Sunday, 3 November 2013

WHO REVIEW: The Lost Stories 4.1-4.2


The final series of Lost Stories is comprised of four releases, three of which come from the imagination of Brian Hayles. The creator of the Ice Warriors submitted numerous outlines to the Doctor Who production office, many of which were reproduced in the third issue if Nothing at the End of the Lane last year. Calling these Lost Stories really is stretching the definition. There must have been thousands of dismissed subs over the years, and to call every napkin scribbling a Lost Story is hyperbole. The audioplays here are not the work of Brian Hayles, but original stories based on his brief outlines that never got as far as a script back in the day, and probably for very good reasons.

Still, there is much to enjoy in these new pseudo-Lost Stories. The first release, The Dark Planet, comes from the early days of the series, featuring Ian, Barbara and Vicki alongside the first Doctor. William Russell and Maureen O'Brien get a rare chance to perform together, and both are just as good as they ever were. Naturally, they both sound considerably older these days, but O'Brien recreates Vicki with enough enthusiasm to overcome this. Russell, on the other hand, is sounding very advanced in years, and if anything, is rather better at portraying the elderly Doctor now than Ian Chesterton. Indeed, he sounds like he's altogether more enthused with this role, and it's no surprise that Big Finish elected to use him as their ersatz first Doctor in the anniversary special The Light at the End. As with previous Lost Stories from the sixties, the lack of key cast members necessitates a talking book approach, with both Russell and O'Brien providing charming and spirited narration.

The story of The Dark Planet sees the TARDIS arrive on an ancient world circling a dying sun, millions of years ago in the dawn days of the universe. Hayles would have submitted this story when The Web Planet was being broadcast, and it is similarly ambitious in its scope. It's not hard to see why it was rejected; the visual requirements for the story would have been hard to achieve indeed. The beings of the dark planet have evolved into two separate strands, beings of light and beings of shadow, each with their own adaptations and powers. It's hard to see how this would have been convincingly portrayed on a 1960s Doctor Who budget, although I'm certain the creative team would have done their utmost to make it happen. No, it is a story perhaps best suited to audio, where the imagination can fill in the gaps. A particular scene, in which the radiance of the light beings' innermost sanctum renders our heroes blind, is deeply unnerving when related verbally, but would have been a challenge to make into something visually effective.

The Dark Planet features a small guest cast, with John Banks portraying the Shadows and Charlie Norfolk the people of light. Both Big Finish veterans, they do what they can with the roles, but the material is thin. The aliens are concepts, not characters, and struggle to make much impression. An undercurrent of racialism, equating the light and shadow folk with white and black people, is hinted at, but never developed. Instead, we get the now hoary cliché of the seemingly benevolent beautiful people of light turning out to be worse than the supposedly savage creatures of shadow. It's the same moral we were presented with in Galaxy 4, and had this been broadcast, one can assume the latter serial would not, for there really isn't room for the pair of them. Like many sixties stories, The Dark Planet is very slow, and while the audio format works in its favour, it's hard to muster much enthusiasm for this.


The second story, The Queen of Time, sees Hayles plundering his own back catalogue for inspiration. This story is pretty much a blatant remake of The Celestial Toymaker. At least Hayles goes as far as to admit it, revealing in the closing moments, that Hecuba, the eponymous Queen of Time, is the Toymaker's half-sister. It certainly makes you wonder about their parentage. Like the Toymaker, Hecuba revels in games, and captures poor, unfortunate souls to partake in them. There is some originality though. As befits her title, Hecuba has the ability to manipulate time, and thus all her games are in some way temporally themed. She also displays a deep sexuality, something that makes her stand out from most Doctor Who villains, particularly the rare female ones. Caroline Faber is excellent as Hecuba, giving a truly rich performance as the desperate goddess.

Indeed, it's the cast who really save this one. The use of Jamie and Zoe brings to mind the similarly fantastical serial The Mind Robber; Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury totally inhabit their old characters. Of particular note is Hines, once again impressing with his pitch perfect portrayal of the second Doctor. There really are moments when you can believe Patrick Troughton had recorded thee lines. And what a treat it would have been to see him do this one, flirting with Hecuba to keep her sweet, forced to sit through a truly revolting repast at her banquet table.

However, while The Dark Planet benefitted from the audio format, The Queen of Time suffers from the lack of a visual element. Like its celestial predecessor, it's a very visual adventure, and no amount of colourful description or clever sound design can quite make up for that. Nonetheless, this is a better story than The Celestial Toymaker, and Catherine Harvey has done a fine job penning a script from Hayles's original treatment. For one thing, the rather racist tone of the earlier serial and its mysterious Mandarin is absent, and Harvey has explicitly removed the sexist elements of the Queen's character. The original write-up included the gem that, like “most women,” Hecuba thinks science is “all magic really.”

If anything, this story would have worked better being made when it was originally submitted. Three years after the broadcast of The Celestial Toymaker, memories of the serial and its antagonist would have been vague but just enough for a sequel to be viable. Now, with the soundtrack readily available, it seems less fresh. However, I for one would opt to listen to The Queen of Time if given the choice between the two.

The final series of The Lost Stories will conclude with another Hayles pitch, The Lords of the Red Planet, and Bill Strutton's submission The Mega.

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