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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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19 January 2015

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

Day 749: Rise of the Cybermen

Dear diary,

I can still remember the announcement in Doctor Who Magazine that the Cybermen were to be making a return in the 2006 series, and I was absolutely thrilled by the idea. At some point prior, I’d decided that they were by far my favourite Doctor Who monster (though I’m fairly sure I’d only seen The Tomb of the Cybermen and Earthshock by then… had any others been released on DVD? I didn’t start delving into old Who on VHS until the summer this aired…), and I couldn’t wait to see what the modern programme would do with them. Unlike the four stories preceding this one, I can’t remember how I felt when the return actually aired. I don’t recall being as disappointed by it as I had been in the previous four episodes, but equally I can’t recall being particularly in love with the story, either.

The one thing that I can vaguely recall was that I didn’t like the idea of Pete Tyler coming back - it seemed to cheapen Father’s Day from the year before - but then even that comes to make a rather nice circle when the finale rolls around, and Rose gets packed off to this parallel universe to be with her complete family unit.

One other thing I can recall is writing to Doctor Who Magazine when the new Cybermen were first revealed during production, with a somewhat over earnest letter in which I gave my verdict on the new look, but couldn’t make my own mind up and threw in a reference to the Troughton-era just to make it sound like I knew what I was talking about… remember the other day when I said I was the kind of teenager who was always trying to be old and grumpy and important? Yeah, that’s exactly how that letter reads to me these days! To quote myself (with reluctance, honestly);

Hmm, I don’t know if I like them or not! I like the faces, the eyes and mouth are good - back to a more classic ‘Second Doctor’ style. But I’m on the fence about the shape of the face. On first sight, I thought that the body looked a bit too chunky, but now I’m warming to it… Hmm. Well, maybe I’ll just have to wait and see what the Tenth Doctor does with them!

That said, I know I went on to really like this model of Cyberman. Once it had made an appearance on screen and we’d seen them moving around, I was completely sold on the design, and it became one of my favourites… so it surprises me that I look at them today and think that it’s not all that great of a design! I wonder if it’s because I really love the look they’ve had since Nightmare in Silver, and so this version has been kicked a little further down the list? I certainly recall one of the reasons I was so impressed with them being that the action figure versions looked exactly like the full-size costumes on screen - they were by far the most accurate toy released in those early years!

I’d not remembered that they’re kept shrouded in mystery for the majority of this episode, though. We get to really feel their presence throughout - they’re seen out-of-focus in the background, or harshly illuminated from behind, keeping them just abstract enough to keep you wondering - until almost the very end of the episode, when they come in to storm the Tyler mansion. Even though I was well aware of the design marching towards us, I’m pleased to say that it’s worked really effectively here, and it’s possibly one of my favourite stylistic things about the entire story.

It’s not the favourite, though, because that honour has to go to the ‘dead’ TARDIS. I really enjoy the whole sequence of the ship tumbling through the gap between universes, blowing up and then resorting to being just a dead, empty shell (I particularly like the gas masks that come tumbling down from the ceiling!), and it’s somewhat impressive that the set can look so good when left simply blank. I’ve not really found a chance yet to discuss the different ways the TARDIS set gets lit throughout the Russell T Davies years (based, I believe, on the fact that there were two different Directors of Photography, who each liked to light the set in a different way - one more golden and one with that vibrant green that we see at the start of this story), but I’m surprised, watching through like this, just how much of a difference there is from episode to episode. It’s nice to see it in a somewhat more derelict state, here, though - although the Doctor seems oddly excited at spotting a little glow of power somewhere in the bowels of the ship’s workings when the floor lights around the edge have been burning brightly since they crashed! 

18 January 2015

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

Day 748: The Girl in the Fireplace

Dear diary,

Ah, now this episode I have seen since watching it on first broadcast, and more than once. I’ve a distinct memory of seeing it the first time around, and then texting a friend to admit that, nope, Doctor Who simply wasn’t doing it for me this season, and that I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong. I can’t remember why I felt that way so strongly after watching this particular episode, but I must have re-evaluated the decision pretty quickly, because only a few months later when preparing my final project for A Level, I used extracts of this script to illustrate a photography project about the passing of time (incidentally, I unearthed the final piece when I was visiting home last Christmas, and it was terrible. Maybe my opinion of the episode hadn’t changed, and I was simply venting my dislike through what I could only very loosely describe as being ‘art’!)

What’s struck me strongly today - so strongly that I’m going to have to discuss it before I get on to anything else - is just how much this story feels like an audition piece for the Eleventh Doctor’s era. I don’t know if I’ve seen this one since Matt Smith took over the role, but looking at it now it seems ridiculously obvious. Of course, it’s written by Steven Moffat, who will go on to spearhead the Eleventh Doctor years, but there’s just so much about this one that feels entirely in keeping with the Doctor we’d get a few years down the line. It’s most noticeable in the characterisation of the Doctor, and the lines that he’s given to speak. Take almost any of the lines David Tennant spouts here, and just spend a moment imagining them in Matt Smith’s mouth - they fit perfectly! I can very much imagine him dancing his way through the ‘drunk’ Doctor scene, which seems almost tailor-made for him! There’s something of a trend at conventions of getting various incarnations of the Doctor to read speeches from other incarnation’s eras - someone get Matt to read out this scene, please?

Perhaps what surprises me the most about this episode today is just how much I’ve connected to the story of the Doctor and Madame De Pompadour. I’ve never thought of the Tenth Doctor’s romantic streak as being the heresy some other people see it as, but I don’t think I’d really latched on to just how deeply the emotions run in this one, especially during the ‘mind reading’ scene. Again, we’re tugging on strings that will go on to make the Eleventh Doctor’s bow - the Doctor’s lonely childhood, and the fact that his name is more than just a secret (again, I’m tempted to think that Steven Moffat really likes Silver Nemesis) - and having now been through the show under Moffat’s stewardship, these scenes have picked up a bit more feeling for me. Reinette is painted as being so very much the perfect companion for the Doctor - intelligent, resourceful, flirty, and able to see and understand the Doctor’s great heartache (it was touched on in School Reunion, too, with the Doctor actively explaining to Rose the curse that being a Time Lord can bring).

I mentioned yesterday how much I disliked Rose’s reaction to Mickey going the TARDIS crew full-time, and said that I was pleased they dropped that thread without another word, but actually watching this episode I’m a little sorry that it doesn’t continue throughout. Rose and Mickey spend a large amount of this story on their own, with the Doctor off ‘dancing’ in France, and it does feel a little bit like a wasted opportunity to explore further the idea that Mickey is trying to move in on Rose’s special life with the Doctor. Especially given that he’ll be leaving us in the next story, I sort of wonder if it may have been more dramatically appealing to have the pair of them bickering more in this episode - he doesn’t fit in at home anymore (there’s shades of that at the end of The Christmas Invasion, where his heart is broken by Rose’s declaration that there’s ‘nothing’ for her back home), and he doesn’t fit in with Rose’s new life, either. Settling down in a parallel world would therefore be an entirely viable option, and it would carry all that extra weight if we’d seen the pair less happy with each other’s company here. It may also work as a nice counter-balance to the relationship blossoming on the other side of the time windows.

