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Roderick Donald

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25 February 2013
Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

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

Day Fifty-Six: The Waking Ally (The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Episode Five)

Dear diary,

Actually, you know what? The Slyther grows on you. It only gets a brief appearance here, before it's killed off, but it's not as bad as it could be. Don't get me wrong, it still looks like a man shuffling around in an ill-fitting rubber suit, but then I realised that if this were the new series, it would probably be a weird mass of CGI. That made the whole thing look a little better.

Speaking of 'if this were the new series'… There's a lovely moment here - again - between Susan and David, in which he scares her with a fish (they're having something of an unusual courtship), before they laugh and wrestle, and stare deep into each other's eyes. When this then turned to a conversation, I said - out loud - 'if this were the new series, they'd have kissed then'. And you know what? They do! Huzzah! I'd completely forgotten that bit. The more this story goes on, the more their relationship is growing in a really believable way.

It's not all smiles and fish, though. Elsewhere, this episode takes to story to some pretty dark places, but it works all the better for it. The moment where Barbara and Jenny are sold out by an old woman just so she can get some extra food rations, having already taken Barbra's last few scraps, is wonderful.

It's so very believable, and really does help to sell the idea that this is a cold, desolate time, where people will do anything just to survive. It plays on Tyler's comment yesterday that there are some Humans who aren't necessarily working against the Daleks, and will kill to eat. It was a bit of a shame we didn't encounter any of these rebels in the sewers, so it's good to see it being played out here.

And we've got another chance to link to the new series from this storyline, too, with the old woman's speech to Barbara and Jenny. She tells them that she'd been to London before, many years ago. She asks if it's still the same, and talks of a number of futuristic things that she'd seen there. It's almost the same conversation that Martha has with the German guard woman in The Stolen Earth. I've always loved that scene, so it's good to see that its roots are here in this story, considering the other similarities of a Dalek Invasion of Earth.

Still on the darker route is Larry actually finding his brother in the mine. His whole purpose for coming all the way to Bedfordshire, and working so hard alongside Ian to survive… and his brother's been turned into a Roboman. It's a wonderful scene as he tries to remind him of his real identity, by talking about (presumably?) his wife and his previous life.

It sketches in a backstory for the two brothers, and gives them a real place in this world of Dalek rule. That they go on to kill each other, with Larry making sure he gets Ian out of the way to continue in his quest, is a lovely thing, though really bittersweet. It's a bit darker than anything else we've had in the series to this point, I think, but it's very well handled.

Mind you, it does have to be said, the Robomen really are Cybermen, aren't they? I mean, the helmet design is similar enough, but right down to the way that they act, and the way they've forgotten ever being real flesh and blood… Do we think the Daleks picked up some conversion equipment going cheap someplace?

Next Episode: Flashpoint

24 February 2013

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

Day Fifty-Five: The End of Tomorrow (The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Episode Four)

There's plenty to say about this episode, and I'll get to that in just a moment. First though, it's only fitting that - since I'm watching one of the early Dalek stories, after all - a brief tribute be paid to Raymond Cusick.

It's more than a little strange just how hard the news struck me last night, hearing it as I did while editing a piece of artwork featuring the city he designed for the very first Dalek serial. Then I've sat down and watched this story, featuring those oh-so-iconic designs of his.

The word 'genius' gets thrown around back and forth all over the place, but it's a word often used without all that much reason. In Cusick's case, though, I think we can pretty safely apply it. Sure, part of the Dalek's charm comes from the characters created in Terry Nation's scripts, but let's be honest - it's the look of the things that really make them iconic.

Cusick has the honour of having created not only one of the most striking designs of the twentieth century, but a piece of pop culture that's going to long outlive him - a hundred years from now, that image he created of the pepper pot, gliding around without legs, with the tiny lights and the sink plunger hand will be as instantly recognisable as it is today.

What better legacy to have than being the man who designed the Daleks?

* * * * *

Dear diary,

During the latter stories in the show's first season, I spent some time tracking how well-done the instances of the cast taking a holiday were. They ranged from being very good (Carole Ann Ford's absence in The Aztecs, or William Russell's in The Reign of Terror could completely pass you by) to the less well-handled (Jaqueline Hill being left on the ship for a few episodes of The Sensorites, until they decide to bring her down to the planet once the holiday's over).

Today, we're almost completely missing the Doctor from the story, though it's not for a holiday. Hartnell had been injured during the recording of the previous story (I believe the ramp to the Dalek saucer had collapsed. That's shoddy Skaro workmanship for you), and was granted a week off here while he recuperated. Much of the Doctor's part in the narrative was given over to David, who takes Susan down into the sewers of the city while the Doctor takes a nap.

All of this is set up by having Edmund Warick keel over at the start of the story, and it actually works quite well. If I didn't know it wasn't Hartnell, I'm not sure I'd question it. I might wonder why they'd have shot it in such an odd way, but it's not half bad. And after that? The Doctor's not missed from the narrative. Susan and David are given time to bond in the sewers (that's not something you type every day), which just helps to add to their growing relationship. If anything, I think it'd feel a bit cramped to have the Doctor roaming around with them like a gooseberry.

