As the Doctor, Ace and Hex arrive in a strange city in space, where reality mixes with dreams - thoughts of previous Doctor Who dreamscapes filled my thoughts. The recent, excellent, Axis of Insanity, Mind Robber episode 1 (particularly to the fore as the DVD was released a few weeks before this audio). Both spring to mind. Here we have 4 episodes of dreaminess to enjoy - with some startling images we can picture well thanks to the impressive production and writing on offer. Mythological Terraforming is how the Doctor describes it, and that's a rather apt description of whats on offer here.
Hex brings a much needed new dynamic to this TARDIS team. His wonder at seeing aliens for the first time, at seeing his first spaceship - we enjoy the new experience with him. Ace seems more sedate too, shielding her new friend. It's a fantastic new direction for this era of the show. Philip Oliviers Hex has had the marvellous plus of bettering his 2 much travelled characters with him. Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred are always consistently very good - it's just freshened things up to have a new character to play against.
Dreamtime gently unfolds, with Big Finish sound wizardry elaborating the world the TARDIS lands in. Simon Forward deserves great credit for the words that inspired the production. There's some particularly lovely prose employed throughout. The script, the sound effects, with subtle eerie musical accompaniment - all enhance the dreamlike state of the world they are in. Australia is the inspiration - and the whole production is ripe with the special, unique flavour that the heart of that Country employs.
I was delighted when a Big Finish envelope popped through my letter box a few days ago. If I remember right it arrived on Wed 16th March. DW fans have so much to enjoy in this vast world, but it is inevitable that the focus will be directed mostly on the new TV series at the end of March. It's rather sensible then to bring this out mid-month, rather than at the end. It seems Big Finish not only produce great audios, but their marketing skills are impressive too. I wonder if sales will increase thanks to the new TV series - I really hope so, because after 67 monthly releases there seems to be lots of imagination left in the tank - ready for hopefully more people to enjoy.
Dreamtime also contains the return of an old monster - an Audio monster. It's wonderful to see the audio stories feeding off its previous glories (relative glories in the case of Sandman) and create another facet of Who Mythology. The Galyari fit into this story very nicely, and provide a stark contrast to the human inhabitants that populate Dreamtime. These human inhabitants; particularly Toomey, Whitten and Baiame; flesh out the cast well.
I thoroughly enjoyed Dreamtime. It's a nice pleasant listen, full of delightful soundscapes. There's a lovely moral about the old and the new combining to the formers detriment. It's not against progress - just reflecting that ancient traditions are sometimes just as powerful. Impressive mythologizing. 8/10
'Dreamtime', Simon A. Forward's second Doctor Who audio for Big Finish, is for me one of the highlights of the recent releases. It has an imaginative setting, with the memorable image of Ayers Rock at the end of a street on a city floating through space on an asteroid, and is rife with enduring imagery including the stone ghosts that litter the city. Episode One, which obviously introduces this locale, is rather creepy, and the story becomes increasingly striking as Forward's recurring creations the Galyari arrive, the Doctor vanishes, and Ace and Hex strive to understand what is happening. The use of Aboriginal culture is highly effective, and explored effectively through the baffled eyes of the Galyari, who wonder, "Dream commandos? Dreamers and warriors I understand, but the combination is unclear." They soon learn that the commandoes fight the dream, which has "put the city to sleep and there is nothing left." We also get plenty of colourful Australian background details, with references to bullroarers and bunyips, and the cracking dialogue, which includes lines like, "We have fished for your friend, but we have stirred darker waters" gives an almost epic feel to the proceedings. The Doctor's enigmatic fate at the climax to Episode One is superb, as the listener is told, "The Doctor is lost. He sleeps in stone."
In Episode Two, the dreaming Doctor discovers some back-story, as we find out that the light ships set out from Earth at the end of its life. Baiame seemingly wanted to stop his people leaving the doomed world. Thrust back into the past in spirit if nothing else, the Doctor warns Baiame, "You can't just uproot Ularu… You cannot inflict a wound like this on the Earth, not without repercussions. And you'll take those repercussions with you." The Doctor becomes part of the asteroid's past, as he discovers that Whitten's people were to be left behind when Ayers Rock lifts into space, abandoned by Baiame to die on Earth as he saves his own people, explaining, "They must find their own path." The Doctor implores, "Save them too" and when Baiame protests, "We leave our pain behind us" the Doctor warns, "You'll carry a new one with you to the stars!" The Doctor thus persuades Baiame to save Whitten's people at the time of the asteroid's original departure, whilst he's in the Dreaming. Sylvester McCoy, whose performance as the Doctor has been increasingly overblown of late, is very good here, putting a great deal of emotion into this heartfelt exchange, and John Scholes' Baiame is a great character, old and wise, but willing to learn from and listen to the Doctor. It is Baiame who explains what is happening to the audience, as he tells the Doctor, "the Dream is living myth" and we discover that the Dream resents the fact that the ancient belief in it has been diluted out amongst the stars, partly because the Doctor persuaded Baiame to bring Whitten's people along. Refreshingly, Forward shuns technobabble explanations, instead simply giving us Aboriginal beliefs in a science fiction setting; thus, Baiame is the one maintaining the shield that protects the city on the asteroid and despite Korshal's belief in a technological explanation, Baiame is effectively a wizard.