But who am I to complain, because it’s not as if The Girl in the Fireplace is exactly short of things to love. I think, if I had to choose my favourite element of the story, then it’s the idea that the Doctor and his friends never find out why they wanted Reinette, above any other person. Those final shots, with the TARDIS fading away to reveal the portrait, and then the words on the side of the ship are so masterfully done - as, while I’m on the subject, is the opening shot of the episode, where we see the vastness of space, with galaxies and stars, expecting to pan onto a spaceship… before actually panning down to reveal the palace of Versailles! It’s such a brilliant, and very Doctor Who, bait-and-switch, and it even had me fooled again watching today. It’s the perfect way to introduce a story which so clever blends the past and the future.

17 January 2015

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

Day 747: School Reunion

Dear diary,

Way back at the very start of this marathon, one of the key things I said I wanted to get out of it was a real sense of ‘attachment’ to the various characters from the programme’s past. Because of the somewhat unique way that Doctor Who has been released on video and DVD over the years, it’s always been a case of dipping in and out of varying eras as I please - I can go from Sarah Jane’s first story to her last story, then back to the middle with no trouble at all (indeed, at times the release schedule of stories necessitated it), but I never really form the same kind of bond with the character that you do with the current version of the programme that’s airing on TV week after week.

I’ve been pleased to find that by-and-large this effect has come out of doing a marathon - there have been occasions where I’ve been really sad to see a Doctor or companion leave the programme, knowing that from my point of view, I won’t be able to see them again for a fair old while. On the other hand, there’s been times when I’m more than ready for a character to go, because I’ve spent so long with them that they’re actively starting to bore me. I’ve been pretty strict with myself over the course of this Diary (if I’m entirely honest, I’m surprised just how well I’ve stuck to it), in that the only episodes I’ve seen ‘out of era’ are the brand new ones as they come out - so the latter half of Series Seven and into Series Eight. Oh, there have been times where I’ve been very tempted to go back and see a bit of the 1960s stuff, but I’ve been sticking to my game plan and not cheating. There’s a little voice in my head that says it’ll be worth it in the end, once this marathon is over and I can really savour those episodes again.

But all of this makes Sarah Jane Smith a fairly special element in the marathon - a companion who spends a fair old whack of time traveling with the Doctor… and then pops up again from time to time throughout the rest of the experiment! When she left in The Hand of Fear - Episode Four of which I watched on April 1st last year - I found myself entirely unmoved by her departure. Supposedly one of the saddest the programme has ever done, and yet it didn’t move me at all. I speculated at the time that it may be because I knew she’d be coming back, and now that I’ve reached that point… I think it’s fair to say that I was right. Since that fateful call back to Gallifrey for the Doctor, I’ve seen Sarah Jane pop up in K9 and Company last August, The Five Doctors in September, and Downtime in December - and we’re about to enter a period where she pops up a few more times in the main show, as well as receiving her own series of adventures to compliment it (More on what I plan to do with The Sarah Jane Adventures at the end of today’s entry). What I hadn’t considered, though it seems so obvious, now, is that this story has also suffered a bit from Sarah Jane’s numerous returns over the last few months.

I’m not watching School Reunion thinking ‘It’s Sarah Jane!’ in the way it was intended, because she’s just not all that exciting to me in the context of the Diary. When this story was first transmitted, she’d still made all of those returns (plus an audio series from Big Finish), but they were years apart - there was still an impact. It’s a shame, really, because it takes one of the story’s biggest selling points and flushes it away.

Thankfully, it doesn’t stop there from being plenty of other things to enjoy in this episode, and the return of Sarah Jane is still somewhat saved by the reaction of David Tennant to seeing one of his childhood icons sharing the screen with him. There’s something about the sheer look of delight on his face when Lis Sladen first walks in to the staff room… perfect. Even if the return of Sarah Jane in general isn’t enough to really make me sit up and take notice again, this scene alone justifies the entire idea. As a side note, their final goodbye outside the TARDIS is also beautiful - and especially poignant since Lis Sladen’s death. I still can’t believe it’s been four years!

I’m also rather fond of all the bickering that occurs between Sarah Jane and Rose - it’s so catty, and yet it seems to fit absolutely perfectly. It does, however, highlight another of the things I can remember being a bit annoyed with when this series was first broadcast, though, namely that Rose spends so much of it being so incredibly jealous and selfish. The reaction to discovering that the Doctor had an ex is overblown enough, but her reaction to Mickey asking to join the travels is something that’s always bothered me - especially since it’s completely overlooked in the very next episode, and never brought up again!

Speaking of Mickey, I commented last week about the way his character evolves over the course of his time on the programme, and we’re seeing another big step in that here. We’ve gone from him running whenever Rose calls him, or the TARDIS lands, to a position where he’s the one making the call and bringing the ‘experts’ in to investigate strange going ons. I know he thinks of himself as being the ‘Tin Dog’ of the team, but I really like the idea that he’s keeping an eye out for suspicious activities in London, especially in light of the fact that Sarah Jane goes on to do something similar in her own series. I love that the Doctor’s companions don’t stop fighting the good fight, just because they’re not aboard the TARDIS.

Besides, what’s wrong with being the Tin Dog, other than breaking down if you’d be too convenient to the story…? 

16 January 2015

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

Day 746: Tooth and Claw

Dear diary,

In a podcast recently, Russell T Davies said that one of the notes the Production team was given when planning began on this second series was to give the historical stories ‘a kick up the arse’. I think you can really see that in action in this story - because we don’t waste much time getting everything in place before there’s some mystery, some tension, and a bloody great werewolf charging around the place! This is a story that packs in a lot of action, and it’s probably the most adrenalin-filled that we’ve had since the programme came back to screens - compare this with The Unquiet Dead, for example!

What’s surprised me most though - nine years on - is just how well the CGI on the werewolf has held up, especially considering that I wasn’t too sure about it at the time (or, at least, that’s my memory of things). Of course, it’s never going to be perfect, and technology is constantly moving forward, but I don’t think this looks at all out of place compared to more recent efforts that the programme has given us. I’m also surprised at just how brutal this creature is - that scene where a character is wrenched up into the rafters is absolutely brilliant! I’m not sure how I’d managed to forget a moment like that, but I doubt I'll be doing so again this time around! He’s also more than a little creepy in his human form, while trapped in the cage - something which really did go over my head the first time I saw this one. There were moments of it yesterday, and several today, too, where i can sense how unengaged I was with the programme this point, because there’s so many little hidden things I’d never payed enough attention to before - and I’m really looking forward to uncovering them as I move along.

Aside from all the action and wolf business, the thing I’m enjoying the most about this story is simply the inclusion of Queen Victoria. Celebrity historicals aren’t anything new (they were doing them right back in 1964!), but I wonder if this might be a more ‘accessible’ historical figure than most? There’s such an iconic image of Queen Victoria that you just grow up with in Britain, and Pauline Collins certainly manages to fit into the preconceived idea of this person, while also breaking the mould a little bit - the moment when she kills one of the Brethren because her protector has been disarmed, for example, is a particular highlight. 