Susan gets to reflect on wanting to settle down again, commenting that 'rebuilding a planet from the very beginning' is a great idea, and she seems genuinely touched by the suggestion that she remain behind to do so with David. It's really great to see her being given such a chance to shine as her days on the series pull to a close.

Elsewhere, everyone has so much to do that the story is really packing out the twenty-five minutes. Barbara and Jenny (who, by the way, is a damn misery. I'm glad they didn't end up keeping her on as the companion to replace Susan, I'm not sure I could have put up with that…) get to spend some more time doing action-based things, as they steal a vehicle from the transport museum and start to make their way out of London.

There's even a moment when Barbara gets to drive right into a line of Daleks, shattering one of them as they collide. Frankly, it's fantastic! It looks simply stunning, and it feels - as does so much in this story - far better than anything we're used to in Doctor Who at this stage. The thing that really impressed me about this strand of the narrative though is a little thing; Jenny opens the doors so they can drive away, and Dortmun's body is still laying there.

It seems a tiny thing to pick up on, but I'm used to the idea that they'd not pay someone to come back and play a dead body for twenty seconds. Once a character has been killed off, that's usually it. If you're lucky, you might get to see the back of their head. It's clear how they've managed it; that shot takes place on location, so would have been done far in advance of the rest of the episode. It really helps to build on the discussion of Dortmun's suicidal actions that takes place just before, and it's just another example of this story feeling so very different.

And then you've got Ian out in Bedfordshire! Ian's given perhaps less excitement than we've just witnessed, but he does still get to clunk a Roboman over the head and avoid the 'deadly' Slyther. This segment of the story helps to sell the epic scale, too, with a fantastic shot of a group of slaves pulling a mine cart. There's loads of them! Absolutely loads! (Ok, well, about twenty, but that's a lot for Doctor Who).

Less impressive is the aforementioned Slyther itself. Oh dear, it had to go a bit wrong somewhere. There's some things I like about it - by accident or design, the quivering hand is creepy enough - but on the whole it just looks too much like a man in an oddly-shaped rubber suit. It doesn't help that it's been described as the Black Dalek's pet, which makes it seem far less menacing…

Next Episode: The Waking Ally

23 February 2013
 Day Fifty-Four: Day of Reckoning (The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Episode Three)

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

Day Fifty-Four: Day of Reckoning (The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Episode Three)

Dear diary,

It's fitting that I've started on this story this week, since SUnday morning just gone saw Mark Gatiss and the team behind An Adventure in Space and Time take to the streets of London to record a version of the shots from this episode (mainly, the Daleks on Westminster Bridge) to use in their drama.

I've always like the idea of the 'Yeti on the loo in Tooting Bec' aspect of the series, but never more so than during the 1960s stories. There's something just a little bit magical about seeing the Daleks gliding around the streets of London (or, later on in the series, the Cybermen at St Pauls, or the Yeti in Covent Garden, the TARDIS parked outside the Post Office Tower…). The one thing that lets this example down a little though is… well… the shots of the Daleks in the capitol aren't all that great.

Shush, now. Calm down. Stop throwing fruit, too, taa. Don't get me wrong, the shots are perfectly adequate, and they look good enough, but they don't work as well as I'd like. When we're watching Barbara, Jenny, and Dortmun running down deserted streets, or dashing round corners to escape the Daleks, it looks great. Really, truly, fantastic. Those shots have such pace and energy, and they add to that feeling I had during Episode One of this tale; Doctor Who has never looked quite this good, or been on quite this scale.

But then these action shots are intercut with the footage of the Daleks just milling about. One trundles up to some stamps on the Embankment, looks around a bit with tunnel vision, then heads off again. Some more meet up at the base of Nelson's Column, appear to have a bit of a natter (it looks like the equivalent of when you run into friends-you-don't-really-like in the middle of Ikea, and make awkward small talk), then go their separate ways.

There's no sense of urgency to the shots of the Daleks, that's what I'm trying to get at. Barbara and her new comrades are trying with all the effort they can muster to get away from the Daleks, who just don't seem all that bothered by them. It'd be interesting to see a version of this scene cut together with a bit more thought - it could be a fantastic scene, as iconic as some of the others I'd listed above.

Where the action does work for this episode, though, is in the fight with the Daleks early on. It carries on from the one we saw in yesterday's episode, albeit on a much grander scale. There's plenty of smoke effects, and flashes of bombs. People - and Daleks - dart back and forth across the screen, and Ian and Babs even get a brief moment to see each other through the chaos, and assure the other that they're all right.

What's great is that this is the battle against the Daleks that we should have seen at the end of The Daleks (The serial, not yesterday's episode…). There we got a few chaps in ripped trousers pushing the pepper-pots over. here, we actually get the impression that they're a force to be reckoned with. It's nice to see them given more status.

Mind you, I can't take them seriously with those bumpers. They look like they've been placed on little pedestals!