The Galyari are again well utilized here, and act as the voice of cynicism in a world of magic. Korshal scoffs, "They mythologize what they do not understand" prompting from Ace the response, "Whereas you and your Sandman legends…" to the Galyari's obvious discomfort. They offer rational explanations for various wonders on the asteroid, refusing to accept the explanations of the "primitive ways" of Mulyan, but at the end Baiame appeals to their own beliefs and superstitions, stopping Korshal from killing him by summoning a bird from the Dreaming, since they are sacred to the Galyari. The Galyari are as well rounded here as they were in their two previous outings, and are extremely pragmatic, arriving on the asteroid in search of trade, but quickly realizing, "If their technology is that far in advance of our own, then we had best hope that there are no survivors. Salvage would be a lot more advantageous than trade". Nevertheless, they are clearly prepared to help survivors.
McCoy's performance is admirable throughout 'Dreamtime', his Doctor exhibiting a winning combination of wisdom and fascination at the mystery of the place in which he finds himself. He comes close to ham when he plays the imposter, but manages to keep on top of it, sounding cold and nasty. Sophie Aldred also puts in one of her better performances here, quieter and more restrained than in 'The Harvest', but it is Philip Olivier's Hex who steals the show. His character continues to develop, asking pertinent questions like, "Why is it wherever I go with you two I get shot at?" but with curiosity complementing his caution. He demonstrates his ability to cope with difficult situations, and with the Doctor stoned and Ace unconscious, Hex is forced to take charge, and decides to trust Wahn and Mulyan. When he meets the Galyari, he's awestruck, crying out, "They're aliens McShane! Real life aliens!" but he isn't flabbergasted to the extent of being useless. At one point the Doctor tells him, "You know Hex, I think we'll make a seasoned time traveller out of you yet"; if he won't, Big Finish certainly are doing.
In addition to the memorable imagery, 'Dreamtime' has a script that sparkles with wit, with notable examples including Hex's riposte to the line, "Commander Korshal thinks we are in the Land of Oz", which is, "Well, we are aren't we?" Later, Ace tells Korhsal, "Pick on someone your own size" prompting the baffled response, "There is no one my size here." Perhaps the best summation of the story is the line, "Like a lullaby" which reflects the poetic, elegant feel of the script, and the happy ending, in which nobody dies but lots of people are left feeling a little more enlightened, seems beautifully fitting. With both well-crafted novels and highly effective audio scripts under his belt, Forward is proving to be a writer whose work is worth anticipating.
The was a time when one could happily label Doctor Who as science fiction without fear of controversy. In 2005 however, there are an ever increasing number of people who will swear blind that Doctor Who is no such thing – it is a fantasy series, or perhaps a horror series, that only uses the props of science fiction to tell a story, but is in no shape or form science fiction itself. This is of course rubbish – or, at least it was. Doctor Who was explicitly created to be an educational science fiction series, and despite the odd lapse over the years as the odd writer or producer forgot the show’s original premise, the Doctor himself has always been a passionate advocate of science (even when the stories highlighted the dangers of the misuse of science), and moreover a scientist who would routinely debunk any mysticism he came across. In the Doctor Who universe anything mystical – be it magic, ghosts, demons, gods or the like, would invariably be rationalised away in terms of alien beings and technology.
Dreamtime is one of a new breed of stories that is filled with mystical mumbo-jumbo, only for the expected rationalist explanation to fail to appear. As the Doctor puts it here with a Wizard of Oz analogy – there is no secret controller hiding behind the curtain at this stories end, just a real magician, and real magic. Be warned then that this story may run contrary to your understanding of how Doctor Who works, and personally I find the series treating the Australian Aborigines Dreaming as ‘real’ just as jarring as if the Doctor happened to bump into a divine miracle-bestowing Jesus Christ on his intergalactic travels, but in these days where the amount of additional optional (and often contradictory) ‘missing adventures’ has stretched the series continuity to breaking point, surely we can enjoy this story on it’s own terms?
Despite the stories outlandish yet comfortingly Who-ish set-up – featuring the TARDIS crew of the 7th Doctor, Ace and Hex and some visiting Galyari traders encountering Ayres Rock and a chunk of surrounding Australia floating around in space, with its inhabitants under attack from shadowy presences – Dreamtime seems to take a perverse delight in bucking established Doctor Who storytelling conventions. Magic and mysticism hold sway over science. The is no villain in this story for the Doctor to pit his wits against, (the closest we get is the inarticulate force of nature that is the Dreaming itself). The Doctor saves the day merely by having a chat. The Doctor goes back in time and tries to change his present situation by altering the past. No one dies throughout the entire story. These differences are both the play’s biggest unique selling points, and also it’s biggest flaws – the lack of a villain refreshingly saves us from any cackling evil megalomaniacs, but it also makes the actual threat seem rather nebulous and lacking in clarity, while the novel lack of death makes the action scenes feel oddly pointless, as the various dream creatures seem just as ineffectual at harming the characters as the characters are of harming the dream creatures.
