DW: The Dark Planet Review

DW The Dark Planet

The run of First Doctor Lost Stories comes to an end with a story set during that rare Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki period of the show, and a script that was clearly shot down at the due to budget! (Actually turns out it was shot down due to being too similar to another story they were developing, The Hidden Planet by Malcolm Hulke, which ironically also wouldn’t see the light of day) Large crystal cities, people literally made of light and shadow, several scenes of people flying… It just wouldn’t have worked. At all. Still, does it work as an adapted “advanced audiobook”? That’s the main question! Let’s find out…

Synopsis:

Somewhere far back in the early days of the universe the TARDIS lands on a world lit by a dying sun. Missing from the Doctor’s star maps and dotted with strange crystalline statues, it is a world ripe for exploration. But it is also a world of destruction.

Venturing out onto its surface, the time travelers find themselves drawn into an age-old conflict between the two species residing on the planet – people of Light and Shadow. Proving a catalyst for the escalation of the conflict, the Doctor and his friends need either to create a peace or to pick a side.

Because in times of war, nothing is ever black and white.

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

The main thing to compliment this story for is the visuals, which is an odd thing to say about an audio story! The narration does a great job of picturing a truly alien world, a world where a race of literal shadow people live in dark underground caverns while people literally made of light live in a massive, nearly see-through crystal city. Throw in scenes of characters flying, rockets taking off and full-scale battles that sound like they’re firing lasers all over the place, I don’t really see how this story would’ve worked back in the mid-60s! I mean, the Web Planet overran its budget many times over and wasn’t as complicated as this…

The main lesson to be learned here is that of tolerant to other races, as the Light and Shadow people were once the same crystalline species that at some point diverged and grew apart, to the point of irrational hatred, and even as their sun begins to die and their planet faces destruction, they still carry on their grudge. As the story progresses you find out that both sides have technology that if brought together could save them both, but despite best efforts from the main cast, getting them to talk is neigh on impossible. There are also some Cold War, finger of the button “mutually assured destruction” stuff going on here, which isn’t hard to imagine came from the original script given the time period it was written…

The end of Episode six is rather bittersweet, the two warring races don’t hold hands and head off together in peace, instead it’s the rather tragic opposite, which I didn’t see coming. That was a bit of saving grace to be honest, as most of this story wasn’t exactly thrilling (see below!) so being taken by surprise by the ending was good. Well, I should say the first time round, back when it was released. The relisten to this story for review purposes wasn’t so good, the ending was one of the few things I remembered about it…

I do like that this time, given there are so many more roles, they brought in two people to cover some of the voices: John Banks and Charlie Norfolk. They both provide several distinct voices that really help it feel a bit more varied, though sadly they can sometimes be hard to hear, but better than the main duo who sadly really lets the side down (see below!)

The Bad:

DW The Dark Planet Cover

A well made cover, though it’s a shame the way it’s laid out means Barbara was left off!

It has to be said that at six parts this story drags quite severely in the middle. At the start of Episode 2 Barbara is stuck with the Shadows while The Doctor tries to tell the leader of the Light side how stellar engineering works and how they might save their people, and by Episode 5 very little changes. Sure characters go back and forth between both sides, realise no side is better than the other, and Vicki befriends a little boy from the Light side which was cute, but in general it’s just a standstill for over two hours, occasional rockslide cliffhanger or “main cast member looks to be getting killed” moment to break up the monotony. Doesn’t work though…

As mentioned above, William Russell continues his double role as Ian and The Doctor (plus narration) but for some reason, especially listening to this so close to the other First Doctor Lost Stories, his Doctor is noticeably closer to his natural narration voice this time round, especially in scenes with no trademark Hartnell “Hmph!” mannerisms it becomes harder to tell them apart. Maureen O’Brien doesn’t fair much better, as she’s fine doing a higher pitched voice to match her old Vicki voice, but her natural narration voice and her Barbara are really close, so again that can cause confusion. Overall this is a bit of a downer given they handle narration for the three hour story…

The Continuity:

Not much! The Doctor mentions his people, and himself specifically, to be a stellar engineer, retroactively tying this into later stuff like The Hand of Omega from Seventh Doctor TV classic “Remembrance of the Daleks”. How much to this was in the original pitch notes I can’t tell you…

There have been Doctor Who stories that have dealt with shadow beings and Crystal planets before, or rather later I guess, two coming to mind being the Eighth Doctor audio “Embrace the Darkness” and the claustrophobic Tenth Doctor TV story “Midnight”. None are by any means a copy, but I just find it funny that some of these concepts were coined in the mid-60s, popped up in scripts written in the 2000s, then appear in 2013’s release of an adapted version of the mid-60s pitch. It’s a weird situation that can only happen in Doctor Who’s crazy expanded media library…

Overall Thoughts:

The Dark Planet, a story about the struggle between light and darkness, is itself a struggle between two sides: the great imagery and imagination facing off against its length and occasionally poor narration/voice work. I don’t really see a winner here, so let’s call it down the middle! I honestly feel if this were reworked as a four parter it would have been great… Ah well. The First Doctor Lost Stories really only had the one classic in Macedon, in the end.

3 Star Listen

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