Thursday, 15 May 2014

The Dying Light written by Nick Wallace and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What's it about: The TARDIS materialises on a dying world circling a dying sun, where the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe are welcomed to Sanctuary - an entire monastery carved out of a mountain. But little here is quite what it seems. Quadrigger Stoyn has waited through the centuries. And it is time for the Doctor to pay for his first terrible mistake.

Who's the Yahoos: Jamie was none too fond of ships and boats, he never seems to have much luck on them in his adventures. He knows if Zoe has to ask what the Doctor is talking about then he hasn't a hope in the world of understanding. Jamie has an unwavering faith in the Doctor, more so perhaps than any other companion.

Brainbox: Left Space station 73 2079, not as well travelled as Jamie but she has traversed from the Galactic Rim. So many journeys, so many destinations. In the temple Zoe is entranced by the equations that are scratched into the walls, looking for the patterns.

Oh My Giddy Aunt: The eternal children, Jamie and Zoe are ribbing the Doctor as soon as they leave the TARDIS. Much like his mock boastfulness in The Seeds of Death, the Doctor announces himself as a scientist of some renown. With his dishevelled, eccentric appearance and cutest pair of students this side of the galaxy you might just be inclined to believe him too! He has an open mind, too open a lot of the time. Whilst unnerved, the Doctor isn't as concerned about reuniting with Stoyn as he was with the appearance of the Times Lords in the War Games. Cleverly he told the TARDIS never to allow Stoyn access a long time ago.

Technician: The problem I am having with the Stoyn trilogy isn't Terry Molloy's performance, which is as polished as ever, but the character himself. Beyond his anger at being torn from Gallifreyan society I can't actually detect much of a character there. After two hours worth of storytelling I have no idea who this man is, what sort of life he led before he was kidnapped and why he is so eager to get back. That's quite an aberration given this trilogy is asking us to invest time in his fate and care about his curse to be stuck out in the universe at large. It is asking us to side with him over the Doctor but that isn't a possibility when there is no personality to the man. The Doctor is the reason that Stoyn is trapped on this world and he has been waiting for a reunion ever since they last parted company, trying to keep track of his (mis)adventures ever since. He considers himself a God from a race of Gods and the Doctor defied them all by running from their world. The Doctor considers him a self appointed policeman with no authority. The fall from heaven is a long one and to be stranded in this hell of a universe is almost unbearable. He is trying to put heaven within his reach once more, unable to cope with this anarchy anymore.

Standout Performance: Three actors, all excellent, and yet given little but reflective material to deliver and the result is often slumberous. The scant moments of action really shock because of this.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'The timelines are thick around the Earth and you had woven yourself around them so very, very tightly!'
'They're coming for you, Doctor!' - foreshadowing The War Games...

Great Ideas: An impressive city clinging to a mountain on a dead, dusty world - sometimes Doctor Who can choke you up with the potency of its imagery. A religious retreat, a refuge for the stranded and the lost travellers. Wind storms that whip flesh from your bones are a hazard on this planet. They pull in ships from across time and space. Somehow Stoyn has created a network of wormholes cast wide to catch the TARDIS and if they had materialised where Stoyn had wanted then his equations would have been used to drain the ship of power. This whole planet is an adaptive, highly evolved organism, a promethean thing. It responds to the needs of those living here and brings them their desires.

Audio Landscape: This is one of those audios where the writing and the soundscape seem to be in perfect harmony. Nick Wallace has dreamed up a vivid location and it is persuasively brought to life by the ever reliable Yason and Fox. Wet footsteps, striking a match, a dry, warm breeze, a sea of sand, the thronging monastery, water running, trickling, a scream, echoing footsteps, there is a clap of thunder that might just scare the life out of you, bells ringing, a ship screaming into the atmosphere, the ship disappearing into the sea of sand, smashing a vase over a guards head, a burning torch, a wall shattering, giant dust creatures forming and attacking, electric crackles, squeaking ropes being pulled.

Musical Cues: Excitement levels raise during the climax but not because anything particularly exciting is happening but because the pace has finally picked up and the score is suddenly propelling the narrative forward.

Isn't it Odd: For some reason (and I am trying to put my finger on it) I have far more difficulty slipping into the second Doctor companion chronicles than I do the first Doctor ones. It has always been the case. In the case of The Dying City it is certainly not the fault of either Frazer Hines or Wendy Padbury who deliver performances with bags of personality. I think one of my problems is that character drama simply wasn't the order of the day during the Troughton era as it was during Hartnell's and that the more contemplative, ideas driven stories are far more suited to the shows first three years. Troughton's time was more concerned with scares, monsters and action adventure. When it tried to slow down do something a little more thoughtful (The Wheel in Space, The Dominators, The Krotons), it seriously wobbled. Looking back across my favourite of the second Doctor CCs the titles that jump out are Resistance, The Glorious Revolution, The Forbidden Time and The Memory Cheats and all of those stories feel like aberrations, intense character dramas that wouldn't have been made at the time. The only stories that successfully recreate the era and work a charm are the Steve Lyons comic Polly, Ben and Jamie tales. So whilst this tale is trying to do something a bit different and meditative, it feels a bit out of place in the era and lacks a dramatic punch that would have made it truly memorable.

Standout Scene: As this is a story of ideas rather than emotion, it is the reveal that the planet delivers on the desires of the inhabitants that delivers the biggest blow.

Result: Contemplative and moderate, The Dying Light is one of the more submissive companion chronicles and its appeal will depend on whether your tastes veer towards melodrama or gentle science fiction. Since Stoyn is a tragic character torn from his home and desperate to get home there is no sign of a true antagonist to give this story a dramatic thrust. That's fine, not every adventure has to be adversarial but you do need something beyond a vividly described location to lock your attention. Stoyn is proving to be quite a vacuous character despite Terry Molloy's best efforts. Whilst I like the description of him as a God that has fallen from heaven, that is pretty much the only detail of his character that you are going to unearth in this story. The story is told from the viewpoint of Jamie and Zoe when I think it might have been a lot more effective had Stoyn taken that central role, it would certainly give us a greater understanding of the character and his desire to return home. There's still time to do this in Luna Romana but after two hours of material I still feel as if I don't know who this man is and have failed to invest in his journey. It felt as though being shackled to the Stoyn arc denied Wallace (one of the strongest Doctor Who writers as far as I am concerned) of the chance to tell a more interesting tale in this location. Going against the grain and delivering something that perhaps wouldn't have been made at the time is one of Big Finish's greatest strengths in my eyes. The Dying Light is aiming for something thoughtful and melancholic but this is coming on the heels of Eddie Robson's The Apocalypse Mirror last season, a much more successful attempt at this sort of thing in my eyes. It's not a bad story by any means, it just isn't particularly exciting: 5/10

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