I’m also finding myself oddly drawn to the Doctor and Rose here, despite the fact that they’re firmly back in ‘smug’ mode. I wonder if that’s because this story is largely about their smugness, or at least it comes back to haunt them in the final scenes, and so it feels more justified? Quite aside from that, I’m sort of just enjoying these two best friends roaming around in time and space, having a bit of a laugh with each other. It seems so strange to think that the Tenth Doctor has only been around for a couple of episodes, because these two are already so embedded - and I like that!

Also - really small thing. Silly thing. I love the way the Doctor looks in this story. There’s something about his hair, and the outfit and everything that really just gels for me - and I think it’s my favourite ‘version’ of the Tenth Doctor’s look from across his entire time on the show. Is that weird? Please tell me that other people have odd episodes here and there where the Doctor just looks ‘right’ to you? 

15 January 2015

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

Day 745: New Earth

Dear diary,

It felt so strange, sitting down to watch this in 2006. I’d seen quite a few of the older Doctor Who episodes by this point, and I’d watched all of Series One over again when the DVD came out, but there was something really odd about the thought of another thirteen brand new episodes ahead of me for the next thirteen weeks. It was exciting! We had a new Doctor who I’d enjoyed at Christmas, and every new issue of Doctor Who Magazine brought with it some more exciting news - the Cybermen were going to make a comeback! So was Sarah Jane Smith - with K9! Oh, the excitement was building. I sat down to watch this one, so glad that my favourite show was back on TV…

…and, well, oh dear. Oh, I hated it. As in, by the end, I wasn’t even that bothered about the thought of the next twelve weeks - surely they couldn’t all be as bad as this? Actually, I had something of a backlash with Series Two. A week later, when Tooth and Claw was on, I didn’t even realise until someone called from the other room to say I’d missed ten minutes of Doctor Who. Once Girl in the Fireplace ended, I turned to a friend and announced that I simply couldn’t get in to Doctor Who this year. Something about it was wrong. I think, looking back, that it was simply that ‘second album’ effect - I was so used to the fourteen episodes we’d had in 2005, that these somehow felt like pretenders. It didn’t really let up for the rest of the series, and as the years have gone by Series Two has sort of sat in my mind as being Not Very Good. It means that there’s several episodes here I’ve not seen since their original broadcast. New Earth is one of them, and the same can be said for the Cyberman two-parter, the Impossible Planet two-parter, and Fear Her. I’ve been really excited about reaching this point of the marathon, because it’s almost like coming to these episodes as new - and seeing if my thoughts on them have changed, nine years on.

Certainly, time has been kind to this one, because I’ve really enjoyed New Earth! There’s a sentence I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to say! It didn’t start well, I’ll admit. There’s something about the scenes of the Doctor and Rose emerging from the TARDIS on that hillside that just doesn’t sit right with me - they’re far too smug (a complaint levelled at much of this series, and one which comes back to haunt them later on; it’s using the same trick that was employed between Boom Town and the Series One finale, but taken to extremes). Once they’ve arrived at the hospital, though, and things are underway, there’s a lot to really enjoy about this one.

Including, it has to be said, all of the body swapping! There’s that great line in Time Crash about the Doctor acting grumpy and important ‘like you do when you’re young’, and I think that’s very true of me. I can recall thinking that all of the body swapping and camping up the performances was really silly the last time I watched this one, but I’ve actually found myself laughing at it this time around. I wonder if it might be because I’ve seen all of David Tenant’s episodes, now, so can better appreciate what he’s doing here? At the time, I think I worried that he was going to be messing around like this every week, and that thought put me off a bit. It also means that I didn’t get to appreciate the more serious moments of the story - when he discovers the flesh and confronts the cat nuns… oh God there’s fire in that performance. Tennant can be really scary when he’s playing the Doctor as angry, and it’s great to see that done so well right here at the beginning of his tenure. If anything, it serves to heighten the scenes in which he’s playing Cassandra - really contrasting nicely with them.

Now, I’m not suddenly a convert. I’m not going to start proclaiming that New Earth is the best episode that I’ve ever seen, or trying to convince everyone that it’s fantastic (there’s still a few bits that leave me cold - the solution is all a bit quick and easy, for example, and I’m sure I’ve heard Russell T Davies describe it as being a bit ‘skin of [his] teeth’), but there’s far more in here to enjoy than I’d ever considered before. I’m therefore desperately hoping that more episodes I’ve not enjoyed over the last ten years will undergo a similar process of re-evaluation. I know they’re not all going to end up being classics, but if we can have another few stories go through the transformation process that New Earth has taken, I’ll be a very happy person…


14 January 2015

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

Day 744: The Christmas Invasion

Dear diary,

Christmas comes around quick these days, doesn’t it? It seems strange, less than a month on from our tenth modern Doctor Who Christmas Special, that this felt like such a big deal back in 2005. These days, Doctor Who is just a part of the furniture on Christmas day, with all the presents, and turkey, and family, simply there to fill the time until the TARDIS arrives. Oh, but how exciting was this ten years ago? That wait between the regeneration in the summer and finally getting a chance to see the new man in action here felt like it went on forever.

There was one small way of plugging the gap, though, in the form of the Children in Need mini-episode Born Again, which came along in November and gave us a scant few minutes of the Tenth Doctor breaking himself in and reassuring Rose that he was still the same man. For years, I’ve thought it somewhat strange that this scene wasn’t planned all along, because it felt like such an integral part of the new Doctor’s introduction, but having watched it again as an appetiser for the episode proper, I’m not sure it really is all that necessary. For starters, it means that we get to see Rose accepting that this strange new bloke is the Doctor (‘Run!’) before slipping right back into being unsure and having to do the whole realisation again (I’d also never noticed that the way the Doctor convinces Harriet Jones in the episode is almost identical to the reassurance he gives Rose in the mini-episode).

But once we’re into the main event… oh, it races along, doesn’t it? I remember thinking at the time that it was somewhat brave to spend the new Doctor’s first episode with him largely tucked up in bed, but actually it works perfectly, and it means that when David Tennant is given the chance to start getting out and doing things, you’re really paying attention to his every movement. He really hits the ground running - that scene where he gets up and heads out to see the Pilot Fish is fantastic, and he’s so instantly the Doctor right away. Not that it harms the proper reveal of him later on, as the Sycorax language starts to get translated and we move in to see him framed in the TARDIS doorway. I’m not ashamed to say that I actually cheered at this bit. Out loud. To myself, in an empty room. It’s just so perfectly done, and then he’s really off - jabbering away, having a sword fight, threatening the Prime Minister… yeah, once he’s up and about, he’s a busy man!

