October 21st, 2013


Doctor Who: The Lost Stories 4.01 - The Dark Planet

Rewritten from material that I originally posted 10/5/13 on another forum:

Blurb: Somewhere far back in the early days of the universe the TARDIS lands on a world lit by a dying sun. Missing from the Doctor's star maps and dotted with strange crystalline statues, it is a world ripe for exploration. But it is also a world of destruction.

Venturing out onto its surface, the time travellers find themselves drawn into an age-old conflict between the two species residing on the planet - people of Light and Shadow. Proving a catalyst for the escalation of the conflict, the Doctor and his friends need either to create a peace or to pick a side.

Because in times of war, nothing is ever black and white.

Format: Limited-cast audio drama with narration. Adapted from an unmade television script. Published by Big Finish Productions and released September 2013.

Setting: The planet Numir. Time: unkonwn, but the Doctor says that it is towards the beginning of the universe.

Continuity: This story is set between The Web Planet and The Crusade. Vicki refers to their stay in the Villa in Rome (see The Romans). There are very few links to other stories, but the Doctor does mention that his people are stellar engineers (see The Three Doctors, The Deadly Assassin, and Remembrance of the Daleks).

Canonicity Quotient: This story almost slots effortlessly into the Hartnell era as we know it, but there is a minor problem. In the Crusade Barbara begins telling Saladin of her adventures and says that they'd come from a world peopled by insects, clearly referencing The Web Planet. If this story happened afterwards then why wouldn't she mention it? This nit is minor as its quite possible that there is another adventure with a world full of insects at some point after this story, but it still means that if you listen to this and then immediately watch the Crusade that it will jar a little so this gets docked a few points. 0.98

Discussion: This was a story I was really looking forward to having always been a fan of Brian Hayles' writing and looking forward to the pairing of William Russell and Maureen O'Brien, something that had not yet happened in either the Companion Chronicles or Lost Stories ranges. Indeed it seemed strange to me that season 2 was so neglected. While O'Brien hadn't done many CC's up to this point, the two that she had done were both season 2B stories with Steven and William Russell had done many CC's but all of his except for one, the excellent story The Rocket Men, were set in season 1. Then after Masters of Luxor was so strong I had high hopes that this one might top it, but it was not to be as simple as that.

To me this seems like a story that almost always had to be made on audio to achieve its potential. The concepts of what was required visually come through strong but even though they would have done their best, I can't imagine Lime Grove Studio D being up to the task and this story would have been very difficult for them to achieve on television. So I'm glad that with the magic of audio this story was able to be adapted to a medium that would allow this world to be fully fleshed out. I did however have a very difficult time imagining the Planet's Surface as looking like anything other than that of the Web Planet.

One of the things that came across strong from The Dark Planet was how well plotted it was. I am not sure how extensive Hayles' proposal was and I think it's a testament to Matt Fitton's work at adapting the story that it is very difficult for me to tell what ideas are his and what ideas are Hayles. While I was listening to the story I was even wondering if a draft script had been available, since this had such strong elements of other Hayles stories such as The Ice Warriors included in it. I really like how the science elements came to the forefront in this story. We had a simple explanation of photography, some discussion of crystallization, and even a little basic stellar science. The Doctor's talk about his people having been stellar engineers did throw me for a loop as at this point I didn't realize this had just been written from an outline and therefore thought that Hayles had made this prediction years before The Deadly Assassin or even The Three Doctors. Now that I know the truth, it's just Fitton making a very fitting connection between the events in the story and what we now know about the Doctor but it's great that it actually fits perfectly into the existing story.

Another great aspect of this story was how well it discussed the futility of entrenched bias and the conflict that it engenders. I know that many have compared this to the Cold War but I see stronger parallels in places like Northern Ireland or Palestine where you have hundreds of years of entrenched hatred between two groups who can't even conceive of a diplomatic resolution to their struggles so they never make the effort. The sheer tragedy of the Doctor's efforts to have them see reason becomes its most stark when he finally has the leaders of the two sides together and they are finally speaking and only then when the equivalent of suicide bombers ruin everything that you realize that it was never possible to heal the breach. I feel like the idea of not being able to change history even when you're in space was very fitting for the era and every once in a while I like a downbeat ending because having the Doctor always save the day gets boring after a while, so I definitely appreciated that here.

The other thing that I really liked was how evenly the two sides were written. I fully expected one side to be good and the other evil. This being Doctor Who I even thought that the twist would end up being that the Light side were the villains and the Shadows were actually the good guys. The fact that both groups had their virtues and that both groups had their vices was a really good way to showcase not only their differences but how they could have potentially helped each other and to show that that things wouldn't be as simple as a fight against the oppressors.

As always, William Russell was on top form. Unfortunately time seems to be wearing away on him. I've listened to all his CC's and Lost Stories in the span of six months and this is the first story where it seemed to me that he seemed strained and tired. I hope it was just something specific to the recording of this story since I would love to hear more Ian stories for decades to come but even William Russell slightly flagging puts in a fantastic performance. Maureen O'Brien does a fantastic job of recalling Vicki. It helps that her voice is still fairly close to that of her 19-year-old self so all that she has to do is pitch it a little higher and she's back. It feels like the years just melt away. I also felt like the guest stars were really good this time and that John Banks turned in a great performance as both the leaders of the light and darkness.

