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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.

4 January 2015

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

Day 735: Aliens of London

Dear diary,

It’s the first cliffhanger of the 21st century Doctor Who… and my god they botch it, don’t they? It’s possibly only because it’s the most recent thing in my mind, but it’s really sticking out as a massive error. They’ve gone all out for the first cliffhanger, placing as many people into danger as they possibly can… and then cut directly into a ‘next time’ trailer, that shows all those same people up and about and continuing the adventure next week! I don’t think you’re ever expecting any of our main characters to be in any real danger (even if you’re not coming to this episode having just sat through 700-and-something others, you know that nothing serious is about to happen), but you still want to have that suspense of waiting to see what happens! Am I right in saying that they later moved the trailers to after the credits for a two-parter? That seems a more sensible option than this!

Anyway, now that’s out of my system…

Right back during The Web of Fear, I commented on how much I liked the Doctor to have a number of friends scattered throughout the universe that he can drop in on from time to time. I don’t necessarily mean the likes of the ‘UNIT family’, where he was regularly a part of their lives, but just people who crop up now and then to share in his adventures. This episode is really where that concept is brought to the fore for the revived version of the programme, and it’ll remain a key factor through the rest of Russell T Davies’ time on the show, and to varying degrees through the Steven Moffat years, too.

And what a way to start! Not only does this one bring us back in to contact with Jackie and Micky (more on which in a moment), but it introduces both Harriet Jones (MP for Flydale North), who’ll be back again at Christmas, and once more after that to help the Doctor, and Toshiko Sato, who’ll go on to have a prominent role in the first two seasons of Torchwood. It’s that introduction that I think most interests me. I’ve not watched these episodes since Torchwood began, and it’s lovely to go back and see them now knowing more about Tosh, and the story she’ll go on to have. There’s something poignant about seeing her character now, having seen her death, and knowing that the Doctor has yet to meet and travel with her boss. It makes the fictional world of the programme feel so much larger when you’ve got all these elements playing out in the background. Aside from these ‘friends’ of the Doctor, you’ve also got the Slitheen. Margaret will be back later this season, and we’ll be following up on their scheme here when The Sarah Jane Adventures comes around. I can’t begin to tell you how tempted I am to watch them in tandem with the ‘parent’ show, just to see all the storylines weaving along!

Now. Jackie and Micky. The fact of Rose’s disappearance for a year absolutely fascinated me on first viewing. We’d been to watch the sun expand, and back to Victorian Cardiff, but it was this moment, hidden away in the pre-titles of this episode, which really hammered home to me that the TARDIS is a Time Machine. I’m not even sure why that is, but for some reason, this completely struck a chord. I think it’s the way that it’s written so beautifully, cutting from Jackie’s reaction to seeing her daughter and the Doctor suddenly realising his error. It all just works for me. What I didn’t notice at the time is just how quickly all of that blows over. There’s a few lovely scenes where they confront the reality that Rose has been missing for a whole year (and the effect it’s had on Mickey’s life is especially well played), but it all gets forgotten about so quickly. By the time that friends and neighbours are gathering in the Tyler household to watch the events on TV, it’s almost entirely ignored. In some ways, that’s completely right. Of course it gets swept away! An alien spaceship has just crashed in to the Thames! There’s a story to get on with, never mind focussing on Rose’s missing year…

…But then I started thinking; does it ever get mentioned again after this episode? Admittedly, it’s been a good few years since I’ve seen any of Rose’s travels in the TARDIS, but I can’t remember it ever actually coming up again during her time on the show. That’s really surprised me, because it felt like such a big moment at the time. I’m wondering if, having noticed it, it may stick out more for me now? I’m hoping not, because I can’t remember even giving it a second thought at the time, and it’s really niggling right now…