Keeping him confined to bed rest for so long gives the rest of our supporting cast a real chance to shine, too, and on first transmission this was the episode where I suddenly ‘got’ Jackie, and fell in love with her. I can’t help but watch her during the tree attack and smile (‘I’m gonna get killed by a Christmas Tree!’). Mickey had always fared a bit better with me than Jackie, but it’s great to see them coming together as a proper family ‘unit’ now. Then you’ve got Harriet Jones, Prime Minister (yes, you know who she is), too! I really love that we get to see her come back to the programme, and I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated just how clever it is to show her downfall as the introduction to a new Doctor. Surrounding the new incarnation with familiar characters isn’t a new trick - we’ve seen the same thing done with Daleks in the 1960s, and UNIT in the 70s - but we’ve never seen a new Doctor really flex his regenerated personality in this way before. It really helps to set him out as a completely new man, and reinforce his ‘no second chances’ line just a few minutes earlier. I’ve often thought of the Ninth Doctor as being more angry and powerful than the Tenth, but I’m not sure I could imagine him in this scene. Oh, he would rage at Harriet and really express his disappointment, but I can’t imagine him using the six words to bring her down. It’s really beautifully done.

As is the entire end of the episode. Oh, Song for Ten. I love that piece of music. I sing it sometimes. Genuinely. It’s a really lovely piece, and it helps to underscore another change for the Doctor. The last few episodes of Eccleston’s run were all about the fact that the Doctor is constantly moving on - he doesn’t stick around in the aftermath. The adventure here is over, but the Doctor’s stuck around for Christmas Dinner with the Tylers (another change - the Ninth Doctor didn’t do ‘domestic’). It’s something we’ll see him willing to do a bit more from now on - In School Reunion, he’s still around once the Krillitane threat is over, for example. As he’ll say in tomorrow’s episode, we’ve got a ‘new new Doctor’, and he’s off to a good start… 

13 January 2015

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

Day 743: The Parting of the Ways

Dear diary,

Oh, where do you start with this one? The Parting of the Ways holds one of my strongest memories from this season - having to pause the episode for a few minutes before it started so that someone could finish up a phonecall. I can just remember being really anxious to get going with the episode, because of everything at stake; we knew that the Doctor was regenerating. The Daleks were back, en masse. Everything was to play for… I just wanted to get in to it already!

That sense of excitement hasn’t lessened in the decade since. The stakes for this one have been so successfully raised by Bad Wolf, and now it feels almost as though the story can really get going.

Last week, while watching Dalek, I complained that the Daleks were never as good or powerful after that episode, and mused that it was a real pity. Actually, though, I was wrong, because the Daleks in this story are from completely the same mould - and I’m a little saddened that the Daleks aren’t quite like this any more. My friend Nick describes it perfectly with just a single word - these Daleks are ‘ruthless’. It’s best summed up when they board the game station and venture down to the lowest levels to kill all the humans huddled there… simply because they can. They don’t need to - they’re no threat to the Daleks or their plans, but what the heck, we’ll kill them anyway. During our discussion, I compared it to a scene from The Day of the Doctor in which the Daleks close in on a group of Gallifreyans, ready to kill… but then they realise the Doctor has arrived elsewhere, and they hurry off to try and kill him instead. The Daleks of this story wouldn’t have been so lenient - they’d have headed off to find the Doctor, and then swivelled their middle section around while they retreated, to kill the group of people anyway.

And they’re all the better for it! I really get the idea that the Daleks are an unstoppable force when I’m watching them here, simply slaughtering their way up to the top of the station to find the Doctor. There’s something so powerful about the way that they don’t come in all-guns-blazing, but simply glide their way slowly upwards, killing anything that gets in their way calmly and efficiently. It’s best evidenced when we reach the ‘last man standing’ moment with Jack - a character we’ve grown to like over the last few episodes, and the Doctor’s companion - and they simply wait until he’s out of bullets, before taking him out with a single beam. I know the Daleks couldn’t always be this effective, but it would be nice to have them like this again just once…

While I’m on the subject of our pepper-pot friends, I need to finish up a bit of narrative that I started during Dalek. I was speaking then about why these Daleks are so much more powerful, but couldn’t tell the whole story until we’d been through this episode so that I could check the facts. There’s one or two little wrinkles, but they’re fairly easily smoothed out…

So. A Dalek in the closing seconds of the Time War manages to perform and Emergency Temporal Shift and escape the carnage. He’s the only one who does it - or the only one who successfully does it, at least - and he ends up burning in a crater for three days, screaming because his mind has been warped by the things he’s seen. Eventually, he ends up in Henry Van Staten’s vault, meets the Doctor, and learns that the war is over. What he witnessed in his final moments was the end of the Dalek race, and he’s the only survivor. Then he meets Rose, and through her touch he’s able to regenerate himself. Eventually, the presence of human touch changes the Dalek. It starts to feel, and eventually accepts orders to destroy itself. The last Dalek in existence, wiped out. 

But… what if that’s not what happens? What if those spheres coming out of the skirt and converging on the Dalek isn’t a self destruct protocol, but a dressed-up Emergency Temporal Shift? There’s an undercurrent through Dalek that the creature is simply looking for orders, and the Doctor confirms that he’s never going to get any orders, because there’s no other Daleks around to give them. Instead, what if it reverts to it’s base programming - that the Dalek race must survive under any circumstances? To this end, the Dalek Temporal Shifts to the future, and sets about manipulating the human race to create a brand new army of Daleks. Its contact with Rose has shown it that there is some benefit to the human condition, and even though he’s still picky (only one cell in a billion is suitable), he’s more willing to harvest the humans than Daleks would usually be.

This goes on for centuries. We’re told as much in these two episodes, that the Daleks have been behind everything that’s gone wrong for humanity - the loss of that Fourth Great and Bountiful empire. Over time, our original Dalek sets itself up as Emperor (it is the only remaining ‘genuine’ Dalek, after all, so the perfect candidate for the job) and goes slowly mad, thinking of himself as a god. By the time we catch up with him here, and find him surrounded by half a million other Daleks, the thought that his army is born from humanity sickens him - all that he learnt from Rose has been wiped away by time. It’s not a completely flawless plan, but it works well enough for me, and I think I prefer it to the idea that two Daleks managed to escape right at the end of the Time War, and that the Doctor encounters them in fairly quick succession. You can also build in the fact that the TARDIS visits this time and place immediately after the first adventure with a Dalek, and thus could be the ship trying to warn the Doctor what’s happened, but he’s too busy showing off and swanning about to take notice. 

It also builds nicely in to the regeneration, I think. Over the last two weeks, I’ve spoken a lot about this season of adventures being perfectly formed to tell the story of the Doctor’s post-war recovery, and I think it’s a nice capstone to have his regeneration brought about by the ‘final’ act of the Time War. 

On the subject of which… that’s it! Goodbye, Ninth Doctor! It’s gone quick, hasn’t it? Remember those days where I spent six months with the Tom Baker Doctor? We’re down to two weeks for an incarnation now! It strange, in a way, because even though Paul McGann was only around for the one night, it feels stranger to have a Doctor round for several stories, but still only a very short time. Yet, I think I’m glad that we only had the Ninth Doctor for this one run of adventures. Even though I think he’s great, these thirteen episodes tell a complete story so well (I think I’m right in saying that Russell T Davies planned them out so that if no further episodes were commissioned, then these would work as their own self-contained story), that it might somehow lessen them to spend another year in the company of this incarnation.