There were also some things that I didn't like about the story. My main issue with the plot was with the Shadows' ability to pass through the TARDIS doors. The Doctor explains at one point that the Shadows have converted themselves into energy just as the Light have. They have just converted themselves into a form of energy that is dark to the spectrum that we visualize. I cannot recall a time when any energy being that can pass through solid matter has been able to do the same to the TARDIS and while such a rule had not yet been made in Season 2, I do think that when adapting the story some other way should have been found for the Shadows to get into the ship, perhaps sneaking in under clothing as they later do to get into the city.

It seems that for a world whose science has declared that there is no life other than their own that they easily accept the presence of the Doctor and his party as visitors but also do not then question their own preconceptions about life beyond their own world. That line when given seemed tacked on to show how fanatical some of the Light were but someone that fanatical would be far more likely to destroy anything that doesn't fit their world view rather than befriending Vicki and then just refusing to acknowledge that there's life elsewhere.

Vicki was really woefully under-utilized in this story. One of the reasons why I thought this must have been based on a draft script is that I figured that Hayles probably hadn't seen many Vicki stories when he read this so she takes on the role of "Generic Teenage Companion B" rather than the spunky Vicki who leads revolutions. Now that I know that this was an adaptation of an outline it seems rather strange to me that Vicki just basically follows someone around for 5 episodes and other than whining about her eyes or saying "hey suicide bombing your sun isn't cool, kids" she doesn't really do anything. It seemed a very passive role for a dynamic character and I felt it was a real waste of O'Brien even though she does give it her all.

I'll also say that my praise for the voice acting does not extend to O'Brien's performance of Barbara. Carol Anne Ford's rendition of the older character makes you feel as if Jacqueline Hill is part of the production. O'Brien just reads Barbara in her normal older-self voice and because her regular voice sounds just a small bit lower than her tone as Vicki I found that at some points i had to really concentrate to tell if Vicki or Barbara was saying something. They just sound to much alike. Having also listened to O'Brien doing Upstairs just a few days later I know that she has the ability to do voices so I'm beginning to wonder if Hill's just for some reason alludes her or if she hasn't tried to watch any of their stories together to get a good impression down.

I loved the sound design that utilized a lot of music lifted directly from 60's Who stories. There was also a smattering of other tunes that we've heard before such as the bombastic drum beating from Fear of the Daleks which at least here was used to a little more effect. My only criticism here is that there didn't appear to be anything new. It was just a stitched together soundtrack of music done for previous stories. While the music was good I would have liked something that I couldn't place on other audios I've heard in the last 6 months.

The ending seemed inappropriate to say the least, a bit like the ending of The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance. Trying to grasp a happy ending out of the tragedy that had just occurred was perhaps noble but I don't buy that the fact that some fragment or echo of these creatures still exists is really all that much of a cause for celebration after their mutual xenophobia had just brought about their destruction. Having the ship get away as the planet blew up i think would have been far more in keeping with the Hartnell era with some sad looks around the console as the Doctor busied himself with the controls. To me that ending would have helped to convey the tragedy of what was witnessed and I for one like tragic endings from time-to-time.

I agree with many others about the pacing of the story being far to slow. Since this was just an outline rather than a script I don't think that it would have been a bad idea to pair this down to 4 episodes. Changes like that were common in those days and even if this story had been accepted, Dennis Spooner may have asked Hayles to pair it down. While the 6 episode format does allow for a certain symmetry with The Web Planet, I don't think that in itself was a good enough reason to drag out the story for this length.

I also agree with others that the lack of extras was really palpable this time. Even if interview extras were not available the previous Lost Stories with the first two doctors have included large inserts detailing the adaptation process. This one had a quick blurb from Fitton and nothing else. I really would have liked to know how much material he had to deal with and it seems to me 3 CD's there probably was room somewhere for an interview even if it was just with the writer and director. I'd have really liked to have learned more about the process in creating this.

One thing that I haven't seen in other reviews of this story, which I want to note is how in many ways it seemed to echo The Ice Warriors. There's a remote city of high technology somewhere with creatures who appear primitive but are just as advanced coming out of the Earth and besieging it. Neither side is completely virtuous or completely evil and both have plans to wipe out the other group. I just really like to point this out because to me its a really nice touch that Hayles' ideas were eventually able to make it onto the screen even if they changed their presentation slightly.

At the end of the day there was a lot that I liked about this story and a lot that I didn't like about the story. I gave it a 6/10 because I feel like what I liked was stronger than what I didn't like. I hope that with the Lost Stories being 4 parters and with original stories to present that we'll get a much stronger showing next time so that Russell and O'Brien are really able to show their full potential in a brilliant story.