It's also nice to see Susan being set up for her departure. She muses early on that she's never really felt like she belongs anywhere in time or space, and David gently tells her that one day, she'll be forced to stop travelling (Next Tuesday). Later on, the Doctor notices as she starts to break away from him and move toward David. It's nice to see it being set up early on in the story. A lot of future departures won't be given this much thought…

Now, crank yourself closer to the screen in a jerky motion - like the bizarre, but great camerawork on the cliffhanger - as you read the score…

Next Episode: The End of Tomorrow

22 February 2013
 Day Fifty-Three: The Daleks (The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Episode Two)

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

Day Fifty-Three: The Daleks (The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Episode Two)

Dear diary,

The image of the Dalek rising from the river is justifiably iconic in the history of Doctor Who. It's created well, but it never quite lives up the the way I see it in my mind. It's a stunning moment, but one which isn't given much room to breathe at the end of Episode One. Ian and the Doctor turn around, and stop in their tracks, but we've cut back to the real star of the show, the Dalek, before we can see their reactions properly. This gets resolved here, with plenty of time spent dwelling on it, but it's still a shame.

Perhaps the bigger shame, though, is the way the shot of the Dalek plays out here. There's no incidental music, which rather leaves it looking like the Doctor and Ian are just casually watching as the Dalek gently strolls out of the waves and onto the bank. It fells a little bit too flat for me, I'm afraid.

Perhaps a bigger shame, though, is that it's almost impossible as a viewer in 1964 to not know the Daleks were coming back. Before the last episode, I watched the trailer for the story which is included on the DVD - it's hugely focussed around the return of the Daleks, since they were so popular the year before. Even the Radio Times ran it as a cover image. The cliffhanger would have such an impact coming out of the blue, so I'm sorry to know that didn't happen.

As it is, I think I'd be rather miffed, after all the build up, to know I'd not got a Dalek until the last thirty seconds or so! Give me my pepper pots! We get paid back in spades here, though, and there's Daleks a-plenty. There's a wonderful shot toward the end of the episode, while the battle against the Daleks is going on, where we've got five of them moving about, plus a few more cardboard cut-out versions (which here, as in The Daleks - the serial, not this episode! - almost work, but not quite. It'd help if they didn't keep shining the spotlight directly at them…)

Something that I have found interesting throughout this episode is the Doctor's reaction to encountering the Daleks again. He doesn't panic, or fear them, he simply responds to their bold assertion that they're the masters of Earth with a glib comment ('Not for long!') and comments to Ian that they need to put their wits together and defeat the creatures.

Throughout the stories of the first series, I often spoke of the Doctor growing more and more into the character we know from later in the series. I think this surely has to be the crowning moment of that transformation. The Doctor discovers that an old foe is behind the events they've encountered, and decides that it's up to him to stop it. It's fitting that the Daleks should be the creatures to make him see this, considering that they're the first monster to return to the series after their initial debut. No wonder they became his arch nemesis!

It's also good to see some throwbacks with the Doctor's character, too, though. While locked up in a cell on the Dalek ship, he's very friendly with Ian, discussing space-age science with him and wondering if they'd taught it at Coal Hill, while being thoroughly dismissive of Craddock. He's not quite as harsh with the man as he was with Ian and Barbara when they first encountered him, but there's flashes of the Doctor's more guarded persona that we don't see often any more.

Next Episode: Day of Reckoning

21 February 2013
 Day Fifty-Two: World's End (The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Episode One)

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

Day Fifty-Two: World's End (The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Episode One)

Dear diary,

When I'm watching an episode of Doctor Who for this blog, I tend to make notes. Not lots of them, just things that I might want to mention while I'm writing up my thoughts for the day's entry. Some days, there's very little (glancing at my sheet, I've written absolutely nothing for Dangerous Journey, and only a single line of Hartnell's dialogue for Crisis…), and other times, I write quite a lot.

Today is an example of a day that I've written quite a lot, and it's probably quite a good thing that I've used the word 'great' three times. Once in full caps.

I've never really paid all that much attention to The Dalek Invasion of Earth. It's just one of those stories that's just sort of… there. It's another that I picked up on DVD quite early on, watched once, maybe twice, then just left to sit on the shelf. It's got a pivotal place in Doctor Who history for a number of reasons, but it's just not all that special to me.

That is, until watching through the series in order. Because, blimey, this is a massive leap from the stuff we've had so far, isn't it? I mused the other day that I'd pictured the audio-only Farewell Great Macedon as being entirely studio-bound, because that's what I'd been used to. A brief stroll sown a country lane aside, Doctor Who just hadn't done location work.

All of that gets blasted right out of the water here, though. The episode is full to bursting with location footage - and it really helps to sell the story as being part of something epic. The silly thing is that the moment that's perhaps most effective for me from a location standpoint is a simple scene in which the Doctor and Ian climb a set of stairs… and they just go up and up! There's a scale to this that you just don't have in any of the stories we've seen before.

It's also some great stuff when we watch Barbara running through decaying industrial structures, with collapsing buildings that stretch off into the distance and a world completely over-grown. It doesn't look anything like Doctor Who, but it looks better than Doctor Who. This looks like a real drama, with a gritty sense of reality.

But it's not only the locations that work really well. The initial shots of the TARDIS arriving on the banks of the river and the crew exploring their surroundings is fantastic, and a selection of high shots and low shots really help to sell the sheer size of the setting. This really is the most ambitious episode we've had to date, and I'm simply floored by it.

