Sunday, 13 March 2011
Night Thoughts written by Edward Young and directed by Gary Russell
What’s it about: I warn you, things could get very nasty here before they get better.'A remote Scottish mansion. Five bickering academics are haunted by ghosts from their past. Reluctantly they offer shelter to the Doctor and his companions Ace and Hex. Hex, already troubled by a vivid nightmare, is further disturbed by the nighttime appearance of a whistling, hooded apparition. Ace tries to befriend the young housemaid, Sue. Sue knows secrets. She knows why the academics have assembled here, and she knows why they are all so afraid. But Sue's lips are sealed, preferring to communicate through her disturbing toy, Happy the Rabbit. And then the killing begins. Gruesome deaths that lead the Doctor and his friends to discover the grisly truth behind the academics' plans, and as the ghosts of the past become ghosts of the present to recognise that sometimes death can be preferable to life.
The Real McCoy: After the trippy Dreamtime and the unconventional Live 34 it is rather nice to have a down to Earth, could have season 27 story for the seventh Doctor. He walks from the TARDIS in one of his sullen, weight of the universe bearing down on him moods talking about pain and a taste of death. There is the feeling at times of the Doctor being moody because that is how he is characterised these days rather than a natural response to the situation – especially when he starts talking in metaphor and phrases for no ripe or reason. The Doctor’s story about the bear is both funny and chilling and showcases McCoy at his showman best. He likes to experience and observe and yet he’s found the more things change the more they stay the same. His attempts to intimidate the Bursar by repeating her name umpteen times in a sentence are woefully inadequate. He is angry that his expertise is used to create a monster through time. The Doctor, a messenger from the future – he interrupts the euthanasia of Edie and tells them that they have to kill her. It’s quite a shocking moment, he’s happy to kill a perfectly healthy young girl to save the lives of more ten years in the future. He couldn’t bring himself to kill a living being but you think (and believe) that he does have the morality and capability and I wouldn’t believe that of anybody else. No matter what people have done do not wish them dead, they are not vigilantes.
Oh Wicked: This is once again a step in the right direction for Ace and the sort of material that Sophie Aldred can bring alive with dignity. She is written as an adult protecting Hex rather a troubled teen with confused feelings and as such Ace is far more likable and better, believable. My two (minor) complaints would be that she never says ‘What’s up Doc?’ ever again and she doesn’t introduce herself as ‘I’m Ace McShane and these are my partners in crime, Hex and the Doctor’ which makes them sound like they are auditioning for a fresh version of The A-Team! Ace loves the smell of old wood. She remembers her mother sobbing for days when her Gran (Kathleen) died. Over the years with the Doctor she has experienced a lot of things that have pushed her to the limit but seeing the body in the river really unnerves her. No one frightens her Hex and gets away with it! I really liked how Ace showed no fear when shoved in the same dangerous situation as Hex, the lights are out and somebody with rasping breathing is trying to frighten her and she is all mouth. It really differentiates how experienced the two of them are at this lark. Ace is surprisingly good with children and manages to relate to Sue. Ace is caught in the bear trap that hasn’t trapped her but one false move will leave her paralysed – what an awful situation to find yourself in!