Final Rating: 6/10

Recomendation: Audio's answer to The Web Planet. The story is padded but the concepts are interesting and the performances are good. I can't think of a better way to describe the way that the Hartnell stories are remembered, even if I don't necessarily agree with that statement. There's a lot going on here if you want to scratch the surface, but sadly I think that the slow pace is going to be a major turnoff for most people. I suggest skipping this unless you're a fan of the earliest days of Who or unless you're a big fan of the previous Hartnell lost stories.

Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles 6.02 - The Rocket Men

Rewritten from material that I originally posted 5/13/13 on another forum:

Blurb: The TARDIS has landed on Platform Five, a floating city in the sky of the planet Jobis, and for a time the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki get the chance to enjoy this idyllic place.

And then the Rocket Men arrive, led by the sadistic Ashman.

When the only other option to certain death is suicide, Ian Chesterton takes the gamble of his life…

Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Ian. Published by Big Finish Productions and released August 2011.

Setting: The Planet Jobis, somewhere in the 23rd century (2259)?

Continuity: This story is set between The Web Planet and the Crusade. There's no indication of when this occurs in relation to The Dark Planet. As a personal aesthetic I prefer for this to be as late in Ian and Barbara's relationship as possible but if someone wants to set The Dark Planet after this story that would fit as well. Ian mentions their recent journey to Rome (see The Romans).

Canonicity Quotient: This is another rare thing. It's a story that slots almost effortlessly into its gap without any serious problems. There are some issues with placing two stories here only because Barbara chooses to tell Saladin about The Web Planet when painting her group as traveling story tellers. If both this story and The Dark Planet were more recent adventures then why wouldn't she choose to tell those stories? I consider this to be a minor issue but it does need to be addressed. 0.98

Discussion: I only have one question after listening to this one. Rocket Men - A great story or the greatest story?

Wow, I didn't think that a Companion Chronicle narrated by William Russell would get better than Transit of Venus but Rocket Men proved me wrong. I must admit that I'm a sucker for Ian and Barbara and this story did such a great job of talking about their relationship and moving it forward in such a way that it didn't contradict the TV series. I'm very glad that John Dorney utilized the second season to do this story. There's not much you can do with Ian and Barbara's relationship in the first season. It isn't really until the post-Romans period where you can do more than just have glances and things but here so close to the Chase we can finally have some developments in their relationship and not really make it seem like it jars with what we see from them after this in the TV stories.

The second season of course is more problematic than the first for missing stories. The only real gap is the one between The Web Planet and the Crusades but it comes difficult to establish why if numerous stories appear in this gap why Barbara doesn't reference those when convincing Saladin not to kill her. The other problem with season 2 is Vicki. I cannot stand Vicki. She acts like she's 5 but looks like she's 20. I've seen some of the novels say that she's 14 and if that's what they're going for then I begin to understand her character even if she still acts far younger than that age but since she looks like 18-20 I always assumed she was much older and wondered why she always acted so childish. Here we're thankfully only subjected to one scene of this when she and Ian are observing the planet in the glass bottom ship but thankfully this story is mostly about Ian, Barbara, and the Doctor and that is just fine with me.

That brings me to another point. Let me just say that its so surprising in a story that's all about Ian and Barbara's relationship and told entirely from Ian's point of view that the Doctor just shines in this story. In fact, it's one of the best first Doctor tales as well. The fact that its a later story allows Hartnell to be at his most charming. His false modesty and charm are at their highest here. The conceit of the Doctor being the only thorn in the Rocket Men's side is fantastic. Yet even though there's an invasion going on it isn't an invasion story. It's all about one very personal event for Ian and Barbara. Somehow within all this the Doctor gets to be as great as he ever is and stay completely in the sidelines and it's just amazing.

I like the non-linear nature of the story. Really its only there to set up the cliffhanger but that cliffhanger is amazingly brilliant because you're not given all the facts yet so the entire sequence that you just heard reorients itself in your mind just as soon as you're given the vital piece of information. It's something that could have never worked on TV and as long as it's done sparingly in the audios I am all for giving me that level of surprise.

I love the rocket men idea of this story. I don't agree with Dorney that this would have ever been tried on the TV series. It seems like a very "American" concept for lack of a better term and I'm an American. Still, I'm a big fan of that retro-futuristic style and the location of Jobis station is fascinating to me. I like the idea of a protected park on a gas giant populated with diamond insects and flying manta rays. The part of the story when the manta ray becomes important is great because you realize that they weren't just mentioned as part of the backdrop. It just feels like it's "right" and fitting when it happens.

The only minor nit that I have is why the story of Ian saving Barbara is in 2nd person. The other sections clearly show that Ian is narrating this story to someone else after these events, yet we switch to second person and it jars and pulls you out of the narrative. Who is he talking to as the events are transpiring? It doesn't make sense but other than that this one is perfect. This is my new favorite audio.

Final Rating: 10/10

Recommendation:: A beautiful tale that may bring a tear to your eye as you discover Ian's feelings for Barbara with him and its done in such a way that even if you already knew he was head over heels for her that you understand why he hasn't consciously realized it yet. The cliffhanger is utterly brilliant and the writing for each of the regulars are as good as it has ever been. This story is VERY highly recommended.