Traders (The Romans, Episode One)

Dear diary,

I've always had one default thought when it comes to the start of The Romans - 'poor Vicki'! At the end of The Rescue, the Doctor assures her 'If you like adventure, my dear, then I can promise you an abundance of it!', and then they spend a month lounging around in a Roman villa and doing very little else! She even draws attention to it with Barbara - 'the way you spoke, I thought we were going to have adventures and see things!'.

What's nice is that I'm already really taking to Vicki. She is very much there to fill the Susan-shaped hole in the TARDIS crew (the way she gets excited over the possibility of the dress put me in mind of Susan's similar reaction to a new dress in The Keys of Marinus), but her enthusiasm is infectious. She's so happy when the Doctor agrees to take her to Rome that she does a little jump up and down that can't fail to make you smile.

Then when they're on the way to Rome, and the Doctor decides to impersonate the musician as it's a great way to meet Nero, we've got the Doctor right back in his old mode of doing anything that will help to satisfy his curiosity. That Vicki warns him no good will come of it seems to suggest she knows the way his adventures work better than he does! Maybe they could pick up BBC 1 on Dido?

Something I've not discussed yet during this marathon, but which is perhaps most prominent during this episode; are Ian and Barbara a couple? Or, at least, very close friends? In my mind (without having seen all their stories together) I've always assumed that, yes, they are. Of course they are! It's Ian and Barbara! Surely once they returned to London they ended up tying the knot?

Here, having been left alone in the vill without the Doctor and Susan, it's not long before they're laughing and joking, Barbara is telling Ian what a 'spendid-looking' Roman he makes and she's doing his hair. A few minutes later, and we find them sprawled out in the living room looking perfectly blissful while they drink wine. Of course this pair are together by this point!

Question is; when did the relationship start? Any ideas? Feel free to Twitter them at me - I'd be interested to know your thoughts! Maybe I'll pick my favourite answers and discuss them later in the story?

For me, I don't think that they were together before they encountered the Doctor and the TARDIS. The way they act with each other in An Unearthly Child is friendly, but really it's more a kind of colleague relationship than one where they're spending lots of extra curricular time with each other. So I'm guessing it will have come about during their adventures somewhere…

Next Episode: All Roads Lead to Rome

28 February 2013
 Day Fifty-Nine: Desperate Measures (The Rescue, Episode Two)

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

Day Fifty-Nine: Desperate Measures (The Rescue, Episode Two)

Dear diary,

I wonder if I'd have seen the twist with Bennett coming if I didn't already know that he was Koquillion? I'm tempted to say that I probably wouldn't… because it kind of comes from nowhere.

The problem with a two-part story is that there's no time for this plot to be built up and resolved in time, while still aiming for the mid-way cliffhanger. While the last episode was fairly well done in terms of the pacing, this one feels almost as though they've realised that the rest of the story needs to be done and dusted pretty quick, so that they can ask Vicki to join them in the TARDIS and be on their way.

To be quite truthful, I'm not even 100% sure what happened at the end there. Were they ghosts of the Dido people? Had some survived? The Doctor seems to imply that they can now take their world back… where have they been hiding for the last year or so? So many questions, so little time!

All that said, though, there's still plenty to like in this episode. Chiefly among them, the Doctor's confrontation with Koquillion. We've never really had a scene quite like this before, where the Doctor stands face-to-face with the story's 'bad guy' and has a cool, calm discussion with him, during which he basically tells them to stop what they're doing. This is a scene in the same key as the Tenth Doctor's poolside chat with Mr Finch in School Reunion, or the Eleventh Doctor's face-off with Madame Kovarian during A Good Man Goes to War.

What's nice about it is that I've never known it was here! Buried away towards the end of s strange little two-parter from Season Two. Hartnell plays it with perfection. The way he turns to face Koquillion, having already revealed him as Bennett and remaining fairly dignified throughout is fantastic, as is their entire discussion, ending with a fight. It's just a shame that the fight is ended by the appearance of the ghosts. Or survivors. Or… well, whatever they are.

Also good fun is the amount of humour still in the series. It's been having a larger impact on the stories as we move along (and it'll somewhat explode everywhere in the next story), but here it's Ian and Barbara having most of the laughs. I love the way they react when Vicki announces that they must be about 550 - both reactions are priceless and entirely in character.

Less 'in character', though, is Barbara's reaction to seeing Sandy for the first time. Yes, yes, I'm willing to accept that she was looking out for Vicki's safety and trying to make sure that the creature didn't attack. Yes, I'm willing to admit that the creature could look rather terrifying from a distance (In the long-shots early on, even I was prepared to admit it looked quite good. In close up… not so much), but still, it's not the kind of thing I'd expect from Barbara to grab a (flare) gun and shoot the creature dead!

Perhaps the most obvious thing to say about this story is that it really feels like a fresh start. Susan has gone, so now we've got these two episodes to introduce the new companion and to set out the scope of the series once more. Ian and Barbara explain that they got 'mixed up' with the Doctor in 1963, and that they now travel anywhere in time and space - 'Anywhere and everywhere in that old box', as the Doctor puts it. We even get to see Vicki doing the whole 'Bigger on the inside' thing (though not with those exact words). In many ways, this really does feel like the programme brushing itself down after the big Dalek epic, and getting ready to move on again, refreshed and renewed.

And what better way to do that than with a great cliffhanger of the TARDIS falling off a cliff?!

Next Episode: The Slave Traders

27 February 2013
 Day Fifty-Eight: The Powerful Enemy (The Rescue, Episode One)

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

Day Fifty-Eight: The Powerful Enemy (The Rescue, Episode One)

Dear diary,

Oh, this feels strange and new and exciting! It's possible that it's because I've just come from six days of the decade-old Dalek Invasion of Earth DVD, and it's great to be back to a vidFIREd episode. Things look so crisp!

