Friday, 14 February 2014

Dark Eyes II Part Two: The White Room written by Alan Barnes and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What's it about: Molly O'Sullivan is still trying to help people, but now she is back in London, staying in Baker Street. But there are dangerous forces abroad. Where are the young deserters disappearing to? Who are the Huntsmen? And what is really going on at the Blackwell Convalescent Home? Perhaps the mysterious 'Surgeon General' has the answers. To find out, the Doctor must tackle an old and baffling enemy.

Battle Scarred: The Doctor know where all the hidden passages are and takes great delight in showing Molly where he has secreted his TARDIS. That might be the most unintentionally suggestive sentence I have ever written. This is one instance when the Doctor simply arriving in a particular time and place is the catalyst to everything that follows. He has lighted the blue touch paper before even stepping out of the TARDIS. Shaun's virus is activated by temporal energy, just a trace of residual artron energy in the house after the TARDIS materialised was enough to cause the virus to activate. When he travelled in the TARDIS, surrounded by artron energy, the virus blossomed and bloomed. The first Dark Eyes box set had a particular goal in mind with the eighth Doctor, rehabilitating him after the loss of so many friends and showing that there is still a fight out there that is worth being involved in. The second set seems to have put him on the back burner for the first two instalments, giving the meat of the stories to Liv Chenka and Molly O'Brien. He's active in both stories but mainly on the periphery, running about and trying to help and turning up somewhere near the end to explain what has been going on. But in both The Traitor and The White Room the real eyes that we are seeing the stories through are Liv and Molly. Fortunately in both cases both the characters (although Liv needs a little work make her less like a Dalek Empire throwback) and the actresses are more than up to the task.

Dark Eyes: Molly didn't come to London to seek her fortune, she is working in a hospital in the capital city. Molly's dark eyes look as though they are going to be a big part of the plot of this box set again (they could have just re-introduced the character and used the name as her nickname). For a moment she is pleased to see the Doctor but itself long before the full force of her Irish wrath is upon him, as he exposes her cousin as a murderer and his re-appearance in her life co-incides with the retrogenic particles in her eyes reactivating. They writers could have bowed down to critical opinion and failed to use the term 'tardy box' at all but that wouldn't have been in character. I rather liked the little affectation (but then I am quite strange) and it isn't overused in The White Room. In an emergency she calls him 'my Doctor', suggesting the affection that she really has for him. When she thinks she has died, Molly prays for her soul. Molly informs the Doctor that she hasn't been waiting around for him to show up in her life again. She has a vocation, a calling. Why on Earth would she want to pass the time of day with an unshaven itinerant like him? She's not a fool for wanting to use the only skills that God deemed to hand her, as an able nurse.

Standout Performance: Ruth Bradley is such a presence as Molly it is a shame that she was written out of one of the instalments of this set. Some of Molly's more fiery characteristics have been toned down (I always liked her temper but there were times when she could almost reach Tegan proportions of grumpiness) and she is much more savvy about futuristic technology and alien races since her travels with the Doctor. She's much more rounded now and she was a pretty nicely formed character to start off with. I would quite like some standalone main range adventures with the eighth Doctor and Molly because Paul McGann and Ruth Bradley clearly get on like a house on fire and that really translates in these stories. However with Dark Eyes III and IV on the horizon it looks like this pair are destined to star in galaxy spanning epics for the time being.

Great Ideas: Tommy, Molly's cousin, started executing people back in Dublin two Easters back. He seems to be included simply to open up the story on a dramatic stand off but it does add a little colour to Molly's back story (giving her some family). How can a window break twice unless time is changing, moving backwards and the same events playing over and over again. As long as they hold onto Shaun they can continue to leap backwards in tie with him. This is all very intriguing, Sapphire and Steel style material, even if it is promptly forgotten for ten minutes in favour of more running around. I was always rather fond of the Viyrans and I thought it was a shame that they were only used for a brief while at the tail end of Charlotte Pollard's time with the sixth Doctor. They are instantly recognisable thanks to some identifying sound effects, come with a great aural hook (stealing peoples voices) and their cold and clinical attitude towards their subjects made them quite a chilling race, not thinking twice about murdering if it would kill of a suspected disease. We didn't find out even half enough about them at the time and this is a great opportunity to fill in some of the gaps. The virus was brought here indirectly by the Viyrans. Many thousands of years from now will trace the strain of virus to this place and time. A containment breach will result in the Viyran becoming infected with this temporally active virus. Molly is immune to its effect and that is what piqued the curiosity of the Viyrans. An old plague well has been excavated, one which a house was built over and named after. The establishment is a plague farm, people being infected with all kinds of diseases, not just those known on Earth. Dr Goring is operating a bacteriological research facility, digging out the back well in search of the Black Death. Meanwhile thousands of years in the future, the Viyran contracted a virus which transported him back to 20th Century Earth. Having brought an alien disease into the past, he needed to inform his colleagues of his whenabouts. Everything it needed was in Goring's research facility. Using an outbreak of the temporal virus to paint a sign to 20th Century Earth for his fellow Viyrans to follow and extract him - depending on the loss of life involved in that crude attempt at a temporal flare gun, that is cold. A Viyran incendiary bomb creates a firestorm so wild that it will wipe out in any virus in its wake, another example of their emergency measures not accounting for human (or otherwise) life. The Doctor goes an puts his foot in it when he suggests that the virus might have passed from continent to them the idea of simply blowing up the world and having done with it. This whole story is stuck in a causal loop; the virus transports the Viyrans back to its point of origin at Blackwell only for the Viyrans remains to become the source of the virus in the future. That's rather neat. And gives the Doctor an excuse not to have to tidy things up, the clever sod. The idea that as soon as the TARDIS leaves all those infected with the virus will drop dead is a poignant one. Never before has moving on to another adventure been greeted with such an unpleasant aftertaste.

