Thursday, May 13, 2010

7A1 - The Trial of a Time Lord 1

After 18 long and tortuous months away from UK screens, Doctor Who returns feeling, tonally, much closer to its roots, but also looks up to date and totally a part of the age in which it was made. 1986 was a time of bright pastels and increasing gaudiness, and certain elements of Episode 1 of The Trial of a Time Lord bear witness to that. All the location scenes are now shot on bright, clean videotape, which only accentuate the shocking colours worn by the members of the cast. At least Nicola Bryant has decided to cover up in the intervening months (whereas it's obvious that Colin Baker decided to spend his time off by sampling the various culinary delights that have passed him by during the usual hectic Doctor Who recording schedule).

Before pastels and videotape, though, we are treated to what is and shall always be the most jaw droppingly awesome special effects sequence ever seen in Doctor Who. The opening shot of the Time Lord space station was stunning to see in 1986, and it still looks impressive today. The first few seconds of the shot are spectacular enough on their own. The station looks HUGE. Not just a small model shot in extreme closeup, but a full on, massive recreation of a space station. The lighting is perfect and the camera creeps up to the station (which also, thanks to the perils of CSO, never used to happen in the olden days), but then THE CAMERA MOVES. That first camera swoop makes my heart skip a beat every time. The second, long turn towards the back of the station leaves me breathless. Then, just to reassure you that, yes, you are actually watching Doctor Who, a bright white beam shoots up from the station to engulf the object most familiar with us all - the TARDIS - and sucks it down into the station.

The sequence stands the test of time because it not only predates complex CG by a good decade, but because it was such a comparative leap forward for Doctor Who. The most impressive visual effects on today's Doctor Who have their impact muted because the viewer has come to expect, and usually receive, dazzling computer generated visuals. In 1986, the hopes and dreams of many a Doctor Who fan were raised to an incomparably high level by that opening sequence.

Detractors of this season often lament that, yes, after the admittedly wicked effects sequence, the very next shot is of a standard overlit set in a BBC studio. Whatever. The space station sequence did what it was supposed to do - make fans and casual viewers alike stand up and take notice that Doctor Who was back. Judging by the viewing figures, sadly, it seems that not as many people took heed of that statement as the those who love the show would have hoped...