3 January 2015

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

Day 734: The Unquiet Dead

Dear diary,

Over the last week, I’ve been musing that the revived series in 2005 had an easier job in some ways that the TV Movie did in 1996. A couple of people have messaged on Twitter to take issue with that idea, so I thought I’d better explain myself a little better. What I actually mean is that the TV Movie had a single 90-minute slot to hook your attention, get you up to speed with Doctor Who, and tell a decent story. It manages some if not all of those to varying degrees. The 2005 series has the added benefit that it’s already guaranteed thirteen weeks to cover all those bases. It doesn’t have to worry about cramming in all the set up for the programme in that first instalment - it can slowly drip feed it to you as time goes by. I said the other day that any follow up to the TV movie would be a difficult thing to judge, because we don’t really see the TARDIS go anywhere (it makes a hop at the very end of the story, but not much is made of that fact), whereas Rose shows the TARDIS transporting from place-to-place quite often, and it becomes very clear that it has abilities beyond that.

Once that first episode is over, we can then venture off and set up the time travel aspect of the TARDIS rather neatly by venturing off in to the future. We then go the opposite way, back in to the past. It’s got the freedom of a continuing story to get you used to everything you need to know, so it doesn’t have to be quite so ‘full-on’ about it. Does that make any sense? I hope so. Thinking about it, I’d never realised just how often the revived programme for the first three episodes of the season. Right up to and including Season Five, we get the past/present/future set up to open each season, though they do play around with the order. I don’t think I’ve ever considered just how well that works as a good set up for the series, and for the fresh introduction of bringing in a new companion most years. It’s almost like taking things right back to 1963, where we had a similar set up - present day in Coal Hill School, way back to 100,000BC, and then off to the far future, and the home world of the Daleks.

I’ve said it before, but the Victorian era feels so right for Doctor Who. We’ve not spent a great deal of time there in the ‘classic’ run (off the top of my head, I can only think of The Evil of the Daleks, The Talons of Weng Chiang, and Ghost Light actually taking place in that period), but it’s going to become a fairly regular setting from now on. It’s good to note, then, that the BBC haven’t lost their touch at creating historical settings in the time that the programme has been away. It really is bread-and-butter stuff for a television design department, and it’s quite nice to note just how close this serial looks to Ghost Light. I spent such a long time commenting that the McCoy years were starting to resemble the ‘new’ series, so it’s always nice to see that the same can be said of the production standards. I’ve also commented before that had more people been watching the series in the late 1980s, it could have had the kind of acclaim that stories like this one received.

It doesn’t hurt that we’ve got a fantastic guest star for this episode in the form of Simon Callow as Charles Dickins. It’s a performance that’s always stuck in the mind right the way from the first time I saw the episode, so I’m really pleased to see that it’s holding up as well as I’d remembered. The series has attracted its fair share of big names over the years (and, it has to be said, the same was true of the ‘classic’ run), and you can really see that being set out in these early episodes. Three weeks in and we’ve already had the likes of Zoe Wannamaker and the aforementioned Simon Callow, and tomorrow we’ll be adding Penelope Wilton to the list. I mused yesterday that you could see the programme really setting out what it was going to be, and that’s true of the guest casts, too. There’s a very clear attempt to cast ‘big’ names… but proper actors in doing so. They’re going for respected talent and making sure that the programme can’t be taken as a joke.

That extends right the way to the top, too. Three days in and I’ve not properly mentioned Chris Eccleston yet. To tell the truth, it’s because I’m not really sure what to say of him. I’d experienced bits (sometimes all) of every Doctor’s run before starting out on this marathon, but the Ninth Doctor is the one that I first watched right the way through on television. Although I’d seen a few others before he grabbed Rose’s hand and urged her to run, Eccleston is really, I suppose, ‘my’ Doctor. So I’m not really watching him in the same way that I’ve been watching all the others for the last two years. He simply is the Doctor. That said, I’m noticing more this time around a slight unease with the role. I mean, he’s very good - don’t get me wrong - but he’s not slipping as naturally in to the part as I remember him doing. That’s something I’m going to be making sure to keep an eye on going forward, because we’re still in very early days (and the next two episodes were filmed before these last two, so I’m wondering if we may be taking a step back).