Audio Landscape: Gun cocking, horses on cobbles, people chatting on the streets, breaking glass, Molly and the Doctor listening to themselves looking for the TARDIS, knocking, a projector, crackling fire, ticking grandfather clock, birds twittering, the Cylon style humming lights of the Viyrans, the Doctor falling down a well, Molly fighting her restraints, footsteps, Viyrans blowing the crap out of each other, church bells fireworks...the end of the War.

Isn't it Odd: The White Room takes the exact opposite approach of The Traitor. Where the debut story went to pains to paint a picture of the setting at the expense of the narrative, this story leaps straight into action with barely any time or detail about where and when the Doctor is. If you had listened to the first box set you will have a general idea of the time that Molly comes from and be able to judge but if you haven't you will be completely in the dark as Alan Barnes starts the story running. This continues on into the first half of the story, the narrative hoping about from place to place and time to time not making a great deal of sense until the Viyrans/Dr Goring show up to explain what is going on. I can remember finding the individual elements of the first Dark Eyes set quite hard to differentiate when they seemed to be part of one enormous story broken down into chunks. If that was the case then why were they individually named rather than just ducking under the umbrella title of Dark Eyes? With the second set there is more of an attempt to give each story an individual identity (and the presence of three separate writers pushes that even further) since The White Room is different in just about every respect (tone, content, pace) to its predecessor in the set. And yet I think I am going to wind up having the same problem, because this story isn't a continuation of the previous one (one which ended on a cliff-hanger) and it has plot elements that aren't resolved here. It is clear that all the threads are going to come together in the last two parts to make one overarching storyline. It's the Trial of a Time Lord syndrome, wanting to tell both standalone tales and a bigger long running storyline, with the former suffering because all the important resolution will come at the climax of the set. The Viyran just happened to be thrown back to 20th Century Earth where a friend of the Doctor's who is immune to the virus happens to live? And he just happens to land the TARDIS in a time and place where the TARDIS will cause the activation of a time virus? And Dr Goring just happens to have a virus research facility set up to help the Viyran contact his people and continue his research? I believe in co-incidence and clearly Alan Barnes too because we wouldn't have a story without them. The Doctor mentions a list of things that still need wrapping up at the end of this story - just like the sixth Doctor did at the end of The Mysterious Planet. It is as frustrating to wait for the answers here as it was there.

Standout Scene: The end of the war should be a moment of triumph but Molly in on hand to remind the Doctor that he cannot run away from his responsibilities. At least this gives us a time and place at last, just as we depart the story.

Result: A jigsaw of a story and one which has some lovely constituent elements but fails to cohere into a complete picture. Quite a lot has to be known going into this story for it to even begin to make sense; especially about Molly, where she comes from and the whole situation with her dark eyes. That's before we even get to the actual plot of this beast of a tale which juggles an alien race known to regular followers of Big Finish, a mad scientist dabbling with viruses, an alien bacteria that plays havoc with time and a great big time bomb that threatens to wipe everybody away. It's messily plotted for sure because the opening 20 minutes seems to keep stacking more and more unwieldy elements on top of each other and it isn't until a lengthy wrap up close to the conclusion that it all ties together and begins to make any kind of sense. Once the explanations are in place it is quite an enjoyably conceived tale but you should never have to work to the point that it is a chore for something to start to cohere. It seems to come from a completely different box set to The Traitor and you could be forgiven for thinking that you have put in a disc from a completely different release. How all these tales will come together is a mystery. Complaints over, what about what works in The White Room? Molly O'Brien. She's been refined slightly (she's less bossy and more quick to observe and theorise) and it is such a pleasure to have her back. I hope she sticks around this time. The Viyrans always were a terrific audio presence and they work just as well in the early days of the 20th Century as they did in the far future. When these two elements come together, this story sings. There's also some temporal jiggery pokery which raised an eyebrow of interest and a dramatic resolution that sees the Doctor inadvertently puts the Earth in danger of being destroyed by a Viyran incendiary device. This is one script that feels like it needs to go through one more re-write to make the first half a little less scattershot and unwieldy. Because if it had been simplified this would have been a tasty instalment of the Dark Eyes trilogy (if one that is based a little too much on co-incidence) that re-introduces the magnificent Ruth Bradley back to the party: 6/10

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

While I agree with most of your critiques, I didn't feel that those flaws effected it that much to make it a 6. I'd say a 7 or 8.