And besides, we’re off into the Tenth Doctor’s era, now! There’s several stories coming up in the next few weeks which I’ve not seen since their initial broadcast - up to nine years ago, in some cases - so I’m really excited to see how I take to them all. I’m in the swing of the way the new series works again now (spending two years in classic territory meant that the first few episodes of the Ninth Doctor threw me a bit!), and I’m ready for the next adventure!

12 January 2015

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

Day 742: Bad Wolf

Dear diary,

It’s been so long since I last saw this story that I’d sort of forgotten the Daleks don’t show up until the end of this first episode. In my head, this one has become a massive, sprawling, Dalek epic that closes out the season, but there’s a lot more to it than all of that. And, actually, it’s all the better for it - because there’s a lot in this opening episode which I’d never really paid all that much attention to, but which is really rather well done.

For instance; I’ve been banging on a lot in the last fortnight about the way episodes in this season are perfect placed to move the story on, and to take both us and the characters on the right journey. There’s lots in this episode which really pays off all that careful setting up, and I’m not sure that I’ve really noticed it on previous watches. The obvious one is that we’re back on Satellite Five a hundred years after the events of The Long Game, but this then plays in to the themes of Boom Town, with the Doctor realising that the ‘hundred years of hell’ the Earth has been experiencing is all his fault. It picks up the threads dangled by Margaret Slitheen yesterday when she commented on the way the Doctor swans off and leaves others to clean up the mess - and when you counterpoint that statement with a flashback to the end of The Long Game where he does just that… it really works.

On top of that, you’ve got the really rather brilliant idea of the gameshows themselves. I can remember finding it hilarious at the time that the Doctor had ended up in the Big Brother house (when this episode first aired, I’d dipped in and out of various seasons of Big Brother, so knew enough about the programme to really connect with the joke), and actually it’s still fun now. I can also recall something of a vague worry that it would cause the episode to date incredibly quickly, but I don’t think it’s really suffered from that. For starters, Big Brother is in the news a lot as I type this, and the likes of The Weakest Link - even though no longer in production - are so ingrained into popular culture that the joke is still relevant for us ten years on.

Something that did surprise me is the way that this episode is structured. The Doctor and Rose have been separated before now, but never quite as thoroughly as this - they only come close to each other during the break out from the Weakest Link studio (there’s a sentence!), and then communicate via video link at the end. I’m not sure I’d noticed that before, because the episode is largely about the Doctor fighting his way to get back to his companion.

We’ve also got the arrival of another potential companion in ‘Lynda-with-a-Y’, and I have to confess that I really didn’t take to her first time around. I’m not sure why that is, if I’m honest, because she’s not all that bad here. I think I thought she was so obviously the next companion (yes, yes, they hooked me!) that I didn’t like how blatant it was! And then when Rose is ‘killed’ by the Android…

But despite all the great build up in this one, things really get in to their swing during the final minutes, with the Doctor face-to-face with a new Dalek empire. To say I’m excited for tomorrow’s episode is probably a bit of an understatement…

11 January 2015

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

Day 741: Boom Town

Dear diary,

Much like The Long Game, Boom Town has something of a reputation that precedes it. Coming sandwiched between two big two-part stories, being shot almost entirely on location in Cardiff (as Cardiff, this time), and featuring really only our main characters and Margaret Slitheen, it’s got a bit of a reputation of being a little bit cheap and a little bit rubbish.

But you know what? It’s not! Hah! It’s brilliant! I can remember, back in 2006 when I first stumbled into fan forums, reading all the dislike for this one and recalling it as being rather good, but over the years I’ve sort of slipped into the thinking that it’s probably one of this first series’ weaker episodes - if probably not as bad as some people say it is. Actually, though, there’s so much that I’ve enjoyed in here that I think it’s quickly rocketed towards the top of my list for the series as a real belter.

Again like The Long Game, this story serves a very specific purpose to the season, and is placed in this ‘just-before-the-finale’ slot for a very specific reason, because it’s levelling the playing field ready for the final showdown. As so many of the stories in this latter half of the season have been, this is all about character, and about the relationships between all the characters across the entire season. Most powerful of all are probably the scenes between Rose and Micky, out on the Bay, where they finally confront her running off at the end of that first episode, and address the fact of their relationship. I’ve seen it said repeatedly that Micky’s character was ‘re-written’ as the show went on to make him less of a pushover… but that’s nonsense! His character isn’t written - it evolves, and you can see that process most clearly in this episode. There’s something so powerful about that final scene, where he watches Rose and chooses to leave. Coming so soon after his confession that he hates that he’ll always come running when she picks up the phone makes it all the stronger. For me, that’s the real heart of the episode.

But then you’ve also got the Doctor and Margaret Slitheen out for dinner together! The only bit I could remember of this scene was the comedy moments with the dart and the poison gas, but once again, there’s a real emotional discussion underpinning the whole scene, and it all stems from that rather brilliant synopsis of the episode that Margaret gives in the TARDIS;


I wonder if you could do it? To sit with a creature you're about to kill and take supper. How strong is your stomach? 


Strong enough.


I wonder. I've seen you fight your enemies, now dine with them.


You won't change my mind.


Prove it.

It’s such a powerful exchange, and it reveals so much about the Doctor - especially when he then tries to find an excuse to not do it.

Annette Badland’s performance throughout the episode, but especially in her TARDIS scenes is simply flawless. I think I’m right in saying that this episode was largely crafted simply on the basis that Russell T Davies watched her in the earlier Slitheen two-parter and decided that she had to come back. Of all the monsters and villains this series, I can’t think of another I’d rather sit face-to-face with the Doctor in this situation.

Plus, you know me, I’m a sucker for a Slitheen. I’m just glad that we got one back for another episode! It’s also telling that between the start of the shoot, when they filmed Aliens of London, and the production of this episode, they’ve learned an awful lot about the making of Doctor Who. All my complains about the way the Slitheen were handled in the earlier story have been washed away now, because they’re far more clever with it this time around. That’s partly because they’ve learned to keep the actual ‘big green monster’ moments to an absolute minimum, but also because they’re shooting them better on the rare occasion that they do come along. The scene with the Slitheen on the toilet* for example, really shows off just how great those costumes are, with the little mouth movements and detailing in the face.

Perhaps my absolute favourite thing about all of this, though, is the way the TARDIS team are presented at the very beginning. I said yesterday that I’d likely miss the air of distrust between the Doctor and Captain Jack, but actually I like the sense that these three have been travelling around the universe for a long time together, having no end of adventures and getting more-and-more comfortable with each other. They’re unbearably smug and irritating to start with - which only helps to strengthen Margaret’s prodding and stirring later on. Something similar will be tried with the Doctor and Rose next season, setting them up for another fall, but from memory I don’t think it works quite as well as this does here.

All in all, a hidden gem at the tail-end of the season, and the perfect sorbet to prepare for the big finale to come…

*Probably the closest we’ll ever come to the oft-quoted ‘Yeti on the loo’.

10 January 2015

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

Day 740: The Doctor Dances

Dear diary,

Back in the day, on the official Doctor Who website, they used to have a team of children who would watch the episodes and then rte them out of five for their ‘fear factor’ - ie, just how scary was that week’s episode. I can’t say that I’ve ever really found Doctor Who scary, but that’s possibly because I came to it as a teen, whereas I’d have probably had a better chance at hiding behind the sofa at five years younger. This episode very quickly racked up the maximum score from all four children - ranking the episode as ‘terrifying’. As much as I can’t say that I’m scared watching this one… I can’t help but see why you might be.

