Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Keys of Marinus

The Keys of Marinus was Terry Nation's second Doctor Who script after The Daleks but The Keys of Marinus has none of the iconic status of that story. There is certainly no villain as memorable as The Daleks, although The Voord have a certain kitschiness about them being obviously men in rubber suits that are meant to be men in rubber suits.

It's a collection of separate adventures loosely tied together by a quest. In this case, the quest is for the McGuffins Keys of Marinus. These keys are valuable components of a massive computer, THE CONSCIENCE, which is supposed to keep Marinus in a state of cuddly loveliness.

Part One sows the seeds of the adventure. There is a glass beach and an acid sea. There's a mysterious set of men flopping about in wetsuits and flippers falling through hidden doors and then there's Arbitan. Arbitan is the man who built THE CONSCIENCE. It apparently needs re-booting but to do that means finding 'The Keys', which I'm going to pretend are basically some kind of glorified memory sticks to be slotted into THE CONSCIENCE's USB ports.

Arbitan is played by George Coulouris, who was probably the first impressive piece of guest casting in Doctor Who. At least based on his career prior to this. Even if he does only last an episode. Er, spoiler. He wants the TARDIS crew to help him find 'The Keys', which have been scattered across various locations on Marinus and forces them to do so after they initially refuse. Handed their Blake's 7 wrist tra travel dials, course pre-plotted in advance by Arbitan, off they go for a series of budget-stretching episode-by-episode adventures.

We see the City of Morphoton, apparently a paradise but with a nasty little secret at its heart. This is my favourite episode. Jacqueline Hill gets to be marvellous. There are some brains in jars. Sort of. And William Hartnell and William Russell get to admire a rusty old mug. They're joined at the end of the episode of Altos (Robin Phillips) and Sabetha (Katherine Schofield).

Altos was one of those sent by Arbitan to fetch the Keys but got waylaid. Sabetha is Arbitan's daughter. They come across like a pair of Noel Coward character actors have wandered into the building by mistake, which I think becomes especially annoying in the final episode.

The Doctor splits the party up so that William Hartnell can take a holiday. He skips ahead two least I think that's how it works. Whilst the others go on.

Part Three finds us in the 'Screaming Jungle'. It's creepy, initially. Then it all gets a bit silly. The problem with this story as a whole is lots of people behave in a very stupid fashion. They also seem to delay acting on anything for about five seconds after it becomes obvious a thing is going to happen. Instead, they stand there as if waiting for a cue. It's all a little aggravating. And poor young Carole Ann Ford only gets to stand around being scared and looking for a hug. I wonder whether this was the point at which she decided enough was enough. Finally, we get Edward Warwick putting in a heroically theatrical performance as Darrius.

Moving on it is time for snow. And Wolves. And potential rapists. This is an odd episode. There's a lot of bad design going on. Sets that look like sets. A gorge that looks easily jumpable in a story by the same writer who had his characters jump over a far wider looking gorge back in The Daleks. It's almost as if Terry Nations got a gorge obsession. Susan is particularly jumpy in this episode too. To the point of irritation.

What does make this episode feel genuinely dark though is Vaslor, played by Francis de Wolff. Vaslor is a nasty man and at one point in the episode clearly has his mind set on raping Barbara. It seems a particularly adult theme for a television series for families. I suspect you'd find it difficult to do anything like that in New Doctor Who. And Francis de Wolff is actually pretty good at being creepy and menacing. It's still a bit uncomfortable.

Having recovered the key from a giant ice cube we find ourselves in the city of Milennius where Ian is set-up for a crime he didn't commit. Barbara and Susan get to play Detective, Sabena and Altos get to be research assistants and The Doctor gets to play at being Rumpole of the Bailey. Hartnell's excellent at this. He's sussed the whole plan out from the start and - despite a hiccup here and there - he eventually gets Ian free, rounds up the suspects and makes the forces of law and order look a bit amateurish. It's Sherlock Who.

It all ends happily but not before Ian gets to show off and Yartek, Leader of the Alien Voord, gets his comeuppance. THE CONSCIENCE is buggered but as The Doctor isn't convinced that letting a computer make people good by effectively programming them to be good is the right thing he isn't too disappointed. Sabetha and Altos head off in the sunset hand in hand* and the TARDIS crew dematerialise for further adventures in time and space. Or should that be space and time.

I have to admit to liking this less this time around. It's all a bit untidy. It has some wonderful moments but not enough of them to make this a great - or even good - story. There are lots of theatrical performances from guest stars, although I should mention Fiona Walker's Kala and Donald Pickering's Eyesen as being pretty good.

