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Welcome to the News & Reviews section here at Doctor Who Online! This is where you will find all the latest Doctor Who related news and reviews split up into easy to use sections - each section is colour coded for your convenience. The latest items can be found at the top, and older items follow down the page.

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27 January 2013
 Day Twenty-Seven: The Temple of Evil (The Aztecs, Episode One)

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

Day Twenty-Seven: The Temple of Evil (The Aztecs, Episode One)

Dear diary;

Back in 2004, The Aztecs was the very first William Hartnell story I ever saw. I picked it up from what was then the BBC Shop in Norwich, along with a couple of other titles, excited to be delving right back to the very start of the series. At the time, this was the earliest Doctor Who story available on DVD. Shamefully (Fair warning, I'm about to make myself sound stupid), I completely mis-read the back cover of the DVD case, and mistakenly believed that the character mistaken for a God was an Aztec called 'Bar-Bara'. No, I don't really know how I managed it, either.

Now, I've not seen The Aztecs since that first occasion (all previous attempts at a marathon had fizzled out by around now), so I've been greatly looking forward to getting round to it this time. Especially now that I can watch it in context, knowing that the last John Lucarotti story was something of a gem. After a couple of off-putting episodes of The Keys of Marinus, it's nice to be back in history again.

The one downside is that, as I write this, we're about six weeks away from a shiny new 'Revisitation' of the story on DVD. Much as I'd have loved to wait and see it cleaned up to the standards seen on some recent DVDs, I'll be making do with my original copy. It's so old, there's not even artwork on the disc. Just a logo. Crikey, it seems like a lifetime back!

Right then! Where to start? You can tell instantly that we're back to the series trying to be educational again; we're treated to a couple of history lessons fresh out of the TARDIS, about the Aztecs and their way of life. Susan even not-so-subtly brings up the dates that the Spanish first came into contact with them, while taking an extremely one-sided view of the situation. I'm not going to go massively into the history of the period here (Aztecs for me are, like Barbara, an area of interest!), but I'll likely return to it before the story is over.

There's some great design work on display, here. The Aztec temple and the garden are both very well realised, and only serve to make me wonder what it would have been like had we seen the episodes of Marco Polo moving. I've seen people complain about the studio backdrops in some of the Hartnell stories, but actually, I think that they work quite well here. Certainly, it helps that the story isn't as polished as some of the ones I've seen lately (for the time being, at least).

You can't discuss this episode without bringing up another one of those lines that's become famous from the series' past - arguably one of the most famous from this early period; 'You can't rewrite history! Not one line!'. I think it's fair to say that this has become such a famous line because of how wonderful it is, and the way Hartnell performs it. The show has changed its stance on this matter over the years - especially since the Eleventh Doctor has been in the TARDIS! - but it's a great way of looking at the series here.

It also helps to highlight the difference between this story and Marco Polo. There, our heroes were caught up in events, with little opportunity to change things around them. Here, thanks to Barbara's position as a 'reincarnated God', they've got a chance to tell a very different story, and it's one that's caught my attention right from the word 'go'.

Next Episode: The Warriors of Death

(Incidentally, I understand that The Aztecs is being repeated today on BBC America. Do check it out if you've not seen it before - based on this first episode alone, it's a corker!)

26 January 2013

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

Day Twenty-Six: The Keys of Marinus (The Keys of Marinus, Episode Six)

Dear diary,

Ah, I've gone back to being a bit bored during this one, I'm afraid.

It's tricky, when I've not enjoyed an episode, to find a great deal to say about it here. When I've really liked one, then it's great - I can praise the performance, or the sets or the script. There's plenty to say when it comes to liking a story. In this case, though…

It feels like this episode only existed because things needed to be wrapped up before we can move onto the next story. We're given a little bit of time to finish up the events of yesterday's trial sequences, with the Doctor finally revealing who the culprit is (and, to be fair, hiding the key in the weapon was a great idea!), and then it's back off to the tower to return the keys and get the TARDIS back.

The problem is, much as I've liked that we have a new setting every day, it's been too long since we were last at the tower. It was a little while before I remembered that Arbitan had been killed right back in Episode One - and I only watched it a week ago! Imagine watching this spread out over a six-week period!

The final confrontation with the Voord fell a bit flat, too. They were supposed to be the next Daleks (after all, they are only the second evil alien race we've had in the series, and created by the same writer), but they don't actually get a lot to do. Here they mostly skulk around corridors with knives out, or badly hide under a hood pretending to be an elderly monk. Hm. Can't say I'm all that surprised they didn't catch on in the end…

On the whole, The Keys of Marinus is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, there's plenty to enjoy about the story, but on the other, it's crushingly dull in places.

Let's start with the good, yeah? The idea of the quest is a great one; it gives the story plenty of variety, and it means that when I have been caught in an episode I've not enjoyed, it's only lasted for a little while before I'm off to a new location. It also means that we're able to lose the Doctor for a couple of days and it's not even noticed.

Much as I like the idea, it all seems a bit too simple, really. These keys are supposed to be hidden right across Marinus, but our heroes never really have much trouble getting hold of them. The hardest one to come by is probably the one hidden in the jungle. The rest they stumble upon with relative ease.

