Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The Darkness of Glass written by Justin Richards and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What's it about: Cut off from the TARDIS, the Doctor and Leela find themselves stranded on a small island. But they are not alone. It is 1907, and members of the Caversham Society have gathered on the hundredth anniversary of the death of Mannering Caversham, the greatest Magic Lanternist who ever lived. But Caversham was also a supernaturalist who claimed to have conjured up a demon from the depths of hell. As people start to die, the Doctor begins to wonder if Caversham’s story might have more than a grain of truth in it. Can the Doctor and Leela discover what really happened to Caversham a century ago? And if they do, will they live to tell the tale..?
Teeth and Curls: The Doctor talks wistfully about a typical summers day by the seaside...until he remembers Fang Rock. He's all in favour of stained glass as an artistic medium but give him a good landscape any day. The examples at Caversham Hall are a bit abstract even for his tastes. I wonder if the Doctor doesn't judge the severity of a situation on how many people have died. It is not until he hears a fatal scream that he feels as if he has definitely gotten somewhere.

Noble Savage: At her best, Leela is worked into a story as an entirely independent character and yet still shares some engaging scenes with the Doctor. Richards is fully aware that this series is called Doctor Who but that does not mean that the companion has to be entirely reliant on the titular character to shine (and there are a fair few companions that don't exactly stand out when they are left to their own devices). Circumstances split the two characters and she confidently teams up with the guest characters and takes charge. Leela really needs to try and work on her social etiquette. Meeting somebody and telling them that death is on their heels is hardly the way to enamour herself to people. She's rather new to polite society or any society come to think of it. Not just hardly dressed for the occasion but hardly dressed at all. As an expert in death she is hardly the sort that you would want to invite to a party. Leela pretty much sums up their relationship when she says that while the Doctor talks, she will hunt. All knives are safe, it is the person wields the blade that you should be wary of. It is not good to dwell on the death of your friends but better to concentrate on the death of your enemy. She's very brave, foolhardy but very brave.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'It's not really magic. Smoke and mirrors. Well, mostly mirrors.'
'But you are right Doctor, if you are implying that the magic lantern has been used for nefarious purposes' 'Well it's always the way with new technology! Just look at the internet!'
'Brighter lights cast deeper shadows!'
''Since the dawn of time mankind has shunned the darkness...and craved the light.'

Great Ideas: A terrific, subtly scary cover. There's a section of Eastbourne coastline that is set off from the rest, a convex section of land which can become very dangerous at high tide because the waves come right in to the cliffs and cut you off. All there is is a wooden staircase that you have to hope you make it to before the waves come rushing in. I've had a few hairy experiences down there in my time and so I understand the panic that the Doctor and Leela face at the beginning of this story. Hemmed in by the elements. Mannering Caversham was, without doubt, the greatest lanternist of the golden age. The only supernaturalist not to be exposed as a fraud or a trickster. He gave the performance of a lifetime on a tiny island, performing his greatest illusion on the strike of midnight (what a showman). He called forth an actual demon and to protect himself he shot his brains out with a pistol, spraying his brains all over the stage. Whilst he might not always be the most experimental of writers, you can often count on Justin Richards to conjure up a striking scenario and at his best he adds a touch of macarcbre horror as he does here. Somehow Caversham broke down the barrier between this realm and another, conjuring a creature of dark and shadow that he couldn't possibly comprehend. The darker depths of his mind were linked intrinsically with the beast. He shot himself to free himself of the curse but before that he had to capture the demon, adapting his magic lantern and trapping the creature inside the light. He projected the light onto the window so the creature was scattered onto the squares of glass and dismantled the window into its component pieces and placed one piece of it in every window in the castle. Somebody has gathered up the glass and it is becoming powerful enough to kill again. I am adept enough at sussing out Justin Richards stories by now and recalled that there is always a plot reversal at the end of each tale (usually several) and in this case I sniffed out Mary Summersby as villain of the piece long before it was revealed because she is the one the Doctor chooses to share his findings with. So imagine my surprise when I was proven to be completely wrong and the light was thrown on quite a different culprit.

Audio Landscape: Lapping waves, seagulls screaming, laughing, crackling flames, a deathly scream, fiddling with the light, a deathly scream, the unearthly growl of the shadow demon, deathly laughter, the light reflecting off of polished silver, a window smashing.

Isn't it Odd: Richards has played about with knights (Dreams of Empire), glass (Martha in the Mirror) and a scrying glass (The Shadow in the Glass) before.

Standout Scene: A shadow demon give me a chilling reminder of the Vashta Nerada but there is a palpable difference between the two. In The Silence of the Library/Forest of the Dead the murderous shadows are patient, playful and lumbering. They take their time in stripping the flesh from your bones. Richards plays on the speed of shadows her, a flick of the light here and a shadow can cross the room in a moment, climbing walls, touching you, tearing the flesh from your body. A shadow that can form into a beast and actualise...that is a pretty frightening concept that your imagination can have great fun with.

Result: 'We shall show you the art of the impossible!' Nothing extraordinary (I have given up on anything like that turning up in this range) but a solid piece of work with Justin Richards turning to some of the potent imagery from his novels to bolster this creepy audio. He has written so many Doctor Who stories now across various mediums (novel, audio, graphic novel) and if some of his works feel a little self plagiarised I don't think that can be helped. Richards reminds me of Terrance Dicks, you can always be assured of a plot that his been bolted together with logic and enough strong ideas and imagery to carry you through what is often a standard run-around. He's not a Jonny Morris (eclectic, hilarious, startlingly innovative at times) or a John Dorney (powerfully emotional, innovative) or even a Rob Shearman (twisted, blackly funny) but he can always be counted on to delivery something remarkably engaging and definitively Doctor Who in nature. I think Richards is more adept than most at cutting down a story to two episodes. Since his stories are often ideas driven and he can get to the point quickly without feeling like he is rushing I find he is actually more suited to this format than the four parters. Leela tends to be shunted off and ignored in some of these 4DAs but Richards tackles her character head on, really focussing on the huntress and Louise Jameson responds to the strong material in kind. Given the nature of the Hinchcliffe era it is surprising that this is one of first 4DAs to go for the horror jugular and made a successful stab at it too. Nothing in the first or second seasons was particularly chilling and I would say that only The Crooked Man and Last of the Colophon have really managed to break any serious sweat. The shadow demons are a strong visual and are realised very well throughout the story (especially the lead-in to the end titles). There is more than a whiff of Tooth and Claw about this; the rustic setting, trapping the characters within at the mercy of a ravenous beast, the illuminating resolution. But I loved Tooth and Claw so you wont get any complaints from me. Given the inconsistent nature of the 4DAs, Richards has delivered two for two with The Renaissance Man and The Darkness of Glass. He should be a given for every season. If you are going to pick up a handful of this range to test them out, make sure this is one of them: 7/10


Anonymous said...

Honestly, after Moffat ignore the Ponds in the second half of Series 6. Glad Clara have more prominence in Series 8. Maybe in Series 9 things to be more balanced, or Clara is ignored in favor of Missy/Master that is much better incarnation that John Simm, whichever comes first.

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