Fundamentally though I think it's Nation,s inability to give Ian, Barbara and Susan the brains they obviously have that annoys me. They're constantly blundering into obvious traps. Or standing around gawping whilst a terrible weapon is about to cleave their heads from their shoulders.

So alas this becomes the first Hartnell story to be a bit disappointing.

O well. Next up, The Aztecs. 

*Metaphorically not literally.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Marco Polo

With Marco Polo we encounter the first Missing Story in the Doctor Who archive. I don't intend to dwell at length on Missing Episodes. For the best and most detailed account read Richard Molesworth's excellent book, 'Wiped'. Suffice it to say a large number of Doctor Who episodes were destroyed by the BBC during the 1970s & 80s. There are still 97 episodes of Doctor Who missing. And alas that includes all 7 episodes of Marco Polo

Fortunately - perhaps even miraculously - the audio soundtracks of every Doctor Who story still exist, which means we can at least listen even if we cannot see. Now, in the case of Marco Polo, that feels like a distinct shame as the still photographs seem to show an impressively designed historical epic. 

I decided, with missing episodes, to listen to the audio. I could have watched a reconstruction but for some personal reason I chose not to go that route. I find reconstructions oddly distracting. So this review is based on the BBC audio, with William Russell's narration.

Here is a classic example of an early Doctor Who episode managing to balance adventure - even if it is gentle adventure - and education. Running parallel to the overall educational aspects of meeting with the Marco Polo upon his journey through Cathay are a couple of little lectures: on how condensation is formed and there's Ian's clunking teacher moment after Ping-Cho's tale of Al-adin. 
The most important thing is that none of this gets in the way of the actual story, which basically revolves around Marco Polo claiming the TARDIS as a bribe for Kublai Khan in an attempt to get back to Venice. The Doctor and crew spend more of the tale trying to escape whilst Tegana (Darren Nesbitt) a Mongol war-lord tries to play-off the travellers and Marco Polo for reasons of his own, which will become clear later. 

The main guest cast are resolutely excellent. Mark Eden as Marco Polo manages to do a fine job of making Polo seem like a real human. Trying not to be to much of a bad guy, when dealing with the TARDIS crew, even when the Doctor is at his most belligerent and patronising. There's a lot of First Doctor grumpiness throughout and a magnificently bizarre moment at the end of the first episode when the Doctor's response to Polo taking the TARDIS is a sort of mad giggling. As if he really can't take it all in. 

Eden gets to narrate some of Marco Polo's diary too, which has the odd effect of making this story almost as much an 'Adventure of Marco Polo' as a Doctor Who story. Indeed you might argue that a better title for this story might be 'The Dilemma's Of Marco Polo' but that might be silly. I like the way William Russell and Mark Eden build up a friendship between Ian and Marco Polo even as they argue. There's a lovely line from Marco Polo where he says to Ian, that it he doesn't care why Ian lies but that he is capable of lying. The implication being that he can't entirely trust any of Ian's explanations. 

Derren Nesbitt is excellent as Tegana. He's a pretty obvious bad guy but has a certain clever deviousness that enables him to play the TARDIS crew off against Marco Polo. It keeps things cooking nicely. 

Ping-Cho is played by Zienia Merton (who is half-Burmese.)  She is marvellous too, especially when she gets to tell her story, which is probably the longest single speech anyone in the series has had to this point. Her relationship with Susan is really nicely played too.  

There's also a nice performance by Martin Miller as Kublai Khan, which brings up a point about how many of the alleged Asian characters were played by white British actors in 'yellow face'. The pictures seem to hint at make-up but it is hard to tell how far down the The Talons of Weng-Chiang route they went. 

The Kublai Khan - Doctor scenes are marvellous btw. Another small highlight in an episode full of highlights.

This is definitely worth listening to if you get a chance but it is certainly high up on the list of stories I'd like to see found. The combination of historical adventure and excellent performances makes for a brilliant story. How many people will ever get to hear it though is moot.

12/07/2014 Additional Note

The problem with doing these blogs as 'stream of consciousness' is that you forgot to mention stuff that actually you really want to mention. One of those is sound. Listening to this as an audio I was really impressed with both the music and the sound design. Particularly during the sand storm when the shrieking wind sound genuinely terrifying. It makes me want this story found so much. I want to see how they did the sand storm in the studio. I know it might end up being massively disappointing but I want to see it. And I want to see the Cave of Three Hundred Eyes. And the court of Kublai Khan in Peking.