Still, can't complain much, as it gave a nice backdrop to get them moving around. I'm also fond of our two 'guest companions' for the story. They've been good fun to have around, though I'm not sure I'm actually going to miss them as we move to the next adventure…

Something I am going to miss is the well-drawn world of Marinus. I praised it yesterday, but it's worth repeating here, too. It's not often that we get a world so rich in the series, so it's great to have one here. In an extra on the DVD, Raymond Cusick complains that Terry Nation wrote his scripts without thinking about how achievable they were to film. It's a credit, therefore, that the design team do so well, here.

Now the bad. I've said it a few times today, even, but there's bits of the story that I just couldn't connect with. Once an episode had lost my attention, it seemed like it took a great effort of Will to get it back, or even to make it to the end. It's a shame, because we've not really had a situation like this in the series so far.

There was a point in An Unearthly Child which came close to me picking up my phone, but this story has had a couple of occasions where I've actively had to set my phone the other side of the room, just so I can attempt to concentrate.

Next Episode: The Temple of Evil 
25 January 2013

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

Day Twenty-Five: Sentence of Death (The Keys of Marinus, Episode Five)

Dear diary,

The best thing about The Keys of Marinus surely has to be thought that's gone into the world itself? I've complained that bits of this story feel like filler, or that they're simply rehashes of things we've seen before in the series, but there's a lot to be said for the depth they've gone to in creating the 'universe' of this story.

I first made a note during yesterday's episode that it's nice to have an alien world that's got distinctly different environments. We've the acid sea, the screaming jungle, the icy wastes… in this episode, they even mention the glass factories out in a desert. This feels like a real planet, with just as many varying regions as the Earth.

I didn't actually talk about it during my write up yesterday in the end (choosing to focus on other areas instead), but today's episode has given me cause to bring it up. Initially, I made a note about the very 1960s phone used in the vault, but then later on they switch to something far more obviously 'designed' as a futuristic phone.

They've got a whole legal system that's different to the Earth, with its own rules and conditions… even its own special hats for the judges! I should like a hat like that. The point is that this world feels far more real than many of the alien planets we visit in Doctor Who, so it's really nice to see that unfold.

As for the story of the episode itself… Well… I did enjoy it, and it's held my attention throughout, though I think I'm a bit saddened to be in the same place for the cliffhanger. I was just about getting used to all the travelling, and having now seen this city for a bit, I was looking forward to moving onto the next location.

The trial entertained me far more than I was expecting it to, and thinking back to a previous watch of the serial, I think this was the point I'd started to lose patience. There's certainly a lot in this episode that I'd not remembered from last time round, which is usually a sign that I wasn't paying attention.

It's nice to have the Doctor back, too. As much as I said yesterday that I'd not really missed him, it's still a great moment when he appears just in time, having been eluding his companions since their arrival. I seem to be saying it every few days, but the Doctor really is changing rapidly, isn't he? There's a great moment when he tells Ian to trust in him, and it's a really wonderful scene. These people are the Doctor's friends now.

One thing, though… they have a system that's more accurate than finger-prints, but they didn't think to install a CCTV camera in the vault?

Next Episode: The Keys of Marinus

24 January 2013

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

Day Twenty-Four: The Snows of Terror (The Keys of Marinus, Episode Four)

Dear diary,

It seems fitting, in a week where I've had to cancel a trip home because the UK is being coated with a spell of bad weather, that I should be sitting down to watch The Snows of Terror. It's almost as though the show is sympathising with me. Or taunting me. It's definitely one or the other.

The good news is that I've enjoyed this episode much more than I did the last one. Looking back, I wondered if I'd been too harsh on yesterday's episode, but I really was just bored throughout. It seems a good opportunity for me to explain - briefly - my process for rating the episodes.

Having watched my daily 25 minutes, I type my entry up in 'Day One', a diary application for the Mac. The first thing I do is assign the episode a score. This is based purely on my gut reaction. How much have I enjoyed that day's episode? What does it feel like, score-wise? I then write my entry and transfer it over to Doctor Who Online, for you to see.

Up until the point that I hit 'save' on the DWO entry, I allow myself to change the score. Sometimes it changes during the writing of the day's entry, as I assess just what I've liked and not liked from the episode. Sometimes it changes as I input it to the website, and I muse over things.

After that, though, it's stuck. So The Screaming Jungle looks like it's going to be something of a blot on *The Keys of Marinus*…

Truth be told, I'm a little surprised that I've enjoyed today's episode as much as I have. In many respects, it's been something of a 'best of' compilation for the show. We've a snowy mountain (like the opening of Marco Polo), and several scenes set within cave, including a cavern that our heroes have to cross (That'll be like The Daleks, then!). With many elements calling back to things I've seen recently, I'd worried that I might just get a bit bored.

Thankfully, though, there's plenty here to keep me going. I love Vasor, and he's easily one of the nastiest characters we've encountered so far. The way he lusts after Barbara as Ian discovers he's not all that he makes out to be is fantastic, and genuinely creepy. Then the way he leaves them trapped in the cave, disconnecting the rope bridge… fantastic.