I'm also surprised to find, as we start our tenth 'regular' story, that they're still using the idea of a first episode focussed mostly around the regular team exploring. We're slowly drip-fed new characters throughout the twenty-five minutes, but it's not until the end that we have several other faces on screen - this is mostly about the TARDIS crew and their reactions.

Staring at my notes, there's so much more I could talk about, but I'll save it. There's sure to be an opportunity during the later episodes of the story. Suffice to say, I'm impressed.

Next Episode: The Daleks

20 February 2013
 Day Fifty-One: Crisis (Planet of Giants, Episode Three)

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

Day Fifty-One: Crisis (Planet of Giants, Episode Three)

Dear diary,

I've made no secret in the last six weeks that I tend to think the six-parters in Doctor Who run on a bit. They all seem to start strong, sag badly, then return to form at the end. The same can be said, on some occasions, for the four-part stories, too. All things considered, when it comes to twentieth century Doctor Who, I tend to think of three-episode stories being just about right.

Which is why this story seems to end at just the right time. There's just enough incident in this final episode to wrap up the story nicely. It doesn't feel like the story has been drawn out any longer than it should have been, and equally it doesn't seem at all rushed. So it's always fascinated me that when it was first made, this story was four episodes long!

The DVD version of Planet of Giants contains a recon of the original episodes three and four, with William Russell and Carole Ann Ford coming in with some impersonators to re-record lines for the missing parts of the tale. This is then put together with some clever use of other footage to restore it to full-length.

I'm sad to say that I tried watching the recon when the DVD first came out, but it just wasn't to my taste. I got most of the way through episode three, but the thought of having to sit through any more of it was too much. Watching the story over the last three days though, I can't help but feel that, actually, I don't want to experience this one as a four-parter - it's just right here and now!

I seem to have been on a constant loop of praising the effects in this story over the last few entries, so I won't dwell on them too much here. Suffice to say that they finish up looking as good as they have all along, and I love the idea of the Doctor taking the seed back to the TARDIS with them to see if they've returned to normal size once more.

I also like that the story wraps itself up quite neatly in the end, even though the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan don't actually get involved. The only real impact they have on the plot is the unhook the phone and the blow up the can - but Hilda and the policeman were already suspicious enough as it is, so things would likely have reached the same conclusion.

In some ways it comes back to what I was saying yesterday about the story feeling so indistinct that it could fit anywhere, not just into Doctor Who. It's been an interesting, three-episode interlude, but it's just felt like a bizarre (and not entirely successful) experiment.

Still, we've got Daleks coming up tomorrow, and there's not many things more 'Doctor Who' than a Dalek…

Next Episode: World's End

19 February 2013
 Day Fifty: Dangerous Journey (Planet of Giants, Episode Two)

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

Day Fifty: Dangerous Journey (Planet of Giants, Episode Two)

Dear diary,

I can't quite make up my mind with this one. On the one hand, as I'm watching, I'm thinking about discussing how the story is quite dull. On the other hand, though… it's keeping me interested. I've not found myself getting distracted at all while I watch, and indeed I'm quite enjoying it. I don't know what it is, but there's something just not right about this one.

I did wonder if it might just be that the Doctor and friends are so disjointed from the story going on in the rest of the episode - they've only interacted with the guest cast when a briefcase has been moved and a tap has been turned on (again, another cliffhanger you could only get in Doctor Who!), but then at the same time, I'm enjoying the story that's going on in the background.

It feels almost as though it could be placed in any number of 1960s television - I can picture an Adam Adamant Lives! adventure that involves the DN6 scandal, and the same is true for The Avengers. Or for Danger Man. Or The Saint, or…

Actually, maybe that's it? This doesn't feel like proper Doctor Who because it isn't Doctor Who. The idea of the TARDIS crew being shrunk to an inch high is a fun one, but it's not especially what I expect from the series, and it's not a type of story that we often get in the following 49 years, either. Cliffhangers aside, this could just be A. N. Other programme.

Something that I do find interesting is that this was originally intended to be the very first episode of Doctor Who, or at least a version of it. Initially, the story was to have followed the first episode of An Unearthly Child by shrinking the TARDIS and its new occupants down, and dumping them down in the Coal Hill School science lab.

I wonder if that would have helped the story to feel less generic than it does here? The only reason, I think, that I'm struggling to connect with the DN6 plot line is because it's so unlike anything else we ever get in the programme; a story about insecticide and government permission not being given. Even the presence of a murder feels a bit mundane for Doctor Who.

There's a part of me that feels like I'd have rather seen it as a two-episode story following on from that very first one, with the Doctor and his friends exploring the lab. There's elements here that could still fit in there (Ian's musing on the litmus paper, for example), and you could still have Barbara's poison scare, by having her handle some dangerous chemicals.

I guess it's one of those strange little parts of Doctor Who history; a side-alley never taken…

The effects are still the best thing this story has, though. Frankly, they're brilliant. The way the camera pulls back to show a (moving!) fly menacing Barbara is fantastic, and a great example of aha the show could achieve in the early days when it really set its mind to it. It's certainly one of the better effects we've had so far. I'm also impressed with the way the large scale sets match the regular sized ones. You really do get the impression that you're watching the Doctor and co running around, tiny, in this world.