Here's hoping someone, somewhere has got their mits on a copy.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Edge of Destruction

The Edge of Destruction is an odd fish. A two-part story designed to be a short-notice, cheap space filler. Doctor Who might have finished after this. Might. It's one of the strangest stories in the programme's history.

Only the main cast are in it and for most of the story they're all acting in a rather odd way. As if they've been possessed. The Doctor thinks Ian and Barbara have sabotaged his ship. Susan is having a major freak out. Ian's dazed and confused. Only Barbara seems to keep her wits about her for most of the story.

Indeed the first episode has the sinister feel of one of Pinter's darker plays. Lots of pauses. The scene where Susan threatens Ian with a pair of scissors - which upset some people in the BBC - is genuinely creepy. It's Carole Ann Ford's best moment as Susan so far. Ian's reaction is bafflement. It's almost as if he's woken up with a terrible hangover.

Something weird is happening. The TARDIS is doing odd things. It's doors are opening and closing. The console is electrified. Clocks are melting. The scanner is showing images that clearly aren't what is outside. No one has any proper explanation. There's hints that someone - or something - has got inside the ship (and the first episode certainly plays like their something taking control of people). Then the Doctor starts to think that there's dodginess afoot from Barbara and Ian, which gets short shrift for Barbara.

There's a great speech from Barbara, delivered with real bite by Jacqueline Hill, where she points out to the Doctor that if it wasn't for Ian and Barbara the Doctor and Susan would never have escaped either the Cave of Skulls or Skaro. In the second episode the Doctor threatens to throw Barbara and Ian off the ship. He's not thinking straight.

As the problem is solved - and turns out to be both disappointingly mundane and marvelously unusual - the Doctor has to come to make his apologies. Ian accepts them without hearing the words. It takes a bit longer for Barbara to come round. After all the Doctor has said some terrible things to both of them.

In a way though this is the story that changes the Doctor. After this he accepts Barbara and Ian. They've nudged his morality. The Doctor, from here on in, is gradually 'infected' with a 'humanity' that he didn't seem to have before. Hartnell's still not quite the Doctor we've come to expect but this is the first step towards changing that.

All the main cast get to explore their parts and there's a real strength to Jacqueline Hill's performance above all, although both Carole Ann Ford and William Russell have moments. You could see the potential of Susan here, which is why you then can understand why she was a bit disappointed with how the part was panning out. But Jacqueline Hill stands out for me.

Hartnell is good and gets probably his most complicated speech - so far - as the Doctor, which is his soliloquy on the creation of a solar system. How much of it Hartnell understood I don't know but he delivers it as if all this has come rushing straight from the Doctor's mind. It's as if his internal monologue has escape in all the excitement. It's a complicated speech and there's not a single fluff, which might be the result of Hartnell worrying about it so much. I like it. Mainly because the final half-suppressed excited giggle.

The sound design in this story should also be praised, especially the way the TARDIS comes to back to life gradually after the problem is solved.

Indeed the TARDIS is the fifth character in this story. It's the ship that drives the adventure. It's the ship that is trying to communicate. There's a hint that the TARDIS has an intelligence. Not an intelligence like ours perhaps but an intelligence (and we get to see the TARDIS in her true glory in The Doctor's Wife almost fifty years later.)

So it's an odd little two episodes but worth a watch. Whether you come out of it at the end baffled, frustrated or amused I don't know. Me, I enjoyed the oddity of it.

Dr Who and The Daleks

Dr Who & The Daleks is the film version of The Daleks made by Amicus films. It was released in 1965. In colour. On the big screen. Woo-hoo.

It's a different world to the television series. There's no real mystery to 'The Doctor' here. Peter Cushing plays Dr Who who is a human being who simply invented the TARDIS and set it up in his back garden. It is still bigger on the inside but sadly looks far drabber and less interesting than the television version.

I think a lot of how much you like the films is based on how much you like Peter Cushing's portrayal of Dr Who. He plays him far more sympathetically than Hartnell. He's much more the doddery grandfather. He's gentle. There's a distinct lack of curmudgeon. I find it fine for this film. It's tonely correct. You couldn't have put the Hartnell Doctor into this version of Doctor Who. It wouldn't fit. There's very little 'edge' to Dr Who & The Daleks.

Even the Daleks seem less sinister here in their multi-coloured glory than they are in The Daleks itself. The film versions are bigger, chunkier and more colourful.

