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"Yes, Sarah Jane, I'll just sit down at this desk and type out this review with my fingers on this keyboard."
on 3 June 2014
This seems to be taken up with endless scenes of one character either describing in detail what another is doing like some sort of demented John Motson ("oh, Maximilian's knocked the Doctor to the ground! Now he's getting up...") or else talking to themselves about what they're doing. Worst, probably, is where they're obliged by the script to mutter under their breath their thoughts about the person next to them, while the other characters gamely plays deaf. The decision to have some characters switch accents as the story progresses is also a bit odd (especially as a couple of Americans revealed to be really Italian signify this change by... adopting English accents). I followed it though but I imagine it caused problems for many.
The rather empty positive to this, is that at least it's not marring an otherwise good story or plot. Straight from the off, we're basically on a six part, three hour, trek through the fundamentals of the Buddhist conception of the afterlife (or, rather, the Buddhist interim stage where souls are purged of their negative emotions and regrets, through suffering, before being reborn to the world to try again). Delivered more subtly, this might have worked, but it really is laid on incredibly thickly.
The supernatural has always been a troublesome story topic for DW anyway. It works well when allowed to effectively be a supernatural menace with some pseudoscientific rationale thrown out and then, effectively, ignored (as with the 'alien' werewolf in Tooth and Claw) and best of all when the Doctor basically hangs a lampshade on it (such as Girl in the Fireplace and his admission his scientific explanation is simply his avoiding having to call it a 'magic door'). But N-Space falls into the same irritating stance as The Daemons, where the Doctor routinely tuts and chides people for believing in Hell, or demons, then goes on to describe what is, in every possible way, the exact same thing.
There's some attempt at innovation, structurally, but it doesn't really come off. In a stroke on Proto Timey Wimeism, Sarah Jane finds a book that describes, pretty much exactly, the next three episodes' worth of adventures for the Doctor. Then the Doctor goes back in time and spends three episodes acting them out, just as described. This is... not terribly exciting or dramatic.
On the plus side, the older Pertwee continues on from Paradise of Death is being a kinder, gentler, more lovable figure and the greatest shame is that he didn't get more of a chance to bring this vision, so to speak, of his Doctor to more, and better, stories. Traditionally, I really strongly dislike the Third Doctor as a character so it means a lot when I say I'd have loved more from Pertwee after this. And, again, the version of the Brigadier appearing here is a no-nonsense, unflappable man of action; courageous, smart and adept at dealing with the most bizarre situations with a no nonsense attitude. He's great. It's a shame it's spoiled by him spending quite so much of his gun battles against gigantic interdimensional fiends and ghostly monks talking to himself to describe what he's shooting at. Oddly, Jeremy is one of the best things in the play. He still seems faintly pointless (you could excise him from the script entirely and it wouldn't change a thing) but he's had a natural evolution from a coward to an unhappy coward - one of those characters who is self-aware and hates their own limitations. It would have been interesting to see where Letts would have brought him next had this strand of plays continued. I suspect his character arc would have been as a kind of posh twit version of Mickey -- inspired to greater heroism by the Doctor and Sarah's examples.