For starters, there’s a lot in here that’s almost quite adult compared to other parts of the modern series so far. Oh, sure, it’s horrifying to watch a Dalek sucker a man to death, or to see the Moxx of Balhoon perish as the sun dies, but there’s something really grotesque about the way that people transform into the gas-mask creatures… almost to the point that I’m surprised we see it a few times throughout these episodes. I think the scariest one must be the transformation on the train tracks as Jack watches on - there’s just something about it which really sells the horror for the situation to me, and it’s helped along by Nancy’s description just a few minutes earlier of how the process feels.

On top of that, it’s also perhaps the most desperate that the situation has felt up to now. Even in other stories where hope seems to be spread thin, there’s always been some clause - in Dalek, they’ve got the bulkhead, and in Father’s Day, if worst comes to worst, the Doctor knows that Pete’s death will save the day. Here, the Doctor simply doesn’t have a clue. The situation is too advanced, there’s a bomb about to fall… no hope. But then it’s all turned on its head magically, as the Doctor finally puts all the pieces together to work out who Nancy and the child really are, and starts to speculate that there might be another way out. The resulting scene (‘everybody lives, Rose! Just this once, everybody lives!’) is glorious, and perhaps the one we most needed for a Doctor overcoming the loss of his own people in a devastating war.

But the darkness in this episode doesn’t entirely define it, and there’s a lot of great humour in this one. Jack’s character, for starters, is a revelation. Written larger-than-life (and cast with John Barrowman, who isn’t exactly meek and mild-mannered!), the character fits in perfectly, and helps to add some much needed levity to certain moments. There’s also a lot of depth to him here that I’d simply forgotten about over the years, or things which I thought might have come later, what with successive returns to the programme, and four seasons in his own show. I’d completely forgotten, for example, the missing two years of his life; and, if I’m honest, a bit saddened that we’ve never found out what happened - not because I think it would be better if we knew, but because here it’s very much Jack’s driving force, and it’s a shame that he’s never been seen to get resolution for himself.

It’s an interesting relationship with Jack and the Doctor, too, with both men wary of each other while equally appreciating just how useful the other may be, and also finding their personalities oddly attracted. The Doctor almost slips back into being his ‘old self’ at times (I can so easily imagine the Fourth or Sixth Doctors during the Weapons Factory scenes). It forms a nice contrast with the inclusion of Adam a few episodes ago - because the experience with the boy wonder has no doubt further coloured the Doctor’s thoughts on Jack here. I know when we pick up with the team in the next episode things are much more jolly, but I wonder if I’ll miss the air of distrust that currently exists between them? It’ve certainly an interesting dynamic…

I also have to confess that I laughed a little too hard at Mrs Harcourt’s leg - a joke I’d completely forgotten, and perhaps my favourite in all Doctor Who.

9 January 2015

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

Day 739: The Empty Child

Dear diary,

Over the past few days, I’ve spoken a lot about the way that the Doctor and Rose have been portrayed since setting out again in Dalek. We’re long past the Time Lord giving the Earth girl her first few steps in to the universe, and far more on a level where the pair of them do this day-in, day-out. This is perhaps shown never better than in this story - where we open with them mid-adventure, chasing something mauve and dangerous through space and then see them get separated and spend much of the story following their own, different, lines of enquiry. Maybe it’s simply because it’s something that I’ve been consciously looking out for this last week, but I’m really impressed with the way that all the character beats have been handled in this season - and I don’t think I really appreciated just how well-done it was on my first watch through a decade ago. It’s very subtle in places, and all the stronger for it.

What stands out for me the most in this episode, though, is the way that the Doctor behaves when he’s off on his own. Last week, I postulated that the Doctor was in a pretty low place when we meet him in Rose - just setting out on a mission to clean up after the events of the Time War - and that he needed Rose to help him find ‘the Doctor’ again. I think we can clearly see in this episode just what kind of effect she’s had on him.

Gone is the man from Rose, who didn’t want some shop girl from London to get caught up in the adventure, and was far more suited to being alone. Here’s a man who connects almost instantly to the human side of the story - hooking on to Nancy and her band of homeless kids, and finding himself just as fascinated by them, and the way they live, as he is the child-that-isn’t-a-child. It feels as though its a logical step from his comments to the bride and groom in Father’s Day, where he’s fascinated by what may seem something ordinary and mundane.

Equally, splitting up our ‘dream team’ allows us to see Rose more ‘honestly’. I’ve said that we’ve seen her grow to be something of a seasoned traveller by the time we touch down in Dalek, but here she’s reminded that she’s barely out of the nursery when it comes to time travel. Meeting Jack is another significant step in her adventures - the fist time she’s met another time traveller. The story uses this to full advantage, comparing and contrasting the Doctor and Jack as they go along (and the use of ‘Spock’ as the comparison is a nice touch… is this the first time that Star Trek has been acknowledged as existing in the Doctor Who universe? I know the Doctor visited Vulcan right back in The Power of the Daleks, but…!)

Of course, there’s a lot more to capture my attention in The Empty Child than just the latest evolution of the Doctor’s relationship with Rose. Chief among them, perhaps, is the direction. Right from the off, we’re absolutely flooded with atmosphere, and it perfectly captures the Tone Meeting’s desire for this story to present a ‘romantic’ view of the wartime period. From the moment that the TARDIS arrives in the alleyway, we’re given some rather beautiful direction - James Hawes makes his Doctor Who debut with this episode, and it’s no surprise that he was later invited back to helm the first of the programme’s modern festive episodes, because he’s got such a way with the camera here. I once heard the direction in this story described as ‘the way Doctor Who was always directed in your head’, and I think that’s probably an accurate summation of it. 

8 January 2015

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

Day 738: Father’s Day

Dear diary,

When you’re a Doctor Who fan living in Cardiff, you often find you’re walking around with a strange sense of Déjà vu (You’ll be glad to know I’ve wrestled all day about making a ‘Déjà Who joke, but thought better of it. Whoops.). In the last ten years, so much of this city and the surrounding area has been used for the programme that you stumble across places from the Doctor’s adventures on an almost daily basis. Just on the walk from my house to Tesco I pass the Torchwood Hub, the New Earth hospital, the restaurant from Deep Breath, the Scovox Blitzer’s den, the Cherub basement from New York, and the police station from Blink… and it’s only a five minute walk!

Before I made the move, I used to beetle over to Cardiff every few weeks to visit the other half, and finding myself in locations like this was one of the most exciting things ever. She lived up about 20 minutes from Cardiff, and the first time we pulled up to her house I realised that it was the street where the Doctor and Donna arrived to see the Earth being moved in Series Four. Queue excitement! You’d stand in a street for five minutes trying to work out where in the programme it was used, and the moment when everything clicked in to place and you actively realised where you were was brilliant. Four years on, though, it’s sort of become a bit old hat. I’m still stumbling across new bits and pieces that can excite me (someone pointed out only last week that Captains Jack and John walk right past my house in an episode of Torchwood, for example, and I love the weird coincidence that I would have watched that episode in 2008 little knowing that I’d end up living in a building on the screen), but by-and-large the thrill has died down.