The rest of the main cast are also different. Barbara is now one of Dr Who's grandchildren & played by Jennie Linden. Barbara probably gets the least to do of any character in the film, which makes her sadly forgettable. Susan is still the Doctor's grandchild but is actually a child, played by Roberta Tovey. Susan is rather a precocious young thing but Tovey's performance is pretty darn good. I have a low tolerance for child actors but Tovey is possibly the best thing in it and - whisper it - does Susan's lone journey from City to TARDIS better than Carole Ann Ford. Ian is Barbara's boyfriend. He's played by Roy Castle.

I should say here that I like Roy Castle. When I used to do a paper round in Gerrards Cross, back in the mists of the 1980s, Roy Castle would occasionally pass me whilst he was jogging. He never failed to say hello as he passed, which was always rather nice. Alas Ian is the comic relief in Dr Who and The Daleks, which means Castle doesn't get a chance to be subtle. It's broad slap-stick stuff. I don't think many people would have done it better than Roy Castle did it but it just seems a bit out of place.

The Thals are a beautiful bunch with their lovely golden hair. Led by Alydon (Barrie Ingham) they're the same pacifist farmers as in The Daleks except they're convinced to throw over their pacifism far more quickly in the film than in the television series.

Let me leap untidily to another point: the design. They've obviously gone for a similar look to the original television story but on a far grander scale. In fact the Dalek city looks great but feels less discombobulating than the television version. Gordon Flemyng's direction certainly lacks the panache of Christopher Barry's. For example in The Daleks the first time we see a Dalek is in a rather well-directed shot when they're seen in pull back as the Doctor, Ian and Susan step out of the laboratory. Flemyng makes an almost identical attempt in the film and it just seems much flatter. Even allowing for the huge scale.

Now it might seem, from all of the above, that I don't like Dr Who & The Daleks much but that's not quite true. It's entertaining enough, it's fun to see the Daleks in bright colours and with their fire extinguisher guns.

The film takes the main plot of The Daleks and removes all the nuance and edge (and there is some in The Daleks), which means it flies along. It's not terrible. It's just not as good as the television story. Perhaps because it doesn't have any of the edge of the original television series. The classic example of that being the difference in the fate of Ganatus in Dr Who & The Daleks and The Daleks. It's one of the more annoying moments of the film.*

It passes the important test: it's fun. So if you get a chance to watch it you should. You could certainly watch this if you knew nothing about Doctor Who at all. Ideally at the cinema - where they do crop up on occasion.

*I think watching this so soon after the television version made me much more aware of the flaws than I might have been.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Daleks

The Daleks is, as I'm sure you all know, the story that introduces us to The Doctor's most persistent and dangerous enemy. Although no one was to know that at the time. It's pretty clear that at the end of this story the Daleks are finished. 

These are a very different bunch to what is to come. Trapped inside a single city on Skaro because they can only move via static electricity on their metal floors these are not the galactic conquerors that they will become later. 

The impression you get is this is the fag end of the Daleks as a species but they do have that determination to survive, regardless of other people's intentions. They're not quite as extermination obsessed at the beginning of the story as they become later but that's partly because they're trying to get information from and convince The Doctor and his companions to help them. Once they don't need that help (and once the Doctor & co prove to be more of a pain in the arse than expected) then the 'real' Daleks reveal themselves.

The story itself is surprisingly good over the course of the seven episodes. There are, naturally, moments of tedium but mostly it manages to keep the levels of tension up throughout. The first episode in particular is as good as the first episode of An Unearthly Child. The way Christopher Barry uses camera angles to emphasize the alien nature of the city feels like something out of German expressionist cinema. It helps you feel some of the discombobulation that Barbara feels as she's dragged further and further into the maze of the city. It all builds up to THAT cliffhanger at the end of Part One. Jacqueline Hill's reaction sells it. Something horrible is coming. And you really want to know what it is. No wonder people tuned in for the next episode. 

I should pause here to praise Raymond Cusick whose design helps make this story so memorable. The Dalek city is fabulous. And, of course, the Daleks themselves are one of the great pieces of design. Even now in 2015 with their tweaks they look fantastic. Even with the egg whisk and sink plunger jokes there is something sinister about a Dalek. Perhaps it is that - in the earlier stories - they are a little shorter than average height so you find yourself wondering how they got someone inside. Then there's the realization that there is an occupant.  Cusick's contribution is one of the key reasons this story works as well as it does. 

