This is another in the series of Lost Stories; those stories that were written or anticipated to be made for tv production in previous earlier seasons of Doctor Who, and for various reasons were never realised.
This story, The Dark Planet, is a story featuring the First Doctor, as played by William Hartnell, travelling with Ian, Barbara and Vicki. The Tardis lands on a world where the sun is dying, and the world itself must, the Doctor insists, be coming to an end because of that. Quite where they are is unknown, as the planet is not on the Doctor’s star charts, it being too early a time period in the Universe’s history. The landscape is dotted with strange dark statues; and in the distance there is a huge brilliantly bright crystal-looking structure. Just as the Tardis travellers are studying this, they realise that all is not as benign, or as dead, as the world would first indicate.
The story is one of cultures and conflict; but also of ambition, greed, and hope for the future. But the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki find themselves torn between two civilisations where nothing is quite as clear-cut in terms of good or evil as it may at first seem; and they must try to stop an awful cataclysm taking place, as well as save themselves.
This is an absolutely brilliant story; you can readily imagine it playing out in the early 1960s on a black and white tv; the contrasts which are then highlighted in this story would be even more imaginative and telling. Totally wonderful, this story is brilliantly narrated and performed by William Russell and Maureen O’Brien, with John Banks and Charlie Norfolk providing other voices. I always enjoy William Russell’s interpretation of William Hartnell’s Doctor, and these stories, as well as telling us new and previously unheard tales, also are delightfully evocative of 1960s Doctor Who, and those early classic stories.
Down the years, many scripts and storylines have been written for Doctor Who and never managed to get to the tv screen.
Now, thanks to Big Finish adapting them for audio, we can find what might have been.
The Dark Planet is based on a storyline by writer Brian Hayles. It features the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki.
It is a six part story, complete in one set and spread over three cd's.
William Russell [Ian] and Maureen O'Brien [Vicki] read the story. Both do dialogue for their own characters, and several others. Both also narrate sections. The narration will jump back and forth between them without any notice, but this is an approach you quickly get used to and it doesn't cause any problems. Both are pretty good at coming up with voices for other characters. William Russell's take on the First Doctor, whilst being a take on the way he spoke rather than an out and out impression, is very good indeed.
The story sees the TARDIS land on a very strange world that circles a dying star. On the planet, which is not in any of the Doctor's records, live two different species. Creatures of Light and creatures of Shadow. Literally. Remarkable sights await the time travellers. But the two species have long been at conflict. And the world is dying.
Which side should the Doctor and his friends help? The choice is not easy. Because, as they say, not everything is black an white...
Back in the early days of the show it's ambition was never limited by the show's budget. And this strives hard to recreate that style. Stories of strange and fantastical aliens and their worlds brought to life on a shoestring budget and filmed in black and white. It strives hard to recreate that feels and succeeds perfecly, because in your mind's eye you can visualise it in the fantastical ways the narration describes. And in the way the BBC would have brought it to the screen also.
A lot of this is done by narration. Which does help bring the images of the tale to life. It does also mean that it's not a casual listen and does require concentration at times. It's a six parter and each episode is a little over thirty minutes. As a six part story it just about works but the episode length could ideally be at least five minutes shorter each time.
The story has moral lessons which are simplistic, but presented in a decent way, and in keeping with how the programme would have done it back then. All the alien voices are done in certain tones and sound treatment, a way that regular audio listeners might find over familiar. And yet is perhaps also in keeping with the style of the day.
A long story and one that could perhaps be better paced. Certain aspects may also feel over familiar. But a very well produced attempt at recapturing the style of the time, and well worth four stars out of five.
There are three more releases to come in this season of lost story audios. But there are no trailers or interviews on this particular release.
on 4 November 2015
This is very unusual, a cerebral Hartnell story that was planned back in 1965 (written by Brian Hayles) but never produced.....and you can see why!
The special effects, settings etc would have been impossible back then, but suit audio admirably.
It's over-long (6 episodes) and does drag at times, but it's worth sticking with because the concepts and themes are more imaginative & thought-provoking than most of the 1965 "Dr Who" stories.
The incredible William Russell (now well into his eighties) doubles as Ian Chesterton and the First Doctor, managing through superb vocal technique to make them utterly different, even when they're talking to each other. (Are actors still trained as he would have been?)
But the Big Attraction here (as with all the new stories set in 1965) is the wonderful and totally under-rated Maureen O'Brien, who played Vicki on TV for a few months only but can still slip effortlessly back into the part fifty years later. On top of this she plays the part of Barbara very effectively.
It's great that Big Finish are giving Vicki so much to do in these stories.
Production, music, supporting cast are all up to Big Finish's usual high standards.