So, so far, it's good, but it's just not Doctor Who

Next Episode: Crisis

18 February 2013
 Day Forty-Nine: Planet of Giants (Planet of Giants, Episode One)

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

Day Forty-Nine: Planet of Giants (Planet of Giants, Episode One)

Dear diary,

You have no idea how lovely it is to get back to an actual, real, episode. Much as I've enjoyed my side-step into the world of 'what-if?' this last week, it's great to actually see the story as well as to listen to it. The episode has simply flown by, and it helps that there's a lot to look at.

It's been said many times over the years, but the design of the 'props' (if you can call them that) in this story is top-notch. The effect of the packet of Night Scented Stock is striking, as is that of the matchbox. The model ant is rather impressive, too, though the earthworm is a bit plain for my liking.

The most interesting aspect of the visuals, though, comes from the direction. there's a lovely shot when the travelers have deduced that they're now only around an inch high, when the camera pulls back from the model of the TARDIS to show the path it's sat in, and the house beyond. It's a great image, and one which deserves to be better remembered than it is.

We've also got Ian (and later the rest of the crew) being super-imposed onto a shot of the dead man's face. Though watching a freshly-VidFIREd copy of the story shows up one or two spots of overlapping in the images, it's still one of the most impressive shots that we've had in the series, and mush have looked great on a 1960s television set.

The downside to the story? Well… it's a bit… slow, isn't it? Planet of Giants wasn't originally intended to become the second season opener for Doctor Who, instead being just 'one of the run'. Moving it to this position, though, as the triumphant return of the series after a few weeks away from screens is a slightly odd decision, though.

I mean, yes, there's plenty to look at. Yes, there's a bit of a mystery to be had. Yes, it serves as another of those early episodes that is hung mostly around our regular cast… but it's all just a bit 'bog-standard-Doctor-Who. Knowing what's to come in a few days time, it feels almost as though this is the main course that you need to sit through to reach dessert.

Still, 'bog-standard-Doctor-Who is still better than several things in the world; where else do you find a cliffhanger based around your four main characters seeing a cat!? I'm just happy to be back where I can see everything on a screen again - I really have missed these four!

Next Episode: Dangerous Journey

17 February 2013
 Day Forty-Eight: Farewell, Great Macedon! (Farewell Great Macedon, Episode Six)

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

Day Forty-Eight: Farewell, Great Macedon! (Farewell Great Macedon, Episode Six)

Dear diary,

There's a moment in this episode, just after Alexander's death, where his eyes are closed, and it is declared that he now 'belongs to history'. Actually, that's a very good description of Farewell Great Macedon as a whole.

The story has focussed very much - especially in its earlier segments and this last one - on the idea of not changing history, picking up on things that have been present elsewhere in Doctor Who's first series and running with them as a real focus to the story. Sure, you've got all the evil scheming and plots to take control of the throne, but that's just there as a background to the real story.

In many ways, I'm glad that I've opted to listen to this story during the gap between the first two seasons of the show, because it forms part of a natural through-line in the Doctor's historical adventures, from The Aztecs, where he states with absolute certainty that they can't change history ('not one line!'), via The Reign of Terror, in which we get Ian and Barbara musing on the futility of their actions, as they know they're on the losing side, and then we end up here.

This takes the most interesting aspects of those two stories and combines them together. The Doctor is very well aware that he can't alter history, and he's more than well informed enough that Alexander will die here on this day. Still, he's determined to help the man because he is a Doctor, after all, and therefore he has a moral oath to at least try to spare his life.

Dovetailing with the discussion in the TARDIS at the end of the last story, about what would happen if they tried to change history, here we get to see it in action; the Doctor has devised a potential survival plan for Alexander and Ian has built it, but the Grecian himself refuses it because the Doctor's knowledge of the future gives him nothing to live for.

To be honest, I'm a little pleased with the way that things turned out. Early on in the story, when we're first told that the king will die during his stay in Babylon, I mused that it changed the story to being about when and how he would die. But, truth be told, I've worried all along that they wouldn't actually show it. I'd feared that they'd have shied away at the last minute and cut away before it could happen.

To see it coming about in this way, with so much emphasis on the ideas of changing history? Wonderful. It helps that Alexander's - and then the Doctor's - speeches here are so good; they really help to sell the moment.

It's not all sunshine and roses, though. This final episode clocks in at a whopping 44 minutes - almost twice the length of the episodes that I've been watching for the last six weeks. I'm not going to lie; it was a bit of a struggle to keep up my attention to the end here. Indeed, that's been true of the story all along. It's been very good, but it's just been too long.

Still, I wanted to listen to it here and now, because I wanted to see how it would feel integrated into the stories that were intended to be it's stablemates. I'm pleased to say that it really does work. As I've said, it forms a perfect continuation of the narrative building up over the historical stories, which gives the feeling of almost a story arc forming. Definitely a detour worth making on a marathon from the start.

That said, I'll not be making too many of these on the way along. I can't tell you how excited I am to be getting back to moving pictures tomorrow!