The other is Nation's script itself. Whilst the dialogue rarely sets the world on fire the plot itself has the right level of drive. It feels like a high quality episode of one of those Saturday morning kids adventure serials like Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers. It's not spectacularly original but it does a job. The Daleks are - as we all know now - clearly drawing on Nazis. Indeed if you made the Daleks actual Nazis, made the Thals some non-first world humans and took the Doctor and friends out of it I reckon you could slot Indiana Jones into this. All it needs is the right mcguffin for everyone to be chasing. 

The Thals themselves are the contrast to the Daleks. Handsome, blonde and pacifist as a result of their history. They become the Doctor's allies after Ian convinces them to abandoned their pacifist ways. Indeed one of the most interesting scenes here is the conversations between the Doctor, Ian and Barbara about convincing the Thals to take up arms to help them recover their fluid link. And then Ian's attempt to draw violence out of Alydon (John Lee). It's all pretty obvious in some respects but is played with such sincerity as to feel 'deeper' than it is. 

The First Doctor's deviousness and childishness is to the fore here. He wants to explore the mysterious city. The rest of the crew won't let him. He sulks and then fakes a reason to do so. By pretending he needs to go down to the city to repair the fluid link. In the end, as a result of a lack of proper health and safety, this almost gets everyone killed by radiation poisoning. But actually by the end there is a more avuncular Doctor again talking to Alydon about being a 'pioneer once among his own people.' Hartnell's performance is excellent, although Part One does contain a number of fluffs and stumbles but I'm very forgiving of those. 

Jacqueline Hill (Barbara) and William Russell (Ian) are also strong. Russell gets lots to do. Lots. In some respects he's the lead character in this story, not The Doctor. Barbara even gets the first companion flirtation with Ganatus (Philip Bond), which in classic Doctor Who style is barely touched upon until the final episode. 

Carole Ann Ford (Susan) has moments - especially in the first two parts - but you can already tell that she's a character with problems. She's not really allowed to do much apart from be scared and protect her grandfather. You can see why she would want to leave. 

The Thals - whose names tend to become merged together and drift off - are played with various degrees of excellence. Philip Bond is clipped and buttoned up as Ganatus. Ganatus also gets to beat the Fifth Doctor to 'There should have been another way.' (Well, almost.) John Lee is solid and stentorian as Alydon. Marcus Hammond gets to do scared as Antodus and gets one of the stories bleaker moments. Jonathan Crane as Kristas gets to be one of the only two people I can think of that get hit by a Dalek ray and survives. The other being Ian. And in Ian's case the Daleks deliberately stun him. The weakest performance is probably Virginia Weatherall as Dyoni (who is the only female character apart from the main cast to actually speak). It might not entirely be her fault. She doesn't get a great deal to do.

I'm sure I could say a lot more about this story but I've been waffling on for ages so I'll put you out of my misery. I like The Daleks. It's a good adventure story with real issues at the heart of it. It's pretty well-acted and directed. Could it be shorter? Probably. But sixties television is a very different beast to 2015. It's more theatrical (with exceptions) and slower. I'm not sure I'd recommend watching all seven episodes in one go. I spread them out over the course of a whole day, which I'm sure helped. 

Very enjoyable. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

An Unearthly Child

The traditional thing when reviewing An Unearthly Child is to concentrate on the brilliance of the first episode and then point out how disappointing the three caveman episodes that follow are. I don't intend to do that for two reasons: firstly there isn't really much I can say about the first episode that hasn't already been said better by other more brilliant people than I; secondly because I'd like to talk about the three episodes in more detail.

Episode One must be one of the most analysed twenty-five minutes in television drama. It's creation has been discussed both in fact and fiction. There's even an hour and a half television movies that revolves around the creation of Doctor Who. This is more than just television now. It's a cultural icon. And it is brilliant. I must have watched it a dozen times and it never feels tired. It's possibly one of the finest first episodes of any television series ever made. It's title sequence & music are radical and wonderful. The Doctor is edgy and alien in a way we're not used to.

And that's all I'm going to say about it.

The following three episodes are far better than you'd believe from the fan gestalt. The key is that everyone plays it absolutely straight.

It's a political thriller. The West Wing in skins - although I'm not going to pretend the dialogue is of equal standard. There's an element of Macbeth* about it too, as Hur (Aleathea Charlton) gives Za (Derek Newark) the oomph he needs to act. Za wasn't going to go into the darkness after the travelers, but Hur gave him the push to do so. Hur clearly doesn't want to be partner to anyone but Za.