2 January 2015

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

Day 733: The End of the World

Dear diary,

Over the years, The End of the World has become something of a magnet for ‘stories’. Little anecdotes from the production team. I’ve heard it said a hundred times that this was the programme really setting out its stock in terms of what could be achieved - combining practical effects and CGI into one of the most expensive episodes of that first season. I think I’m right in saying (or, if I’m not, I’ve heard it repeated so often that it’s become fact in my own mind) that the Face of Boe only ended up becoming so important in later stories because he’d cost too much to build only to use the once. Cassandra appears as a CGI creation for ages on screen, at a time when they were still trying to work out how much could be spent on such things. We’ve even got more aliens introduced in this episode than I think we did for the entire Sylvester McCoy years!

But for all these stories getting repeated over and over, they do all set out what this episode is. Russell T Davies has said before now that they set up the scale and the scope of this first series in such a way that the BBC couldn’t later turn around and massively slash the budgets. They needed to make a point with a story like this so early on to ensure that everyone knew what they were aiming for, and also what they can achieve. And yet, for all the scale and grandeur of this one, it really boils down to a couple of small character pieces, with Rose coming to terms with her decision to travel in the TARDIS, and the Doctor starting to come to terms with the life he’s now living.

When Rose first aired, and we saw our new companion kiss her boyfriend goodbye before running off into the TARDIS, I can clearly recall my mother saying ‘that’s how so many young girls get abducted…’. It really is a split second decision (there’s none of the building up to an almost identical scene that we had with Scream of the Shalka), but it’s no more sudden than some of the companion introductions that we got back in the classic run. Dodo, anyone? That scene needs this episode, and Rose suddenly realising what she’s done, to really carry the kind of impact that it should. Another story I’ve often heard repeated is that the plan was once to air Rose and The End of the World back-to-back, and I can’t help but think that it wouldn’t have been a bad move - the two stories are opposite sides of the same coin.

But I’m more interested here in the Doctor’s story. At the time, I was enough of a Who novice to assume that this ‘war’ they kept mentioning was something which happened in the latter days of the original run, in some of the many stories I’d not seen. It’s interesting, then, to watch this back now knowing as much as we do about the Time War, and having pieced together the history of it through all those classic adventures (yes, even the ones where I’ve shoe-horned it in). It does beg the question - how long has the Doctor had between what he thinks is the destruction of Gallifrey and now? It’s certainly been a contentious point over the years - almost akin to a 21st century UNIT Dating conundrum.

The facts are these; We see the War Doctor start to regenerate into this incarnation at the end of The Day of the Doctor. Rose then features a scene where he looks in a mirror and comments on his appearance - seeming to imply that he’s only recently taken on this new form. It’s certainly written to be the same moment that we watched the likes of Troughton, Pertwee, Davison and both Bakers have in their first stories. And yet, somehow, it doesn’t feel right to have these stories following so immediately on from the events of the Time War. For a start, the Doctor’s given the TARDIS a wash since we saw him fly off in it from the Curator’s museum, and the console room has had a relatively major overhaul.

For what it’s worth, I think the sequence of events which best fits is something like this; the War Doctor starts to regenerate. In doing so, he forgets the encounter with his future selves, and awakes from the transformation alone in his TARDIS, his last memory being the thought that he would be forced to survive pressing the button and ending the war. He’s lost and alone. His people are gone. His greatest enemies are gone. He doesn’t want to live on, but he knows he must serve out his penance. In doing so, I imagine that he exiles himself deep into the TARDIS, allowing the battered old box to go drifting right to the very edges of the universe. He explores every room of the near-infinite ship, and goes a bit Beauty and the Beast, covering up all the mirrors, and refusing to face himself. As he’s off wandering the corridors, the console room is allowed to grow over with coral, naturally reforming itself as the ages roll by.

Until one day, he finds it again. He’s not really been keeping track of where he’s walking, but when he steps back into the main console room, he knows exactly where it is, despite its changed appearance, and it somehow feels right that he should be there. In the back of his mind is a nagging thought that he knew it would look this way when he found it again (he saw it in The Day of the Doctor, for example, and while he can’t remember the events of that adventure properly, I’d imagine there’s little tugs at his memory - we’ll be seeing another one in a moment). He doesn’t know how long has passed since he was last here, but he knows what he has to do. He needs to atone for the Time War. If he’s the only survivor, then he can’t spend eternity hiding away. He needs to get back to his former life as the Doctor, and try to rebuild the universe he helped to knock down.

