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Marco Polo and The Beast Below

April 14, 2010

Doctor WhoI’ve been listening to a number of old William Hartnell TV soundtracks in the car to and from the office this week, including two from the first ever season of Doctor Who, The Reign of Terror and Marco Polo. This is partly research for an upcoming project, but also partly just because they’re great and I haven’t heard them for a while. I love the way the BBC have added narration to these crackly old tapes, bringing them to life in a way that they were never really meant to be heard. I have a particular fondness for Marco Polo. I’ve never read this as a Target novelization, so this CD is my only experience of the story. I wonder if it was restored to us now as a TV episode I’d enjoy it as much? I’m not sure the grainy old black & white pictures could live up to the majestic, colourful images the soundtrack manages to conjure up in my mind every time I listen to it.

What strikes me most about listening to these old stories again, however, is the pacing. These days, Doctor Who is all about frenetic running about (or at least it has been for the last few years – The Beast Below seemed significantly more calm and considered than other recent outings) and getting the story told in 45 minutes with lots of action and peril and shouting. But back in the early days they took their time.  Sometimes, though, it could take them an age to tell a story. At times, especially during The Reign of Terror, I found myself wishing for everything to hurry up a bit. Not so much with Marco Polo, which seems to me to have a lot more going on, even though a great amount of time is spent on a long and arduous journey through the Gobi desert.

It’s interesting to be watching the debut of the Eleventh Doctor on TV (which I’m loving) and at the same time going right back to the roots of Doctor Who. You can see the core of it, the things that make it Doctor Who, are all still there, like a seam running through the entire history of the show. But you can see the differences too. Has the world really sped up that much?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. PJG permalink
    April 21, 2010 4:07 pm

    Its interesting to note the differences between the two eras in the shows history and how it has impacted on the way the stories are told. One obvious example is at the poor end of the scale. The very worst of old Who, beyond the stab your eyes out crap in the mid-80s, was when the longer stories went too far and tipped over into mind numbing tedium, such as the Mutants or the Space Pirates. Now it’s when things are too frothy and rushed in the quicker format, like the insubstiantial nonsense in the Long Game.

    I think its safe to say that tastes have changed over the years hence the alteration in formats, which part of me does regret. Sorry to sound like a grandad, but you wont get classics like Inferno or the Silurians again. But then the new series still delivers a punch and looking at the ratings the current style is clearly what the public want.

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