blogger_who (blogger_who) wrote,

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.
Tags: audio drama, brian hayles, crusade, dark planet, deadly assassin, doctor who, first doctor, ian chesterton, lost stories, matt fitton, maureen o'brien, remembrance of the daleks, romans, season 2, three doctors, vicki pallister, web planet, william russell

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