Sometimes, though, you do get simply magical moments of finding locations that feel massive and important, and ones that you never knew were there, right under your nose. Before I moved to my current address about a year ago, I lived the other side of the Bay in a little flat, and the quickest route into the city was to cut through a different part of town. I was never smart enough to simply check maps to find the best route, I’d simply pick different streets every time I went and see if it was any quicker, or just a nicer walk. One day, in the pouring rain, I thought I’d got it sussed. I’d worked out the quickest possible route from town back to my flat, and I hurried off to take it. After walking almost two miles through unfamiliar streets I found myself at what might as well have been a dead-end - getting round and back into the right area would mean almost entirely retracing my steps back for half the journey. I was just stood on a street corner, in the pouring rain, outside a big old church. 

A very familiar big old church.

The church from Father’s Day! (See, and you thought I was just off on some wild tangent…). It was so unexpected, and so out of the way of all my usual routes, that I was ridiculously excited to realise where I was. It’s not the nicest area of town, but it certainly brightened up a somewhat rubbish day.

Oh, I’m rambling, I know. Really I’m just trying to avoid admitting to you all that as this episode ended, with Jackie telling Rose the re-written version of Pete’s death… I actually teared up! That happens very rarely to me during Doctor Who. It certainly hadn’t happened the first time I watched this episode. I’m not even entirely sure what it was that set me off on this occasion - certainly the situation, the script, the performances all lead towards it being an emotional moment, but in watching today that really fell in to place for me in a way that it simply hadn’t done before.

I think it’s also because watching this episode knowing that Pete will have to make his sacrifice at the end of the tale lends even more emotional weight to so many other moments in the episode. It’s a very clever script, and in ways I’d never noticed before. Almost as soon as the core cast is barricaded inside the church, the Doctor looks out at the car appearing and vanishing… and works out how to solve the problem. Then, in the same moment he tells Pete that he doesn’t know what to do, and tries desperately to find another solution. He might not be happy that Rose has essentially brought about the end of creation but he loves her too much to let that stop him from trying his hardest to care for her.

The real revelation, though, must be Shaun Dingwall as Rose’s dad. Just in the same way that the Doctor very quickly figures out what’s going on, Pete starts to put everything together well before the halfway point of the story, slowly building up a picture in his mind of what’s really happening. We then get that delivered in two large places - firstly when he and Rose discuss who she really is, and then again at the end, when he admits that he knows what he has to do. It’s connecting to the very human side of this story that makes it all the better, and Dingwall turns in a fantastic performance that really feels every beat. 

7 January 2015

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

Day 737: The Long Game

Dear diary,

Oh, poor The Long Game. It’s always had a reputation of being the black sheep of Season One, hasn’t it? I didn’t really wander in to online fandom until sometime during 2006, but I can recall learning very quickly that this wasn’t an episode that people really liked. I can also remember being a little bit surprised by the fact, because I’ve never really though of it as being a weak episode, it’s just A. N. Other episode of Doctor Who. Perhaps that’s the problem? People talk of the stories they love, and the stories they hate, and episodes like The Long Game just disappear down the cracks between the two sides, nestled forever with the likes of The Smugglers.

I can’t help but wonder if it’s partly because The Long Game is situated here in the middle of Series One for a very specific purpose. It’s not an episode as exciting as last week’s, which you can just pop on and watch because you want to see some action; it doesn’t hold the same emotional punch that we’ll get with the next episode, and I don’t think it’s even scary in the way that the Steven Moffat two-parter on the horizon will be. It’s far more about the relationships between the characters, and taking stock of where we’ve been so far, and where we’re yet to go.

Most obviously, this can be seen in the relationship between the Doctor and Rose, but I’m only noticing just how nicely done it is on this viewing, perhaps because the pace of one episode a day is allowing me enough time to ruminate on them, without leaving it so long that I lose the subtleties. Those first three stories of the season were very much about the Doctor taking Rose out to show her the universe. Expand the horizons of a girl who felt trapped in her humdrum life. Oh, sure, Rose get’s to be central to these episodes and not just a tag-along, but she’s very much the novice. By the time of Dalek, they do something very clever - stepping out into Van Stattan’s museum, both the Doctor and Rose get to recognise an exhibit. Suddenly, she’s not the new girl anymore, she’s a somewhat seasoned traveller.

The Long Game then comes along and reminds us that she’s not really up to the Doctor’s level yet, though, and we get the brilliant scene of the Doctor priming her on their new time and place so that she can showboat to Adam. Ah, yes, Adam. He’s the other very clever thing about this episode, and he’s in some ways the heart of it - right back in Davies’ initial pitches for this episode, it was always ‘the companion who couldn’t’, and it further helps to reinforce Rose’s position in the ship. It’ll have knock on consequences for later in the season, too, when we get another male companion coming aboard who is the right material for life with the Doctor.

Adam also gets to play an important role in re-shaping the Doctor post-Time War, too. I commented the other day that Series One, and the Ninth Doctor, is all about building to that rebirth that allows him to really be himself again. This incarnation more than any for a long time really sees humans as a bit thick, by and large. And yet both Micky and Adam - two people he mocks brazenly - as questions he initially dismisses before realising that they’re exactly the ones to ask. They serve a purpose in helping him remember to listen to the little people.

Otherwise… it’s no wonder he goes a little bit off the rails, is it? They’re not long on the station before the Doctor and Rose have swanned off to investigate and explore, and he ends up just wandering around on his own like a kid in a sweetshop. For someone who’s incredibly tech-savvy and has spent years studying alien artefacts… it was never going to end well, was it? I love the idea of a companion coming aboard and then being immediately kicked out again because they’re just not up to scratch - and it’s a bold thing to do in the first ‘new’ series of the show, really helping to cement Rose, Martha, and all the others to come as being the cream of the crop.

6 January 2015

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

Day 736: Dalek

Dear diary,

Dalek has something of an unenviable position within Doctor Who history, doesn’t it? Introduce the Daleks to a whole new generation - with the added complication that they’re now inescapably tied up with the programme’s background mythology. Be the first Dalek story of the 21st century. Stand on its own as a decent story, not too overwhelmed with continuity. Introduce a new companion. And all that in 45 minutes. Looking back on it a decade on, the episode has even more importance now we’ve learnt more about the Time War, and it holds a pivotal place in the Doctor’s personal story.

And, frankly, it’s the best episode of the modern series so far. It manages to take all of the things noted above and pull them off rather well. By the time Adam steps inside the TARDIS at the end, I feel as though I know enough about him to accept him in the TARDIS (perhaps the fact that I know he won’t be around for long mans I’m expecting less of him, somehow, but I still think we’re given everything we need, even if he doesn’t get an awful lot to do here). There’s a decent enough story going on here that would be enough to keep my interest even if it wasn’t a Dalek in the Vault - though, let’s be honest, the story would lose a lot were it simply a Toclafane, as briefly considered, or some other nondescript alien, in place of the Doctor’s Arch Enemy.