After the huge scale of the last story, this feels like things are swinging in the complete opposite direction. We're entirely studio-bound again, with a tiny cast and a minimal number of sets. That's not a criticism, though: it all works quite well for the most part, and in some ways it's nice to have a story like this again.

The biggest issue that I have with it is that I've been a Doctor Who fan for about ten years, now, so I know how this story ends. I know the secrets about Koquillion (which I'll come to tomorrow), so it's hard to watch this story without having that in mind. For now though, it's worth pointing out that the Koquillion design is actually really good.

I mean, yes, it's a bit bizarre, but that's the kind of thing that Doctor Who is very very good at. That first shot of him, in close-up outside the TARDIS is really very striking, and it's no wonder Barbara is scared away from him. I'm less keen on the jewelled spanner he's using as a weapon, though. That's a bit naff.

One of the things that's impressed me the most about the story so far, though, is the continuity with the end of the last serial. The departure of Susan is a big moment in the history of the show, and it's really nice to see it being talked about rather than just moving on. Barbara tells Ian that it's not the kind of thing that the Doctor will just move on from - which is exactly the way he deals with a fair few companion departures later in the show's run.

Something else that works well in this regard is that the Doctor has yet to meet Vicki. Barbara has encountered her, and that's allowed us into her world and to fill in her backstory, but for the Doctor, there's no one in sight to replace Susan. As the programme goes on, it almost feels like a revolving door, with one companion leaving in story A and the next arriving in story B. Here is feels real and continues to sell the idea of the show as a continuing serial.

Also, is this the first story since An Unearthly Child that doesn't feature a scene inside the TARDIS before we catch up with the TARDIS crew? The Dalek Invasion of Earth had the Roboman walking into the river, but I think we usually get a chat with the crew before we meet any actual guest cast, don't we?

There's little else to add for this one (though I'm tempted to highlight the Doctor's sense of humour in this episode. His exchange with Barbara - 'Doctor! The trembling's stopped!' / 'Oh, my dear, I'm so glad you're feeling better!' - as being a particular highlight!), save to say that it's an interesting introduction to Vicki as a character, and a good starting performance from Maureen O'Brien. I look forward to seeing more!

Next Episode: Desperate Measures

26 February 2013
 Day Fifty-Seven: Flashpoint (The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Episode Six)

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

Day Fifty-Seven: Flashpoint (The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Episode Six)

Dear diary,

When I started on this experiment, I was looking forward to today. Susan had long been, in my mind, a bit of a useless companion, and not one that I really was relishing the thought of spending almost two months with as I worked my way through the series. Actually, though, I'm genuinely left a little sad now.

It's really nice to reach this point in the programme's run and realise that my opinion of Susan thus far has been coloured somewhat by a few extreme examples (Reign of Terror, I'm looking at you…). On the whole, she's been quite a fantastic character, and it certainly feels strange to see the TARDIS fading away with Susan left behind.

What's also nice, coming to it having spent every day since New Year's with Susan in tow, is just how affecting this final scene is. I'd argue that it's one of the most famous scenes in Doctor Who's long history (or, at least, Hartnell's speech is), but that's all it's ever been to me; a scene at the end of Susan's time on the show. It's never really been that full of emotion before, or anything all that special - it's just something that happened in Doctor Who way-back-when.

In many ways, then, today has proved to me that all my reasons for wanting to undertake this marathon, to shut myself away from other areas of Doctor Who and focus on watching it in order - in context - from the start at a set pace have been valid. The way I described it to another fan back in December, just before I started on the project was that companions - and Doctors - come and go, but they always feel sort of ephemeral. I can watch a Susan story on DVD one day, then a Tegan story the next, before skipping back to a Sarah Jane, then purchase a Big Finish audio with a brand new adventure starring the Seventh Doctor and Ace.

Watching in this way is akin to watching the show as it goes out now - you form a bond with the companion and with the Doctor, and it's genuinely moving when their time in the TARDIS comes to an end. The point of what I'm trying to say here is, yes, watching Susan leave was actually a bit emotional. Sure, she overplays it a bit when telling David that she can't stay behind on Earth with him, no matter how she feels, but it's all very real, and far more real than we often see in the show.

I'm also pleased to see Hartnell at his best here, too. The Doctor knows that this is the time he'll have to make a difficult decision, and he almost falls to tears when he takes Susan's shoe and realises that this is the end for the pair of them. Watching him let her go is simply wonderful, and I'm genuinely going to miss her.

I'm still desperate to hear a West Wing-styled series from Big Finish, though, featuring her and David as they try to start re-building the Earth!

Elsewhere in the episode, it's nice to see the defeat of the Daleks given the scale that it so sorely missed in their first story. The shot of the Robomen and the slaves turning on the Daleks and charging at them from out of the mine is fantastic, and it really does feel like a fitting finale. It's a shame that it's over with s quickly, but it's a definite improvement from the last time around.

I've little else to add, really, about The Dalek Invasion of Earth, except to say that it really has surprised me. For a long time, I've always just thought of it as just another story from the Hartnell era, which was ok but nothing special, but actually, I've loved it from start to finish. One of the best stories we've had so far.

It's a shame that the story is likely to be tainted to me somewhat by the sad association of Raymond Cusick's death, but I'm pleased that I've been so impressed by a story featuring his - frankly wonderful - designs.

I'll be rating this episode,

Next Episode: The Powerful Enemy

(NB; you may have noticed, from Planet of Giants onwards, I've not been rating the store has a whole at the end. I've found that I'm usually summing the story up in the last episode as I go, leaving little to say for a summary at the end. I'll be putting all the average scores together at the end of each Doctor's era for a bit of a retrospective, so I can summarise the eras as a whole).

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