Friday, March 27, 2009

B1 - The Dead Planet

And so, leading directly on from the last episode of the previous serial (a neat little touch that was common throughout most of the Hartnell era), we find ourselves on the first alien planet in the show's history in only it's second story (it would take the revived series a good deal longer to venture outside of Earth's gravitational pull).

It's a creepy little episode that features only the four regular cast members. It's also Terry Nation's first script for the series, and several of his hallmarks are on full display here. Like several scripts to come, we see features of the TARDIS that we would seldom or never see again (the fault locator, the food machine) that are there to a) show off the features of the Ship; and/or b) fill time. We also have that old Nation standby where the crew gets split up, and a shock revelation of a monster at the end of Episode 1.

The main plot of The Dead Planet seems to be to introduce the MacGuffin fluid link, a vital component of the TARDIS that The Doctor apparently sabotages to trick the others to go and explore the Dalek city with him. The whole episode sort of plods along until the TARDIS crew finally make it to the city. The design of the city is quite marvelous (both the model and the endless corridors), and director Christopher Barry's claustrophic camera angles heighten the tension as a lost Barbara frantically wanders about, looking for a way back to her friends.

The last shot of the episode is far and away the best cliffhanger in the show's history. Here's an interesting fact - a technical problem forced the production team to re-record this episode at a later date (not a cheap endeavour, especially considering the miniscule budget the show had to work with at the time). I'm so glad they had to. I'm sure that everything of the original recording was fantastic, but I can't imagine that last shot in any other way than it was presented. Tristram Cary's eccentric score jumps in at that moment with intensity, but what sells it is Jacqueline Hill's bloodcurdling scream as the screen fades to black. Never again would a POV shot of a plunger appear so terrifying!

Respect, Dame Jackie Hill.


James said...

So with its second story Doctor Who visits an alien planet and quite a good one at that. We have aliens made of metal and held together with internal magnetic fields attracting their prey, frozen forests and a vast alien city impressive for the budget available. This is ofcourse also the story that would make Terry Nation a household name. Its not only the planet we get to see though as we are also shown around the TARDIS far from feeling like filler I like these sequences in showing us the ship that the travellers are using and establishing that it is more than just the console room there. Its a shame that inventions like the food machine havent made more appearances. In an episode with only the main cast Ian and Barbara are showing realistic reactions to their new life with particularly good performances from unwilling traveller Barbara. The Doctor also continues to be the strange anti-hero faking problems with the ship to allow him to explore and continuing the more manipulative persona he had towards to begining of the show.

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