Because that’s the real success of this one. It manages to take the Daleks, those funny little Pepper Pots who’ve been showing up at fairly regular intervals in the Doctor’s life since the programme’s fifth episode - which I watched two years ago yesterday - and bring them right in to the 21st century. It manages to put a Dalek on screen that is quite unlike any Dalek we’ve ever seen in the programme before… and yet perfectly capture exactly what the Daleks have always been like in our heads. This does however, bring me to the one problem I do have with this episode;

The Daleks aren’t really ever this powerful again!

Dalek presents us with a single creature - the last surviving Dalek in the universe - and goes to great lengths to make sure we know just how powerful it is. Once it’s out of its cage, the creature can download the entire internet in a matter of moments. It can crack a code with a billion combinations in two seconds. Bullets have a hard time getting at the Dalek because they melt when they get close to it. The centre of the machine swivels round, allowing the Dalek to attack in any direction. At one point, the Dalek is able to take out a room full of trained soldiers with just three blasts of the gun. When the Daleks pop up again at the end of this season, a few of them retain these special abilities, but then we don’t really see a lot of them again after that (I don’t think we’ve seen the bullet-melting at all since).

I’ve just about got a workaround in my head, but I’m not entirely convinced by it. It’s based on the idea that this really is the last surviving Dalek in the universe - the Doctor’s counterpart, from the other side of the battlefield. The only reason that this Dalek is so powerful - more powerful than any Dalek we’ve seen in the series before - is because it’s been off fighting the greatest war in Dalek history. Throughout the war, the Daleks have upgraded themselves further and further in an attempt to gain the upper-hand (The Time War-set novel Engines of War suggests that the creatures even go so far as to head back in time to alter their evolution - perhaps the failure of that experiment is what led them to simply upgrading their casings so much here?).

So. Let’s consider where this Dalek has come from:


The records say it came from the sky like a meteorite. It fell to Earth on the Ascension Islands. Burnt in its crater for three days before anybody could get near it and all that time it was screaming. It must have gone insane. 


It must have fallen through time. The only survivor.

Using bits of lore that have been added to the series since this episode was first broadcast, I think we can paint a fairly accurate image of what might have happened. Imagine, if you will, the closing moments of the Time War. Thirteen TARDISes (Fourteen, the Seventh Doctor came twice) all spinning around Gallifrey, preparing to take it out of time and space, and keep it nice and safe in a Cuppa Soup. The Daleks know what’s happening - the War Council report an increase in firepower. Every Dalek in the universe has been summoned to Gallifrey to take part in this final assault. Among their number is this Dalek. Amidst the chaos the the battle and the whizzing blue police boxes the Dalek somehow realises what’s happening. As the planet below disappears and Dalek firepower starts to take out its own comrades, the Dalek attempts an Emergency Temporal Shift.

With so many versions of the same TARDIS whizzing around, compounded by the sheer number of time manipulations that have gone on during the war itself, there’s no wonder the Temporal Shift hurtled this poor Dalek into the Vortex, spiralling it backwards in time until it lands in the Ascension Islands. It’s also no wonder it screamed for three days - it’s just watched a lot of its comrades wiped out. It doesn’t know yet that all the other Daleks have gone, just that the large majority certainly have, and it’s not until the last surviving Time Lord shows up that it learns the truth…

…And I’m going to have to leave it, there. There’s more to my suggestion of why the Dalek we see here is so uniquely powerful, but I’ll have to wait until we reach The Parting of the Ways to explain further, as the events of that story play heavily in to my narrative, and I want to refresh my mind on everything that’s said there and make sure it all fits before I continue.

I do hope that you’ll forgive me these occasional flights of fantasy into my own personal head canon, but they tick away in the back of my mind so much that it’s sometimes nice to share them with you all. 

5 January 2015

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

Day 736: World War Three

Dear diary,

Oh, I love the Slitheen. That’s not a particularly popular opinion, is it? It’s true, though. I loved them when this episode was first broadcast, and I love them now. Over the last year or so, I’ve been doing lots of graphic design bits for the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay. It means that I spend odd days in there while it’s closed to the public, getting the images we need and planning out what needs to be done. One of my favourite moments has to be going through a number of costumes tucked away in storage, pulling back a protective sheet and finding a Slitheen bearing down on me. They’re such a great design, managing to be exactly what you expect a Doctor Who monster to be (‘big and green’) and yet doing something fun with it. As the first real ‘monster’ of the 21st century - in the sense of being a man in a big monster outfit - I think it’s great, and I’m sort of hoping we see a return for them, however brief, this year to mark their tenth anniversary.

Something I didn’t notice as much when I first saw this one (or, at least, something that I didn’t notice enough to actively remember it a decade on) is just how poorly the costumes match up to the CGI versions of the creatures. Each, in their own right, works rather well. The costume allows our human cast to properly interact with a towering big monster in front of them (and it means that when we see, for example, one of the Slitheen pick up the secretary, it looks better than the CGI equivalent might have done), while the CGI creatures allow them to run and move in a way that the costumes simply wouldn’t have allowed. The problem comes when they try to cut between the two versions of the Slitheen - or perhaps more notably, the problem is when they’ve chosen to do so.

Take the moment that Harriet and Rose make their initial escape from one of the creatures in the Cabinet Room. We get a shot of a rubber monster chasing after Harriet, and it’s possibly the worst that they ever look. Because of the way the costume is designed (with the Actor’s head concealed in the neck of the outfit), the head bobs around as it moves, making the whole thing look like… well, making the whole thing look - again - like the kind of thing you expect when you think ‘Doctor Who Monster’. It’s not their finest moment. But we cut from this to the rather more fluid CGI version of the same Slitheen chasing them, and it’s suddenly much more polished! It actively took me out of the moment, and that’s a shame. Still, I should probably be thankful that we didn’t have to watch the bobbing head as some poor actor tried to run across the set in that outfit…

Aliens of London and World War Three were filmed alongside Rose as the first stories of 21st century Doctor Who (indeed, I think I’m right in saying that the first line spoken on recording the series came from Tosh, and Eccleston’s first shot as the Doctor involved chasing a space pig down a corridor), and I think they’ve got a style that sets them apart not only from what came before, but also everything that would come after them, too. Russell T Davies’ vision for the series is entirely present throughout all three episodes - you can see the seeds being sown for things which will be utilised over and over in the next few years - but they feel far more ‘children’s television’ than the programme would later become. I’m not sure it’s a bad thing, but it really stands out when you’ve had quite a while away from these episodes, and watch them again; especially after the likes of Series Eight last year!

They’re also set apart visually by the direction of Keith Boak, who doesn’t return to Doctor Who after this production block. I can’t say that his direction has been particularly outstanding or noticeable (whereas watching the TV Movie prompted me to note the direction on about every third shot, the work in these episodes has been far more workman like), but there’s one expiation to that - I love the way that Boak shoots the TARDIS set. There’s lots of moving cameras and caring angles that I can’t remember seeing a lot of anywhere else - at least, not in this style. I could be wrong, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for it over the next few seasons, but it’s certainly something I noticed both in Rose and again in the last few days.

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