It's nice to see him get his comeuppance in the end, though it's great to have a character so richly drawn for a single episode appearance.

Then we've got the guards of the Key, all dolled up like medieval knights. It might help that I've spent the afternoon watching episodes of William Russell's Adventures of Sir Lancelot, but I really enjoyed the design… up until they start moving about. You'd hope that they'd be lumbering and slow, but they come across as a bunch of extras in armor.

It's never more noticeable than when three of them assemble on a ledge, the fourth member of the party having just fallen to his death with a half-arsed scream. They really don't look all that imposing. That said, their first appearance, surrounding the block of ice always makes me think of artist Daryl Joyce's rendition of the scene - which captured my imagination long before I first saw this story.

Something key about the last two episodes, though perhaps more prominently here, given that I've enjoyed this once far more, is how little you notice the absence of the Doctor. I've now not seen him for several days, but I'd quite happily go on watching our current team of travellers together, if the episodes are as fun as this one. As the 1960s go on, cast absences won't always be handled so well, so it's nice to see them getting it right at least to start with.

Next Episode: Sentence of Death

23 January 2013
 Day Twenty-Three - The Screaming Jungle (The Keys of Marinus, Episode Three)

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

Day Twenty-Three - The Screaming Jungle (The Keys of Marinus, Episode Three)

Dear diary;

This week, Doctor Who's friends take on the living jungle…

I'm sorry. I've been quite enjoying the episodes for a while, now. They've all been a fairly consistent quality. I've given out more 7/10's in a row than is perhaps reasonable. Today, though… there's just something missing. I was bored during this episode.

Truth be told, I'm surprised by this. We get to spend much of the episode largely in the company of William Russell and Jacqueline Hill. I've raved enough about them since the start of this project for you to know how highly I rate the pair, so I was looking forward to spending time with them.

About halfway through, Susan and our 'temporary regulars' (as I'll be calling them) are dispatched onwards to the next part of the journey, handily getting them out of the way to spend more time with my two favourites.

It's all just a bit like filler, though, isn't it? They find the kay relatively quickly once they arrive in their new location, and a bit of drama is injected when Barbara is kidnapped by a revolving statue. As if we then needed things to be dragged out further, it transpires that what they've found isn't the key, but a replica, so they'll need to journey deeper into the vegetation.

All the stuff then, with the booby traps and searching for the key based on a cryptic string of numbers and letters… It's the first time, really, that I've found myself wondering how much longer is left before the end of the episode. That's not something that you want to feel toward Doctor Who.

Still, it's not all doom and gloom. I liked the design of the story - the jungle itself looked rather good, and the invasion of the plants at the end was pulled off better than I might have expected it to be.

It's just a shame that in a story I praised yesterday for being able to have a new location in every episode, being the complete antithesis to Marco Polo, which felt like it was bound in one place (despite being wonderful throughout), has left me cold in what should be a really interesting new environment.

It's a woefully short entry, today, but I really don't have all that much to say, I'm afraid. I'm going to have to leave this one with a;

Next episode; The Snows of Terror

22 January 2013

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

Day Twenty-Two: The Velvet Web (The Keys of Marinus, Episode Two)

Dear diary,

I complained on a few occasions during Marco Polo that it felt like no matter how far the travelers were supposed to have gone, it always simply felt like the same place. Being part of the caravan meant that even though the backgrounds changed, we never seemed to actually go anywhere.

The same can't be said of The Keys of Marinus. I've seen this story before, so I know that each episode gives us something new to feast on, but it's only when you start to watch like this that you really take note of how strange it is. I've grown used to being given a set up - a location, characters etc - and then spending a few days with them.

The setting for today's episode is a world away from yesterday's, and a fun story in its own right. It's fun to see the Doctor initially cautious, advising against opening the door because there's going to be something bad behind it. It's then strange to see the series turning this on its head so early in its run, confounding our expectations by showing us a paradise world, where Barbara has been given a life of luxury.

I'm not sure how long she'd supposed to have been there - but it's clearly been a while. She claims to have met their 'host' (presumably Altos), and she's gotten quite comfortable in her new surroundings. Perhaps odd, considering that we were told in the last episode that the dials would move them through space but not time. The Doctor, Susan and Ian left no more than a minute or two after, but more time has clearly passed here.

It's nice to see Ian suspicious for so long, too. They've been at this adventuring lark for a while, now, and he's used to the way it works. It also means we're given a great grounding point for when he's tricked into seeing the beauty and nothing else.

On the subject of which - it's a really rather well done effect, isn't it? Barbara waking to see the truth of the city, all crumbling and in an awful condition. The back and forth between the luxury world the others are seeing and the version through her eyes is directed very well. It means that by the time the Doctor and Ian explore the 'lab', they can pick up a dirty mug, describe it as a piece of fantastically high-tech equipment, and I'll buy it.

There's just a chance to praise the brain-creatures in the jars, too. I've little to add to that thought, but I just thought they looked pretty good.