In doing so, he whizzes off to a few different places - plenty and galaxies he knows were deeply affected by the war. As he’s doing this, he still can’t bring himself to look at his own face. He carries this on for a while, until he gets wind the Nestene Consciousness trying to take control of the Earth. He knows the protein planets were destroyed in the war, but that’s no reason to shunt out a whole other civilisation. He tracks the creature down to Henricks in London… where he meets Rose Tyler in the basement. There it is! Another pang of memory. He can’t quite place it, but he knows this girl ,and he likes this girl. The next day, they bump in to each other again, and then once more at the restaurant. We’ve then got a bit of a Scream of the Shalka situation going on, where the ‘emotional island’ starts to enjoy being with this person. When she turns him down at the end of the story, he heads off again and continues to clean up after the war for a bit. Maybe he arrives in 1912 and has a Titanic-based adventure. Or heads to 1963 for the assassination of JFK. Maybe those adventures don’t come until much later. But either way, there’s a nagging voice in the back of his head - the Doctor needs a companion, and he knows it has to be her. Did he mention, it also travels in time?

It’s probably not perfect, but it’s what I like to believe in my own mind. I’ve had a version like this in my head for a while now, but watching the stories now is letting me start to really nail it down some more. Certainly, when he has his moment with Jabe in this episode, it feels as though it’s the first time anyone has ever really spoken to him about what’s happened in the war - so the wounds are still fresh, but it doesn’t feel right for him to go from those events straight to all of this. Does anyone else have their own pet theories? I’ve a friend, for example, who swears blind that the Doctor’s just had his haircut, and it’s that which he’s reacting to in the mirror! 

1 January 2015

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

Day 732: Rose

Dear diary,

Two years ago today, I sat down to watch An Unearthly Child; the very first episode of the original Doctor Who. Now, I’m setting off on another adventure - the ‘revived’ series that started in 2005.

I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to reaching this point of the marathon. Long-time readers of the 50 Year Diary will know that my first dabble in the world of Doctor Who was a VHS copy of Invasion of the Dinosaurs in late 2003, and while that raised my interest a little bit in the programme, it was really this first series in 2005 that turned me in to a fully-fledged ‘fan’.

I can remember sitting down to watch this episode in the living room, with my mum and stepdad, and watching it again today brings back a lot of the feelings I had about it first time around, and even a few of the comments that were made in the room during that broadcast. That’s why I’ve been so looking forward to reaching the 21st century series - for the first time in this marathon, I can recall my feelings on watching these stories for the first time. In some cases, that equates to the only time, too. I’ve never been someone who can watch Doctor Who over and over on repeat, so there’s lots of these episodes that I’ve not seen in a long time. Thinking back, the last time I watched this episode, for example, was probably when the DVD set of this season came out - which is a little over nine years ago now!

Since then, a lot has changed for me, and in ways that I’ve been assuming will impact the way I watched these stories. I used to tell myself - round about the time of The Last of the Time Lords - that I would one day live in Cardiff Bay. It was the home of Doctor Who, after all, and of Torchwood, and I’d grown so used to seeing it on screen that I’d sort of made up my mind that I’d make my home there. Fast forward to 2011, and I really did find myself moving to Cardiff. In reality, it transpired that I didn’t move to Wales simply because of the connection to my favourite Time Lord, but because that’s the way life moved. I spent a few years living just across the water from the Bay area, and now live less than a four-minute-walk from the Torchwood Water Tower. It means that watching the series now is a slightly different experience. Just on the walk between my house and Tescos, I pass a tonne of locations that have most recently turned up in Series Eight - from the Italian Restaurant and Victorian streets of Deep Breath to the run down buildings of The Caretaker, and the entrance to the Bank of Karabraxos. I seem to live my life in the Doctor Who world now, and that does change the way you look at things.