It's about power. The secret of making fire is what makes a man the leader of his tribe. Za's father used to have the secret, but died without passing it on. Kal (Jeremy Young) is Za's rival. A wanderer from another tribe who wasn't killed but accepted. When Kal sees the Doctor light his pipe he thinks he's got one up on Za. This is Kal's chance to take the throne. He thinks he's got his own pet fire maker.

Alas it doesn't turn out to be that simple. The Doctor's lack of matches means he can't make fire there and then, which gives Za his chance to undermine Kal. Then there's the Old Mother (Eileen Way) who fears fire. Fears that the strangers will bring them fire and sets out to make things more complicated for everyone. Eileen Way is excellent. As are Aleathea Charlton,  Derek Newark and Jeremy Young. Whatever they feel about throwing themselves about on flea infested sand in furs as people they don't let it spoil their acting. All of them take it very seriously. All of them play it straight. None of them are over-the-top, which would have been the easiest  thing to do in the circumstances. These three episodes work because everyone in the cast is doing their damnedest to put in good performances.

The Doctor (William Hartnell), Ian (William Russell), Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Susan (Carole Ann Ford) end up captured, tied up and dump in the Cave of Skulls.

I should stop here for a moment and make some comments about the cast. Firstly Hartnell's portrayal of the Doctor is very different to The Doctor that we have come to know and love. This is a colder and darker Doctor. He kidnaps Ian and Barbara to protect Susan. He sulks when Ian takes control of events. Notoriously he looks like he's about to pick up a rock and kill Za when the opportunity to escape is slipping from their grasp thanks to Barbara's decision to go help the wounded caveman. Ian stops him. The Doctor is shifty, angry and alien. More alien than The Doctor will ever be again really. I like Hartnell's performance but I can see why it is a bit of a culture shock to people coming to him from New Doctor Who. This isn't a cuddly avuncular Doctor. This is a strange time-traveler with his baffling machine that is bigger on the inside.

Ian clashes most with the Doctor. He's most in denial initial when they stumble into the TARDIS, perhaps because it basically takes his science teaching and laughs in his face. If the TARDIS is real then Ian's whole world view is about to take a big kicking. He's still in denial until they step outside onto an alien world.** It is Ian that makes fire. It is Ian that tells Za that 'the whole tribe is stronger than Kal.' and perhaps introduces an element of communism into the previously individualistic caveman world. Indeed this whole story is a left-wing parable about sharing power, after all in Ian's tribe the firemaker is the least important member of the tribe because 'everyone knows how to make fire.'

Barbara seems to take things in her stride initially but is gradually pushed over the edge by events and then comes out of  the other side but even allowing for her propensity to falling over in this story - she does it twice*** - there's a moral strength to Barbara that in this story particularly makes her the conscience of the TARDIS team. It is Barbara that decides to ruin their escape plan and help the injured Za.

Both William Russell and Jacqueline Hill put in fine performances and I'm always disappointed that Barbara and Ian don't feature higher up on lists of favourite companions. They're a great team.

Carole Ann Ford's Susan is the character that gets the weirdest jump between the first episode and the following three. She's strange, quiet and still in the first episode and then turns into a flapping child when the Doctor disappears at the beginning of the second episode. But it is Susan who comes up with the idea of the flaming skulls. Everyone in the team gets to contribute.

So these first four episodes are one fantastic piece of television followed by three pretty good ones. It's a fine story this - even if it is an artificial divide as the end of the fourth episode leads us straight into the Daleks without a break.

It's well-directed by Waris Hussein. It's surprisingly violent, including a long fight sequence that ends rather horribly even if we don't get to see the final killing blow.

The other thing to note is there is real suspense here. No one knows - at this point - whether everyone will survive. There's a real sense of fear. And everyone ends up dirty and sweaty. It feels surprisingly real. Yes, running around pre-historic forests is a dirty old business. It's not always going to seem like that in the future of the programme. For now though his is real, dirty and dark.

Thoroughly recommended. All four episodes.

*Yes, I know. But if I can't make pretentious comparisons in my own blog where can I.

**Generally this is assumed to be pre-historic Earth but there's no official confirmation that it is at any point. This could be pre-history on any planet with a single sun. Maybe it is Mondas.

***Interest to note that her second fall - whilst there fleeing the cavemen - the Doctor runs right past her. It's Ian that picks her up. More evidence of the Doctor's less than Doctor-ish nature here.