And now, with Susan screaming madly once more, it's off to the jungle…

Next Episode: The Screaming Jungle 
21 January 2013

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

Day Twenty-One - The Sea of Death (The Keys of Marinus, Episode One)

Dear diary,

The start of a new story is always a bit exciting. Three weeks into this marathon, and I'm starting to appreciate how much that's true. When you watch Doctor Who as a set of DVDs, where you can watch a story in full from any era of the programme at any time, you start to forget the excitement of getting onto a new one.

When I first got into Doctor Who in 2003, I used to relish the chance, every other week or so, to visit the BBC shop in Norwich, where I was living at the time. There weren't nearly as many DVDs on the shelf then as there are now, but I used to enjoy choosing one at random (or, sometimes, based purely on how much I liked the cover art. I didn't pick up a copy of The Leisure Hive for several years, 'cos I thought the art was awful) and then excitedly getting home to watch it.

These days, I own a copy of every story in some form or another; DVD, VHS, audio… it takes some of the magic away from it all. I've really enjoyed Marco Polo, and as I said yesterday, I'd not have been opposed to another episode to allow events to berate a bit at the end, but all the same - it's great to be arriving somewhere new.

The first season of Doctor Who has a simple format, but it works really well. For the most part, it's Historical/Space Story/Historical/Space Story, with the exception of The Edge of Destruction, which is something of an oddity, anyway. It means you get to have a nice deal of variety to the stories, and as much as I love the historical settings, with rich dialogue and fantastic characterisation, it's lovely to be turning up on a world with acid seas and glass beaches.

Sure, this one may not be as polished as the story I've been watching for the last week (and while it's nice to be back to moving episodes again, it's a shame this one has more than a couple of production faults. Two stagehands are very noticeable, as is a boom shadow hovering over Barbara's head for some time while they hunt for the missing Susan), but it's good fun.

We open with a shot of the island itself, which looks rather good - especially when we pan in on the beach, and a tiny model TARDIS arrives. This is the first time we've seen the ship arrive in this way, and it works really well. While on the subject of the models, I'm going to have to mention the washing-up bottle submarines. They get a bad rep, perhaps rightly so, but in general it works quite well.

It also means, since I've got a few bottles of washing-up liquid released for the Jubilee last year, in the shape of these 'classic' versions, I'm going to playing 'Attack of the Voord' when I do the washing up in a bit.

I mentioned a few days ago, during a fight scene in Marco Polo that it was a shame not to actually be able to see it. It was represented in the recon by a series of blurry images and a lot of scuffling noise; not painting a great image! I also mused that it was perhaps for the best, as I could imagine the scene in my head to be better than it perhaps was.

I think this might well have been justified by the scene in this episode, in which a Voord attacks Arbitan and Ian intervenes. The fight is very stagey, and that somewhat let the scene down. It's lovely to have some movement on the screen again, but perhaps reckons are sometimes a good answer…!

Next Episode: The Velvet Web

20 January 2013

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

Day Twenty - Assassin at Peking (Marco Polo, Episode Seven)

Dear diary,

The downside to a seven part story is that… well… it's very easy to run out of things to say on the whole. Across the last week, I've praised the sets, the performances, the dialogue…

I've listed several reasons why I think this story is so high up people's lists of tales they want returned to the archive, and I've voiced constant surprise that I'm not bored by the fact that not an awful lot seems to be happening.

So forgive me if I'm reaching for new things to add here. In short; I've enjoyed this episode, too, but I'm looking forward to moving on with a new story.

What? You want more? Oh, go on then…

He's a late addition to the cast, but Kublai Kahn is a great character. he was used comically yesterday, puncturing a lot of bureaucratic and ceremonial nonsense with simply being rather down-to-earth. It's great to see him at the start of this episode, playing Backgammon with the Doctor, and the stakes being so high - yet so relatively small to him!

I've mused on the fact that the Doctor has been mellowing a lot over the last few episodes, and I think it's very much on show here, now. I can't imagine the Doctor of three weeks ago sitting down to casually play for the return of his TARDIS. The way he laughs about it as he leaves the room is just as great.

One thing that has bugged me a little, though, and this has been rumbling for a few days now… Marco really can't decide which side he's on, can he? It's used to great effect in a couple of places, almost painting Marco as the bad guy. In this last episode, though, it just feels muddled as he swings from wanting to help our regulars, to being against them, to feeling sorry for them, to wanting them kept locked up, to setting them free with a key to the TARDIS…

It's a shame, as he's a really interesting character, and his final thoughts in the story, wondering where the Doctor and Co might be are lovely, and a nice end to the tale. In all honesty, though, that's all I have to add, so I'll rate the episode and move onto my thoughts on Marco Polo as a whole…

I'd never really 'seen' Marco Polo before this viewing. I'd listened to the first episode a few times over the years, usually when I'm trying to complete a marathon, but I've never made it right the way to the end. As a result of this, I've always been a bit unsure of it when people list it among the stories they really lament the loss off.

Actually, though, it's really rather good. I still can't get my head around it - by all rights, I should have been bored out of my mind. I've complained on more than one occasion that the story is just a lot of walking and talking with the occasional 'event' to spice things up a little. Added to that, I've had to watch the whole thing as still images. Not a single clip to break it up!

