January 7: "The Brink of Disaster" / "The Roof of the World"

(The Edge of Destruction episode 2 & Marco Polo episode 1)

"We have ten minutes to survive." ("The Brink of
Disaster") ©BBC
And so all the paranoia and danger was because of...a stuck button.  Not exactly the most thrilling revelation ever, is it? You can see what David Whitaker was going for, trying to subvert expectations and all, but still: a stuck button?

All right, so Whitaker might not have the most satisfying plot going, but to his credit, his characterization is very good.  He refashions their relationships under our nose, almost without our noticing.  By forcing the Doctor to have it out with the two schoolteachers, Whitaker makes them reevaluate each other's positions: the schoolteachers are going to have to rely on the Doctor, and he is going to have to trust them.  If they had stopped and worked together instead of giving in to fear and paranoia, they might have solved things more quickly.  And it's a nice touch how Barbara won't easily accept the Doctor's apology: he has to go and sweet-talk her to prove that he's sincere before she gives in.

But that's not the only relationship Whitaker has refashioned: he's also cannily changed the Doctor's relationship with the TARDIS.  Before the TARDIS was a machine, a fantastical machine that could take them anywhere, but still a machine.  But now there's a suggestion that the TARDIS may be alive in some way; the Doctor dismisses the notion, but the clues left by the TARDIS (which presumably include the way it's affecting the crew, given how out of character they were last episode) seem to suggest otherwise.  Obviously this notion will culminate 47 years later with "The Doctor's Wife", but the first hint starts here.

Next up is "The Roof of the World", the first episode of Marco Polo and, alas, the first of Doctor Who's missing episodes.  Fortunately off-air soundtracks exist for every episode, so I'll be listening to those while squinting at the telesnaps3 (as published in Doctor Who Magazine: The Missing Episodes - The First Doctor) for the next seven episodes.

Obviously we can't actually see how it looked, but given Waris Hussein's work on An Unearthly Child we can probably safely assume it was thoughtfully directed.  Certainly the telesnaps offer tantalizing glimpses of what it looked like: the waystation at Lop looks fairly lush in design, and the narration device of the map also looks wonderful -- you can't tell from what we've got here, but it seems like the sort of thing that would have an animated line showing the journey of Polo's caravan.

It's an interesting episode in terms of the script as well: it looks like it will be fraught with danger, but at just about every step this expectation is thwarted: the large footprint is really a man's footprint which has melted a bit; the travelers are in danger of freezing to death on the mountain, but they encounter people; it looks like they're going to be killed by said people, but Marco Polo intervenes...as an episode it looks like "The Roof of the World" will be full of action, but it's actually quite sedate.  We're meant to distrust the warlord Tegana, but his motivation appears to be that he believes that the Doctor and his friends are evil spirits.  But not only that, but Marco Polo has also denied them access to the TARDIS (leading to a very curious yet entertaining outburst of laughter from the Doctor) -- so it looks like even their potential allies are working against them.

3 People didn't have the ability to show people film copies of their television work back then, so if they wanted to keep a record of it they'd hire a man named John Cura, who would take photographs of the show as it was broadcast.  These photographs, called "telesnaps", are for many episodes of Doctor Who the only visual representation remaining.