To use some examples for today, while the Doctor was making his speech about the turn of the Earth, my thoughts were split between ‘isn’t Eccleston great’ and ‘That street is less than half a mile over there…’. As Jackie found herself caught up in the terror of the Auton attack, I was musing that she’s coming out of the door leading through to the post office, and finding myself distracted by the fact that the doors don’t quite match up with the insides of the location. They’re silly things to be pre-occupied with, I know, but I’ve not seen the story since I made these places my home, and it’s going to take a few days, I think, to get over the sudden shock of seeing the episodes again now that I know the place so well.

So. Anyway. What’s my reaction to watching Rose now, after all this time? It’s more-or-less the same as it was first time around - it’s alright, but it’s never going to win an award as being the best bit of Doctor Who ever made. Something I’d completely forgotten until about three seconds before it happened here is that it wasn’t the episode itself which really hooked my interest in the series - it was the trailer for The End of the World. I can suddenly remember really thinking that was a subject which fascinated me, and making a mental note to make sure I’d be watching the following week. That’s not to say that this is a bad episode - it’s far from that, but it’s very much an episode with a function. Introduce Rose. Introduce the Doctor. Introduce the TARDIS, and the world that this series takes place in, and all the danger and excitement and fun that goes hand in hand with it. A few days ago, I commented that the TV Movie and Rose both have similar jobs - introducing Doctor Who to a brand new audience - but that they’re by no means doing the same thing. The TV Movie feels like the more complete story, whereas this episode has another twelve to come which can allow us to explore the scope of the program further.

Something I do want to draw attention to while making a direct comparison, though, is the introduction of the TARDIS. I meant to bring it up during the movie but then got distracted. In the opening titles to the TV Movie, we find the police box flying through a space/time vortex. It’s an unusual image, especially if you’re not familiar with Doctor Who on the whole. We then cut from this to some kind of gothic Jules Verne library, where a funny little man in tweed is settling down to read a book. There’s absolutely no proper indication that the large space we’re now seeing is supposed to be inside that blue police box. In this episode, though, it’s set up brilliantly - first by having the box crop up a few times in the background, then setting up the idea that it can vanish, and then the actual moment when Rose crosses the threshold for the first time is one of the best directed bits of the episode. She runs inside, and we see her enter… but we hold on her reaction. You don’t get to see what she’s looking at, only the back of the doors and the look on her face. She ten heads back outside to check that it really is a blue box, and then we follow her inside and get a proper look at the scope of the room. It’s quite possibly one of the best ‘first entrances’ to the TARDIS we’ve ever had, and it’s the ideal way to set it up for a whole new audience. I think it also serves to show how Rose introduces such elements far better than the movie does.

What’s surprised me, though, is that I’ve enjoyed this episode less than the TV Movie. For years and years now, I’ve always thought of this as being the more successful of the two, and therefore, to my mind, the better of them. When I suddenly realised the other day just how much I liked the TV Movie, I decided that they’d probably end up sitting on the same level as each other… but it just hasn’t quite worked out that way. I think the fact that I’m so looking forward to the next episode, and indeed knowing that there is a next episode for these characters, has actually harmed this one in my mind, whereas I really had to savour everything about the Movie.

All this sounds like I’m being incredibly negative, but that’s not the intention at all. I think it’s more that I’ve spent so many years thinking of this first season as being absolutely perfect in my mind that it’s never going to quite live up to the image I’ve built up for it. People mock John Nathan-Turner for his comment that the memory cheats, but I think there’s a lot of truth in there. The episode has gone down in my estimations because it’s never going to be as good as I remember it being! Oh, but there I go sounding negative again. It’s such a culture shock to be at the new series - you’ll have to excuse me a few days while I adjust.

There’s lots that I do like in here, so let’s touch on them. The design of the Autons is great - by far my favourite from their various appearances over the years. I love how quickly we go from that opening montage of Rose’s everyday life into the creepy atmosphere of the basement. Her whole life changes just as that music stops playing out in the background, and it’s only about three minutes into the episode. The CGI explosions ion the Nestene lair hold up better than I was expecting them to. Eccleston and Piper are great right from the start, and you know what? I actually ‘get’ Jackie this time around, whereas it took me a while on first viewing!

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