But it's never let my attention slip. I won't go into the reasons all over again (they're listed at the top of today's post if you need a refresher). I've enjoyed all seven episodes to some degree, and it's my highest rated story so far.

What's odd, though, is that like The Daleks, I've reached the end of seven episodes and feel like I could do with a bit more time in this location. There's an awful lot packed into these last 25 minutes; the resolution to the cliff hanger, the Doctor's game with Kublai Kahn, Tegana trying to win on all sides, an army marching on the city, Tegana's death, the escape from the era…

The problem this causes is that some things aren't given enough room to breathe. The death of Ping-Cho's proposed husband comes out of nowhere and is glossed over in about a minute. It feels like a sad resolution to a story that's been bubbling under throughout these seven episodes.

On the whole, though, the average of my scores gives this episode a solid

Next Episode: The Sea of Death

19 January 2013

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

Day Nineteen: Mighty Kublai Kahn (Marco Polo, Episode Six)

Dear diary,

I can't quite get my head around this story. Let's recap; I've stated a few times over the past couple of days that I worry I'll get bored of it. I've mentioned that it's a lot of back-and-forth between the TARDIS crew and Marco Polo, with the occasional 'set piece' to keep the attention going.

I've also mused on more than one occasion that there's only so long it can go on for, before it gets boring. During yesterday's entry, I hoped that the Doctor, Ian, and Barbara getting back to the TARDIS would signal a turning point for the narrative, but it was very quickly put back to the status quo in this episode.

And yet, and yet… I just can't stop enjoying it. Much of what we have here, we've seen before - Marco is angry at the travellers for defying him, but he forgives them. Tegana convinces him that he should be more suspicious of them. William Russell gets plenty of opportunities to shine. The Doctor is more fun that he's been at any previous point in the series (his complaining of a bad back when being forced to kneel before the Kahn is especially well done).

We're given several new locations, but it all still feels like the same old caravan. Tegana is up to something evil and making dodgy deals… It's all very much same-old-same-old.

But it's not boring. Every bit of this episode has been just as entertaining as the last one, or the one before that. By all rights, I should have had enough of this story by now. Really, I should! Heck, but the fourth episode of An Unearthly Child, I was ready to run a hundred miles from another 25 minutes.

Another thing I commented on recently was the fact that the visual appeal of this story helps to make it a prime candidate for discovery. I wonder if the fact that it's also a very dialogue-heavy story means it's better suited to be left lost? By removing much of the visual element to the story, I'm left being able to focus on other areas.

I've praised William Russell already, but I have to say good things about everyone, really. Jackie Hill, Bill Hartnell, Carole Ann Ford… And it's not just the regulars, our guest cast are engaging, too. Even Tegana isn't as pantomime as he was being to start off with. There's a very real chance that because - for the most part - I'm having to rely on the performances to enjoy the story, I'm enjoying it far more.

It helps that there's some lovely dialogue floating around in today's episode, too. There are a few lines from this era of the programme which are rightly famous ('Have you ever thought what it's like…' 'A thing that looks like a police box…'), but there's a few here that should be as instantly recognisable.

'I come from another time. Our caravan, it not only covers distance, it can cross time!', and Marco's description of time travel as being able to 'defy the passage of the sun'. They're both lovely lines, and I'm surprised I've never heard either f them before.

Then there's the fun ones, such as the one Barbara used to set up the above conversation, when she's trying to convince Ian to speak to Marco; 'Oh, Marco? Ian wants a word with you. * yawn *, I'm feeling a bit tired, I think I'll go to bed…'. It's really rather wonderful…

Next Episode: Assassin at Peking 
18 January 2013

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

Day Eighteen - Rider From Shang-Tu (Marco Polo, Episode Five)

Dear diary,

I've not mentioned it, but since Episode Two, I've been watching this story as a tele-snap recon, rather than by listening to the narrated soundtrack. It's perfectly acceptable, and it's just easier to follow the story this way, rather than having to manually look through the images and try to time them up with the audio.

The downside to this, though, is that things aren't always clear. At the end of yesterday's episode, when Ian is sent to distract the guard outside their tent, I assumed he'd knocked him out. There's no dialogue, just ambient noise and soundtrack, and then a shot of the guard on the floor.

This episode confirms that, actually, the guard was already dead. Stabbed. Ian just found the body. It's a shame it's not clearer, as it means I spent a few minutes at the start of this episode thinking back over to the events of yesterday, when I really should have been enjoying this one.

It's also a shame when you have big fight sequences, as in today's installment. It means there's a few minutes of blurry images and a lot of noise while the characters all fight, but you don't actually see any of it taking place. In some ways, this isn't too much of a loss. As with the sand-storm a few days back, in means things can look far better in my mind than they perhaps did on TV, but it would be nice to be able to see something, I guess.

I'm still enjoying things on the old Silk Trail, though this is another episode which uses a set piece (the fight, on this occasion) to break up lots of scenes set in the camp. Even when we reach the end of the episode, with the group settled down for the night, it doesn't feel as though they've really moved. It's another casualty of the tele-snaps that all the locations look broadly the same.

I'd imagine this story could have looked fantastic - the first episode featuring snow-capped mountains, then moving to deserts for Episode Two, caves for Episode Three, and now in this episode we've got a bamboo forest. It's a real pity that I can't really see any of it properly.