And an overall story rating of;

Next Episode: Planet of Giants

16 February 2013
 Day Forty-Seven: In the Arena (Farewell Great Macedon, Episode Five)

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

Day Forty-Seven: In the Arena (Farewell Great Macedon, Episode Five)

Dear diary,

I've become too ingrained in the Doctor Who of 1964. As part of the process of immersing myself fully into the marathon, I'm only watching the episodes as they come up, day-by-day. The only exemption I'll be making to this is when the new episodes begin to air in the spring. There's no way I'll manage to avoid watching them!

This means, though, that the only exposure I've had to Doctor Who for the last six weeks is via the early Hartnell episodes, and… it's started to have an effect on me. Here I am, listening to this episode as I do the washing up (what? I have to do it *sometime*…), with some great incidental music, and the sound of a vast crowd cheering Ian on as he partakes in the wrestling, in what's sure to be an enormous arena, with several gladiators, and a blazing hot sky overhead…

And it all looks - in my mind's eye - as though it's been shot on film at Ealing. In my head, as Ian left his companions to join the championship, the look of what I was imagining shifted to film. And actually, thinking back on it (though I may be attaching more to it now that I've noticed) the whole thing in my mind has been rather small-scale in terms of the setting, when there's the opportunity for it to look grand and vast on a scale I've not been seeing yet with the series.

That's probably a testament to how in-keeping with everything else in the series to date this story has been. I'm glad that it seems Big Finish have stuck closely to what was written in the 60s, as this truly does feel like a 'lost' episode of Doctor Who.

I've spent a bit of time this week competing this story to Marco Polo, but actually, in this episode, things shift slightly so that it's more in keeping with The Aztecs. You've got the aforementioned situation in which Ian has to prove himself through a contest of strength (and it's those scenes with Ixta on the temple which have formed much of my vision during the final five minutes or so here), while his friends watch on.

Elsewhere, you've got the Doctor using his knowledge of science to produce what could almost be called magic - there he gives poison to help win in a fight, and here he makes his feet perspire so that he can walk back and forth across the coals. The only downside, really, is that William Russell doesn't attempt to mimic Hartnell's laugh, but merely narrates that the Doctor does so…

I must admit, one of the things I'm enjoying the most is the idea of the TARDIS team being used to cover up the murderous plot line. During the first episode, when 'evil' characters all sat around spouting stuff about killing four people to become king I thought it was going to be blatantly obvious what was going on, even if they were going to frame our regulars.

Actually, though, through the use of the bad omens being prophesied, and the way that the blame has been pinned to the good guys rather late on in the story, it's managed to avoid feeling too much like an obvious ploy. It's hanging together quite nicely for the baddies at the moment… if only they wouldn't whisper so obviously about poisoning the king about three feet away from him!

Next Episode: Farewell, Great Macedon!

15 February 2013
 Day Forty-Six: The World Lies Dead at Your Feet (Farewell Great Macedon, Episode Four)

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

Day Forty-Six: The World Lies Dead at Your Feet (Farewell Great Macedon, Episode Four)

Dear diary,

There's some elaborate titles in this story, aren't there? I've been working from a list proposed by Moris Farhi, but you have to wonder if these would be the titles had the episodes actually made it to screen. An alternative to the title for Episode Two was The Wrath of the Greatest Grecian of Them All!, which seems very elaborate by the standards I've gotten used to throughout Season One!

The further into this story we get, the more it reminds me of Marco Polo - which isn't such a bad thing! Alexander is a rather complex character, a kind we've not really seen much of outside the scripts by Lucarotti so far. There's a scene early on where he orders the Doctor and his friends to be put under guard, but advises that they shouldn't be harmed. This is exactly the kind of relationship that they had with Polo.

Equally, he turns on them in the blink of an eye when the evil member of his party suggests that they're behind some foul deed. Perhaps it's because I'm familiar with the way that Doctor Who works, or perhaps it's because I've been watching through in this way, so that the similarities to earlier stories are apparent, but it seemed clear to me the second Hephaeston left his torture that our regulars would be accused of involvement in his pain (and subsequent death).

The pacing of the story bears similarities with Marco Polo, too, with the Doctor and co getting back to the TARDIS a good few episodes before the end of the story, only to have their freedom snatched away from them during the cliffhanger. I've said it before, but I'd really love to see someone undertaking this 'episode-a-day' marathon who doesn't know the format of these early stories. I'd love to see if this could really hold up as a potential 'end of the story', or if it's clear to everyone that there's more to come.

On the whole, this episode has seen something of an improvement from the last. It's still conforming to the same format - one of Alexander's friends is killed, Barbara complains about the fate of history etc - but it seems to add in a decent amount of other action. Something I am enjoying is how easy it is to picture all of this in the style of a 1964 episode. There's a moment when Barbara turns way from the group with a pained expression - and I can visualise the shots perfectly. The audio is doing a really good job of capturing just the right feel…

Next Episode: In the Arena

14 February 2013
 Day Forty-Five: A Man Must Die (Farewell Great Macedon, Episode Three)

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

Day Forty-Five: A Man Must Die (Farewell Great Macedon, Episode Three)

Dear diary,

The one downside to this story being completed on audio, and with only a few voices to spread across the cast, is that it's not a format that easily lends itself to a script with a great number of characters.