Sexy Scouse: Finally a story featuring Hex that isn’t a dreamscape or where he is shoved to the sidelines for two episodes! In this sort of creepy, under the skin environment you could really see that had this been transmitted in season 27 Hex would have been a real asset to the series. He’s the everyman and I don’t mean that in a derogatory fashion, Philip Olivier plays the part as somebody who has literally stepped from their life today into this mad adventures and it is very easy to empathise with him. Sue’s stuffed toy scares the shit out of him. His midnight snack scares are so good because his panic feels so urgent, so real. Hex admits that Major Dickens managed to frighten him, appalled. He never knew his mum but he was lucky, his Gran brought him up though he thought until he was six that she was his mum. Hex very sweetly hugs Sue when she breaks down and admits she has never been loved. I love Hex trying to creep out the Dickens, reminding him that somebody has been killing them off one by one…
Standout Performance: Ann Beach gives a very strong performance as the Deacon even though she is dispatched in episode two. Her discovery of their secret is played for real Beach makes the approach of the creature a heart stopping moment.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Mother dead! Father dead! They think you’re sisters drowned…’
Great Ideas: ‘Join serious minded scientists for uninterrupted study over Christmas…’ Ace finds a body lying beneath the surface of the lake and Hex has a dream about a makeshift surgery on a stuffed rabbit. When they arrive they discover Sue and her toy rabbit that looks sad, as though it is holding a secret. The Deacons murder is made to look like a suicide. Edie died and her mother gave her life to the lake, Sue believes the voice on the tape recorder is her mother. The Bursar is the famed scientist JJ Bartholomew, working on time travel. Ace’s voice travel backwards in time? A modern form of mummification – taxidermy? Ten years ago, four noted academics assembled to demonstrate their scientific findings; the Bursar, Major Dickens, Hartley and the Deacon. The event was interrupted by the arrival of Maud and her two daughters seeking shelter from a storm but Eedie became blind from Gravanax poisoning. They euthanised her as an act of human kindness. They buried Edie’s body in secret. After Maud committed suicide they threw her body in the water and hoped they never heard about her again. They always worked under the assumption that Ruth, the other daughter, died with her mother. Sue’s real name is Ruth O’Neil – Edie’s sister and Hartley is her father. Turns out Edie only had an eye infection and they want to use the Bartholomew machine to send a message back in time and stop their mistaken euthanasia. The Bursar tried to escape but was caught in one of the bear traps; she has been a prisoner for ten years. Edie’s body has been embalmed and once they send the message back through time it comes to life. Two timelines, one with Edie alive and one with it dead. Dickens wants to see this through so he can supply the equipment to the military – they will be able to change any event, bringing anybody back to life. Dickens killed Edie because they needed a death for the experiment – he misdiagnosed her on purpose and gave her the killing jab. The body of Edie embalmed inside the bear – that’s what’s been killing everybody! The Doctor forces them to gas Edie so the creature won’t come to life in the future, he overwrites history his way.
Audio Landscape: Heart monitor, owls hooting, Ace falling in the lake, crackling fire, pouring drink, bath running, stair lift, Ace splashing about in the bath, pouring tea, heavy breathing in the darkness, the recording of the Doctor, whistling, washing up, grandfather clock, foxes screaming in the night, trees swaying, whistling wind, dragging stone and cracking it in two.
Musical Cues: There’s a sinister piano that tinkles throughout and some pretty dramatic stings during the attacks. There’s a creepy version of ‘Oranges and Lemons’ when the bear attacks.
Isn’t it Odd: Sometimes Young’s lack of experience at writing for audio comes to the fore, especially in scenes such as Ace recalling the body in the lake which sounds awfully like clunky exposition rather than natural dialogue. Lizzy Hopley’s stuffed rabbit voice verges from sinister to comical from scene to scene. The bear trap cliffhanger is there just because; it has no other purpose but to take a pause for the next episode. Why didn’t they dramaticise the death of Edie and her mother – imagine how scary that would have been watching them dealing with the bodies? The Doctor, Ace and Hex talk about what might have happened throughout the story – who was going around in the hoodie, who jabbed Ace and the story ends with a scene of Sue’s toy rabbit murdering Dickens and removing his eyes – I would have a liked a bit more cohesion. Its all ifs and buts and maybes, because the time travel device any number of possibilities are true. This temporal jiggery pokery hampers what is actually a very creepy story.
Standout Moment: The Bursar reading her own suicide note from ten years in the future is a great moment, emotional and clever.
Result: Night Thoughts is one or two drafts away from being a very good story. I love stories that show the consequences of terrible acts in the past and Edward Young devises a suitably nasty tale of deliberate euthanasia and suicide haunting a number of scientists for over a decade. Gary Russell provides some fine atmospherics and if you listen to some scenes in the dark you will be scrabbling for the light switch. Also the Doctor, Ace and Hex are seen to work as an effective unit and all three get some nice material. So what goes wrong? The scripting is occasionally stilted with far too much descriptive dialogue and the story offers as many questions as it does answers and fails to give a definitive conclusion and explanation to the story we have listened to. This feels like a genuine Cartmel script edited season 27 story; atmospheric, contemporary, even horrific but with some serious structural and scripting problems. A flawed excursion into real life horrors but with plenty to enjoy all the same: 7/10
Buy it here from Big Finish: http://www.bigfinish.com/79-Doctor-Who-Night-Thoughts