Many people seem to list Marco Polo among the stories they'd most like to see returned to the archives, and I'm starting to see why. For all the talking among characters, it's a terribly visual story.

And then we reach the end, with the Doctor, Ian, and Barbara back safely in the TARDIS. But, hold on! Where's Susan?! It's very reminiscent of the trick pulled to stretch out The Daleks for a few more episodes - 'We've made it back to the TARDIS, but we've left something behind!'. In The Daleks, they then came back from this point by spinning the story off in a different direction, which helped to keep me interested. I hope a similar thing is going to be happening here, as if they just carry on as they have so far, there's a danger that my patience will wear thin!

Next episode: Mighty Kublai Kahn

Next Episode: Mighty Kublai Kahn 
17 January 2013
 Day Seventeen - The Wall of Lies (Marco Polo, Episode Four)

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

Day Seventeen - The Wall of Lies (Marco Polo, Episode Four)

Dear diary,

Do you remember, back in An Unearthly Child (The story, not the episode!), Ian told the tribe that the TARDIS travellers had no leader. At that stage, it was true. As the fabulous Wife in Space blog once said, 'They should have called the show Ian'.

Here, though, Tegana and Marco discuss the travellers;

Marco, which one leads them?

The Doctor

And leaders are obeyed?

It's clear, to our guest characters in this story that the Doctor is the leader of the group, and actually, it's becoming clear to us as viewers, too. The show at this stage is still very much an ensemble piece - all four of our regulars are given their own chance to shine at one stage or another, be it Barbara sneaking out to follow Tegana in the last episode, or Ian distracting the guard here.

Still, though, the Doctor has emerged as the leader of the group. He is the only one with the power to fly the TARDIS, as we're reminded earlier this story. Ian, Barbara, and Susan's lives are all in his hands. It's nice that this has become so prominent after the events of the last story, which I noted as a turning point in his character.

He still has the ability to be crotchety, and to be manipulative, but he's a far warmer soul in this story that we've seen him before, and now that his companions are becoming his friends, he's much nicer toward them. What I'm particularly enjoying is the way that he's a short with those he distrusts as he was with the schoolteachers, once. I really love the way that the Doctor barks at Marco - “You poor, pathetic, stupid savage!”.

Our guest cast is interesting in this story. They're far more rounded as characters than we're sometimes treated to. Marco Polo seems to walk a fine line between being an ally of the group and an enemy. This is most noticeable here for the first time since The Roof of the World, when he initially took the TARDIS away.

The way that he barks orders, listening to the corrupting words of Tegana is totally believable. He wants desperately to trust the travellers, to make friends with them, but from his point of view, it's a no-go. They've betrayed him by sneaking into the TARDIS while no one is looking, and so he has to swap sides again.

It's nice, following on from the pantomime villainy of the first few episodes here, to have a character with a distinct grey area. Marco isn't evil, but he is an obstacle to the TARDIS crew.

I do have to wonder, though, why Tegana - and by extension, Marco - believe out far more likely that the Doctor uses magic to access the 'caravan', above the possibility that he may have a second key. While I could argue that Tegana simply uses magic to reinforce the idea of the Doctor as an evil spirit, Marco does seem surprised to find another key…

On the whole, I'm still really enjoying the story, and I'm actively looking forward to continuing on the journey. The only thing that troubles me is that we spend so much time in the 'camp'. I was really enjoying bits at the start of this story, with the travellers exploring the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes. Ian studies the face to realise the eyes do move, finds signs of a hidden door and…

Well, and then it's all over, and they're sent back to camp. Much as I'm enjoying the Doctor sneaking around, and our heroes trying to avoid detection as the ship gets repaired, it would have been nice to have some more time spent in the cave - it's a different setting and a chance to see something new with the story.

While I'm finding plenty to like in Marco Polo so far, I worry that over time, I'll grow weary of the story is it just carries on revolving around the camp. Interesting characters are only half the battle…

Next Episode: Rider from Shang-Tu

16 January 2013

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

Day Sixteen - Five Hundred Eyes (Marco Polo, Episode Three)

Dear diary,

This episode brings up some interesting questions about the TARDIS. A cold night, followed by a hot day causes condensation to form on the inside, to the extent that it's described as 'streaming down the walls'. Point One; surely the TARDIS should have a circuit that stops that? Is it one of the broken ones? It'll ruin all of the Doctor's furniture. Maybe that's why the console room is so bare by the 1980s?

Point Two (a more serious one, promise), is that this clearly treats the inside of the TARDIS to be situated within the four walls of the police box. Now, I know there's a couple of different schools of thought on this, but I've always been of the opinion that when you cross the threshold, you're transported to another part of space and time. Maybe even another dimension.

Couldn't tell you when I became sure of that, but it's been in my head for as long as I can remember. What's everyone else's thoughts on the subject? Is it a huge space fitting inside the (comparatively) smaller box, or a portal to somewhere else? Leave a comment or Twitter me with your thoughts - I'm genuinely interested to see what people think.