Here, we've got three (four?) 'conspirators'. In my head, they're all being called 'Tegana', because I can't remember their names, and they seem to fulfill the same role in this script as he did in Marco Polo. You've then got Alexander, and his rapidly decreasing set of successors. Add to them the four regulars and we're building up quite the party!

With such a large cast, it's becoming tricky to keep track of just who's who. Add to that the fact that we seem to be entering a period of 'middle-of-a-six-parter-drag' and it could start to become a bit of a chore. I'll admit, much as I'm still enjoying the story, today's episode was a bit of an effort.

That's not to say that there weren't moments in there that I loved. As we begin, Ian is ruminating on the death in the last episode. He holds himself responsible, since it came from an argument that he stirred up. While Ian talks of his guilt at being a catalyst for the death, were presented with an interesting viewpoint; Barbara knows from history that the death always has happened like that - regardless of Ian's involvement.

It's interesting, and definitely a continuation of the themes we saw building up in the last episode. I wondered then how the story would continue to deal with this subject, so I'm glad to see it being tackled head-on so early here.

Then we've got the Doctor acting as… well… a doctor. He examines his patient and prescribes blood transfusion, before setting up the whole operation. It's interesting that he asks Barbara to stay in the tent with him (as opposed to scientist Ian), but it allows for some more awkward moments with her having to hide her knowledge of events.

Overall, I'm still enjoying the story, though we seem to have settled into a format, now. There's a death within Alexander's party (or, as here, very nearly), and then a cliffhanger involving a spear. Yesterday's cliffhanger was big and bold - the threat of a suicide, something with lingers over this episode, too - and today is another bold one, with the spear headed for Ian, who has stirred up trouble again, despite his earlier worries.

I'm excited to move forward, but I'm a little worried that this story could become very stale very quickly. Here's hoping that it regains some of the majesty of yesterday's episode as we move forward…

Next Episode: The World Lies Dead at Your Feet

13 February 2013
 Day Forty-Four: Oh, Son! My Son! (Farewell Great Macedon, Episode Two)

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

Day Forty-Four: Oh, Son! My Son! (Farewell Great Macedon, Episode Two)

Dear diary,

A few years ago, while we were writing some text for the Doctor Who roleplaying game, my co-writer and I came across something of a sticking point. It was centered around Susan. Basically; What is her name?

I mean, 'Susan' seems pretty obvious. She's always referred to as 'Susan', even by her grandfather. No, more specifically, the debate centered around her surname. She's always referred to as 'Susan Foreman' (Indeed, that's the name she uses to introduce herself in this episode), but we didn't think that really was her name.

We'd both assumed that during An Unearthly Child, when Ian and Barbara discuss her as 'Susan Foreman', it was because she'd made the name up to enroll at Coal Hill. The TARDIS is parked at I.M. Foreman's junkyard, after all, so pairing the two together on the paperwork should avoid any awkward questions (unless, of course, two curious teachers come a-knocking on your police box).

I'm only brining it up because it really made me think when she used the name in this story. What's everyone else's thoughts? Is that her name? Really? Really?

Anyway; In other news, I'm really enjoying this one. I mused yesterday that it reminded me of John Lucarotti's stories, and that's a comparison that only grows stronger with this episode. The story is rich with history, but it doesn't feel as thick and impenetrable as it did during The Reign of Terror. It may help that I've only recently seen the section on Alexander the Great in Andrew Marr's History of the World, so some of these events and references are fresh in my mind, but it just feels more educational that all that French Revolution stuff.

Plus, who can fail to love an episode in which Barbara 'fangirls' over a historical figure? I said during The Aztecs how much I loved her role as a history teacher being put to use. The same is true, here, and there's a lovely description of her 'suddenly realising - remembering! - what was about to happen'. Granted, there's a strong chance this line was added during Nigel Robinson's adaptation for the story for Big Finish (it's a part of the narration, rather than the dialogue), but it really encapsulates everything I'm loving about the story.

It's an interesting approach to take, really. You've got the Doctor reminding his companions that they can't get involved with changing events, and Barbara telling us outright that Alexander will die at some point during his visit to Babylon. Where as we'd usually be playing the game of 'will he die?', we're now left with a game of 'when will he die?'. It's an interesting way of doing the story, and I'm keen to see it evolve.

Next Episode: A Man Must Die

12 February 2013
 Day Forty-Three: The Hanging Gardens of Babylon (Farewell Great Macedon, Episode One)

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

Day Forty-Three: The Hanging Gardens of Babylon (Farewell Great Macedon, Episode One) 

Dear diary,

I hope you'll forgive me this little side-step into slightly different territory. I started this marathon with the express intention to watch all of televised Doctor Who, one episode a day, from the start. It's been going well! I've just finished the first season! The thing is… this was too tempting to miss.

Farewell Great Macedon was a story written by Moris Farhi in 1964, to be included as a part of Doctor Who's first run. For one reason or another, it didn't end up getting made, and sat there as one of those things talked about in whispers of Doctor Who fandom for many years.

But then, in 2010, Big Finish produced it as a part of their 'Lost Stories' range of audios - it's the main feature of their First Doctor box set. Now, I love Big Finish. I even wrote a book all about the Eighth Doctor's adventures with my friend Nick Mellish. Knowing that this story was out there, a script written at the time of the first season, with that mindset… I had to include it as a part of the marathon.

Originally, the plan was that I'd just give it a listen between the first and second seasons. Maybe split it over a couple of nights to enjoy, while this blog just kept chugging along toward the Planet of Giants. Thing is, I've really been enjoying the pace of the marathon so far. Watching at the rate of one installment per day, the stories really get a chance to breathe.

So here we are! Slightly off the beaten track of Doctor Who, but still very much following in spirit. I won't be taking these side-steps between every season, but there are one-or-two others to take as I go along (and we'll come to them when the time is right). Mainly, I'm interested to see how well this story fits in with what's around it. I want to see how much it feels 'of the era' that it has come from.

Now, obviously, the script has been adapted for its audio release. The sad loss of William Hartnell and Jacqueline Hill means that we'll never have it quite as we would have done in 1964. Add to that the fact that things need to be slightly more 'described' on an audio play, and we're going to encounter differences.

Know what though? This first episode is pure, 1964 Doctor Who. I'm so pleased! I worried, plugging the headphones in this evening, that I'd find it a bit of a shock. I thought there was a risk that things would feel incredibly out of place compared to all the stuff I've been watching, but this just fits right in.

The story is mainly carried by William Russell and Carole Ann Ford, who play Ian and Susan as normal, but also provide much of the linking narration, and one-or-two other voices. I've never noticed before, listening to any of the Big Finish Companion Chronicles, but having just come from forty-two days of seeing these characters, their voices really do sound 50 years older!

That's not a complaint, though. It's still very recognisably them, and they slip back into their respective roles with a great deal of ease. Susan is still very much in the over-the-top mode she spent most of The Reign of Terror portraying. Early on, when the power drains from the TARDIS and strange music filters in, she shrieks that they might be dead. That's a cheery teenager for you.

Elsewhere, the script contains plenty of humour, and it's very much in keeping with the stuff we've seen in the show recently. Upon Susan's suggestion that they could be in heaven, the Doctor protests that they can't be, as he doesn't know the way. It's a great moment, as is a scene later on in which our regulars encounter a lamb being sacrificed, and the Doctor steps in to give some tips on cooking it!

Perhaps most noticeable, though, is how much the story feels like one of those from the first era of Doctor Who. We've got a historical setting, a character famous from history (in this case Alexander the Great - a presence which awes Barbara. It's good to see her back in history-teacher mode again), and a plot from a few stock 'evil' characters.

When the priest makes portents of a 'Four-headed tragedy' falling across babylon, I made a note to say that they'd link it to the TARDIS team before the third episode was out - it doesn't waste time, though, they make the connection for the cliffhanger to this one!

In all, it's a sting start to the story, and reminds me of Lucarotti's work from earlier in the season. That can only be a good thing!

Next Episode: O, Son! My Son!

11 February 2013
 Day Forty-Two: Prisoners of the Conceiergerie (The Reign of Terror, Episode Six)

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

Day Forty-Two: Prisoners of the Conceiergerie (The Reign of Terror, Episode Six)

Dear diary,

I thought it was going to be a bit of a culture shock to go from two day's worth on animated episodes back to the regular live-action footage, but I'm glad to say that it doesn't jar at all. It feels perfectly natural, and the story still just carries on through.

Unfortunately for me… I'm still just not taken by the story itself. There's still a few nice moments (which I'll get to in a moment), but as a whole it's really just dragging for me.

Reign of Terror has very much been the most overtly 'educational' story from this first season, but whereas others have relied on giving history in odd drips, here it feels almost as though you need to have a working knowledge of the French Revolution in order to follow what's going on.

There's several moments where they reference other events and other people, seemingly assuming that we're going to pick up on them and know the context, but it's just not there for me, I'm afraid. I know enough to get by, but not enough to follow the plot as well as I'd like. Frankly, I've lost track.

What I have enjoyed, though, is the way that this episode examines the extent to which you can't change time. It's lovely when Barbara laughs with the Doctor that they're having to try and stop events that they know are going to happen, but that they have to go through the motions anyway, in order to get Susan back and return to the TARDIS.

Equally nice is the discussion once they have reached the ship, where Ian speculates on what would happen if they tried to alter things. I love all the little suggestions that if they'd written Napoleon a letter then he would have lost it, or forgotten it, or thought it fantasy. Even Barbara's suggestion that if they'd tried to shoot him, then the bullet would have missed… It's stuff that's not really new coming to sci-fi from a 2013 perspective, but it's nice to see it cropping up in the early days of Doctor Who.

It's also good to see that the show is sticking to its own internal logic on the subject for now. In The Aztecs, much of the story hinges around the inability to change history, no matter how much you try, and it's good to see that referenced here. 50 years on, and history has become far more malleable (perhaps as the Doctor has learnt more about the hows and whys of the Web of TIme?), but it's good to see it being held firm at the beginning.


It's another situation where I won't spend much time summing up - I've discussed my thoughts on the story as a whole over the last couple of days, so I'll leave you with the final score;

Next Episode: The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

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