I'm pleased to say that I'm still really enjoying this story. Perhaps its reputation as one of Doctor Who's best is justly deserved? I'm not entirely sure what it is that's sucking me in. The story is good enough, I suppose, though it still feels like they need to insert a number of things just to fill out the journey (more on which in a minute), but I think it's just the characters.

There was a point, when the Doctor, Susan and Ping-Cho are exploring the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes, when it feels just right that Ping-Cho is with them. She almost feels like a part of the team. Equally, it seems right that Marco and Ian should pair off together to hunt for the missing Barbara, too. It's a real testament to the story that these guest characters have only been a part of the narrative for a few days, but they already feel fully formed.

As for what I'd call 'padding'… the tale of Aladdin is very odd - a few minutes of the story given over to be told another story. It's almost like story time at school, where you all get to sit cross-legged on the floor, and listen to a fairytale. It feels oddly out of place - especially given that a fair bit of time early in the episode is given over to setting up that Ping-Cho is going to be telling it.

It does, however, give us a chance to see Susan and the Doctor at their most relaxed. From the images in the recon, you can see Susan laying up against her grandfather, clearly they've known each other for a long time. I'm not sure why people go to such great lengths to deny that they're family - the image says it all! The Doctor is her grandfather, and that's exactly the relationship they share on screen.

The episode is still taking its duties to educate the audience very seriously - we're given a lesson via Ian about how condensation is formed (a great use of him as a science teacher. It really is a fantastic role for the series' early set up), and then later on as he tells Susan (in a completely un-forced way. Or not.) “Do you know that we still use the word Ḥashshāshīn in English today?”

It's nice to see the series using this story as a chance to fulfil one of its initial briefs. It's not something that will last forever, and I'm looking forward to seeing how long it does before it gets fazed out in favour of 'Monster of the Week'…

I'll avoid saying too much about Susan's reactions at the cliff hanger (“THEY MOVED!”), but the rest of the episode is working very well for me!

Next Episode: The Wall of Lies 
15 January 2013

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

Day Fifteen - The Singing Sands (Marco Polo, Episode Two)

Dear diary,

One of the benefits of the missing episodes is that they give you the chance to let your mind fill in the gaps. Today's episode features a sequence in which Susan and Ping-Cho are caught outside during a sand storm. Now, on screen, this may (or may not…) have looked great, but in my head, it can look as great as I'd like.

In my head, it can be suitably epic and dramatic, the soundtrack certainly helps with that, and it's actually quite a brilliant scene. It injects a nice level of drama to the story, which helps to carry this episode. It doesn't hurt that for this installment, I've used a proper recon of soundtrack and tele snaps, mixed with some other photos taken on the set. There comes a point when you almost forget that things are supposed to be moving - just like yesterday, I'm caught up in the story.

An Unearthly Child doesn't really fit the format of the historical adventures (it set more in a fantasy 'stone age' than any easily definable period of history), which makes Marco Polo the first story that can be really pinned down. I can go and look him up and read about his travels to the East along the old silk trails, and see how this story might fit in.

It's a format that really works for the show, and it's a shame we've not had any of these 'proper' historical adventures in the revived series. While The Daleks was made interesting by the first appearance of the Doctor's greatest enemy, this story is given it's boost by interesting characters.

It's telling that I didn't really feel the absence of the Doctor during this installment; especially considering they go to great lengths to remind us that he's just off to one side, either sulking or sleeping. He turns up at the end, of course, but it really is little more than a cameo.

I'm too busy enjoying the story of Ian, Barbara, Susan, Ping-Cho, Marco and Tegana. The cast gel really nicely (though, really, Tegana is just a pantomime villain. I half expect Marco to turn up during the cliff hanger, as Tegana pours the water away, just so we can shout 'behind you!' at him…).

Something that I didn't tough on yesterday, but will here (and no doubt again at some point) is just how good the incidental music to this story is. You could quite happily give me a soundtrack of it to listen to as I drift off to sleep - it's some really nicely composed stuff.

I'm hoping that the story keeps up its current high quality as we continue on, though I worry that the further into it I go, the more it will need to resort to finding padding for the journey. It feels a little like each episode may just be there to fill time before Tegana can commit something evil…

Next Episode: Five Hundred Eyes 
14 January 2013

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

Day Fourteen - The Roof of the World (Marco Polo, Episode One)

Dear diary,

Brace yourself; I'm going to open today's entry with a statement that may not get me many fans… I like that there are missing episode of Doctor Who.

Yes! I know! I should really mourn their loss - 106 little pieces of the show that I may never get to experience in their original format. I should hate the fact that they're lost from the archives. I should be up in the attic, hunting around for film cans in the vein hope that I've got a part of The Web of Fear tucked up there or something.

But the fact is, as far as I'm concerned, the fact that we're missing these little bits of the programme's history somehow makes it all the more magical. It makes the 1960s era of the show seem distant and difficult, but it makes it seem so mythical, too.

Perhaps I'm more willing to accept the fact of missing episodes simply because I'm a fan of archive telly in general, so I'm used to there being gaps in my favourite shows. Most of the first season of The Avengers is missing from the archive (oh, but how I love the few episodes that survive from it!), the same is true for Dad's Army, or Adam Adamant Lives!, or The Army Game. Take a look at the DVDs on my shelves, and you'll find that a good chunk of them are missing an episode or two because of the archiving policy of the era.

That's not to say that I don't like to see episodes returned. I was ecstatic when two turned up in 2011, and I'd be thrilled if some more turned up. Of course I would! I'm not mad! But I don't see them as all that big of a loss while they're still missing.

Besides, calling them 'missing' episodes is almost as ridiculous as calling the period between 1989 and 2005 the 'wilderness' years. They're not all that missing at all! We've got a soundtrack for all of them. That's bloody lucky. That's simply not true of the other examples I've given above for show's missing pieces of their past. On top of that, we've got tele-snaps for most of the stories, plus a wealth of behind-the-scenes photos.

Still, all that said… It does make it hard to do a marathon of Doctor Who from the start. The last time I tried it, I didn't even bother with the missing episodes, I just skipped over them to the next available story. This time, though, I'm doing every episode, which means delving into various reconstructions.

They'll be taking a number of forms over the coming months (in just a few weeks, Reign of Terror comes out on DVD, with it's missing episodes fully animated! And just in time for when I have to watch it!), but for today's story, I've been listening to the narrated soundtrack, and taking a look at the tele-snaps as I go.

Now, let me get this one out of the way early on, because I'm likely to ramble on about it plenty over the next week; William Russell's narration on the soundtrack is superb. The man is simply amazing. His work for Big Finish over the yard has been fantastic, and even here, he's giving it his all. He really is one of the greatest ambassadors the show has ever had, and I really do hope he gets a chance to pop up in the 50th.

As for the episode itself… Marco Polo has a reputation for being one of the great lost stories of Doctor Who. There are parts of the internet where you can find it held up as a cure for all the evil in the world. It has to be said, I've always been more than a little skeptical of this. I don't tend to like it when people constantly tell me how good something is.

Based on this first episode alone, though, it is rather brilliant, isn't it? I've found myself being swept up in the story with this one, which is always a good sign, and the 25 minutes just breezed by. Right from the word 'go', with the travellers exploring their surroundings on the mountain top, I caught up with events, and it's not long before their being swept away to join Marco Polo's caravan.

This episode is perhaps the best example we've had so far of the show fulfilling it's original intention to educate the audience, as well as to entertain it. We're given discussions of Marco Polo's journey and of his life, given specific details. Coming to this after a recent re-watch of Andrew Marr's fantastic History of the World documentary, it's startling how much they impart here.

And yet, I wasn't bored at any point. I'd worried, without having anything much to focus on, that my attention would wander away from the story, and I'd end up missing bits. I'm really glad that the educational stuff is nicely mixed in with enough of a story to keep me interested.

Marco Polo isn't really a good guy, here. He's certainly not evil (unlike Tegana, who might as well be twirling his mustache as he laughs from a corner), but he tells the Doctor that he's taking the TARDIS, and that's that. Mark Eden plays those scenes really well, in what might be one of the best performances we've had in the series so far.

It's continuing a trend of having a very strong opening episode, so I'm hoping that can hold true for the next few days…

Next Episode - The Singing Sands

13 January 2013

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

Day Thirteen - The Brink of Disaster (The Edge of Destruction, Episode Two)

Dear diary,

It has to be said that after the last episode, this one looses its tension really rather quickly. Yesterday was all about building suspense, forcing us to wonder why all these strange things were happening, and led down roads that indicated there could be some entity aboard the ship hiding in the crew.

We even end on the cliffhanger of someone's hands closing around the Doctor's throat. It's all rather dark, and just a little bit off the wall, but today's 25 minutes just feel a bit like, well, filler.

Technically, the whole story is filler. Hastily assembled using the regular cast and minimal sets to bulk out the initial commission of thirteen episodes while the production team waited to discover their fate. But even so, yesterday we were given something really rather fantastic (an episode I'd never expected to rate so highly).

There's still a lot to like here, but most notably is the changes we see in the Doctor. I commented that Barabra's rant toward him yesterday is a real turning point for the character, and we see that in effect here. He's still the Doctor we've known for the most part so far to begin with, declaring that he'll put Ian and Barbara off the ship no matter where they are, but by the end he's a very different man.

It can be seen as he helps Barbara into her coat, and laughs with Ian - this is the kind of relationship I most closely associate with the opening of The Chase, quite some time later. By the end of this story, he's not talking of taking them home, and they're not asking about it. Simply; they've landed somewhere new, and they're off to explore it.

It's more than a bit of a shame that the whole plot boils down to the idea that there's a spring stuck in the TARDIS console, especially after we're teased with such great ideas in the first instalment. Still, it does its job, and sets us up nicely for the next adventure. I think that's the best way to think of this tale; it's a bridge between the 'old' version of the show and the version we'll be running with for a long time yet.

Today's entry has very much summed up my thoughts on the story as a whole, anyway, so I'll not be writing a separate piece to cover the two episodes together. Suffice to say that the story averages;

(Higher than I would have expected a fortnight ago!)

From tomorrow it's going to be a test as I venture into the recons for The Roof of the World.

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