As with The Sandman, Simon A Forward adds a little mid-story variety with an extended flashback, only this time the Doctor literally travels back in time to experience the beginning of Ayres Rock’s journey. Making the interfering Doctor inadvertently the cause of his of woes has a rather strange side effect though, as the fact that his multicultural habitat idea backfires results in an outcome that can be read as anti-integrationist, a slightly off-colour message for Doctor Who (mind you, everything else is slightly off-colour here as well).
The play is blessed with some strong performances all round, and Hex has a reasonable first journey in the TARDIS, full of wonder at all he sees, though I’m already starting to tire of his “Oh My God!” catch-phrase. Thankfully Ace seems to have grown out of her catch-phrases, with a noticeable lack of “bilge bags” and “toe rags”, as the character matures somewhat. Sylvester McCoy also puts in one of his stronger performances, with his heartfelt plea for the colony not to make the mistakes of the past being a highlight.
Dreamtime is something a little bit different, and you’ll either like it or not depending on how you react to those differences. Personally I quite enjoyed it, but I couldn’t bear for the series to be like this all the time…
“Landmarks are meant to be identifiable, even if you stumble across them in the most unexpected places…”
Doctor Who fans will forever remember March 2005 as the month the show returned to television as a continuing series for the first time since 1989, when the Seventh Doctor and Ace walked off into the sunset searching for “people made of smoke and cities made of song.” So it’s entirely appropriate that in the month of the Ninth Doctor’s introduction, Big Finish catch up with Sylvester McCoy’s incarnation – particularly since this is only his second appearance in the audio series for about a year and a half. Unfortunately, McCoy’s Doctor has always seemed the least successful of the four Big Finish have used as he’s not had the same quality of scripts afforded to his contemporaries nor the same variety of companions, usually being either stuck with one whom the producers have struggled to find an interesting new perspective upon or uncharacteristically solo.
Perhaps the lowest point came last year when the bringing forward of the final Eighth Doctor “season” reduced the Seventh Doctor to a solitary appearance during 2004, with an announced free-to-subscribers McCoy adventure eventually materialising as the Sixth Doctor led Her Final Flight. But that single outing was The Harvest, a story that wasted its ingenious premise through pedestrian plotting yet changed fundamentally the dynamic between the Doctor and Ace by adding a second companion in the likeable form of down-to-earth Thomas Hector Schofield, usually referred to as Hex. The task of building upon this promising new line up has (eventually) eventually fallen to Simon A. Forward, for whom Dreamtime is his third audio play for Big Finish following up the intriguing The Sandman and his slightly lacklustre contribution to the Bernice Summerfield series, The Bone Of Contention.
As the title suggests, Dreamtime is influenced considerably by the ideas of Aboriginal mythology, a source that proves inspired for it allows Forward to construct a story that exists in a hazy, otherworldly realm where nothing can be taken for granted. The opening scene is wonderfully scripted, delivering little explanation or context as to who the character we hear is or what he’s doing whilst creating in the process an engaging mystery as to what actually happened. This is emphasised further as the Doctor, Ace and Hex all arrive in a deserted city, flying through space on an asteroid. Stark sound design creates a wearying sense of bleakness as the travellers begin to explore their surroundings. Even before they stumble across Uluru (previously known as Ayres Rock), their scenes and the scenario our heroes find themselves in feels dreamlike. Forward wisely keeps these three together up until the very end of part one when the needs of the plot require their separation, but by devoting the majority of the episode to the exploration he can remind us of the bond between the three and remind us of where these characters are at this point. The Doctor is once more tinged with mystery; Ace is the seasoned time-traveller who’s enjoying the new boy’s adjustment to the possibilities now open before him.
Eventually, the focus shifts towards a search for understanding and comprehension about what happened to the place, which takes the form of a spiritual and surrealistic quest for the Doctor as he enters the Dreaming and encounters a mythic figure from Aboriginal folklore. Whilst this is occurring, Hex and Ace have to cope with more earthy concerns as they discover the native Dream Commandos who battle the creatures that emerge from the Dreaming and also some visiting Galyari, looking to trade and discover the secrets behind the technology keeping the atmosphere in place onboard the asteroid. The inclusion of Forward’s avian-descended creations is rather anomalous as while there’s always room for worldbuilding in science fiction (particularly when it something Big Finish haven’t really done outside the Excelis series) Forward’s audio work is becoming synonymous with them. While his take on them here is more successful than their last appearance in the Bernice Summerfield series, taking them out of their natural environment and giving them a different perspective as we see how their selfishness motivates their desire to better themselves contrasted against their single-mindedness when placed in a situation of adversity, their presence isn’t really necessary and it shows at times. The return of Galyari commander Korshal also places the development of the race in a rather confined place as while Steffan Rhodri is very good in the part, the common characters between Forward’s trilogy makes the time frame the stories take place in much narrower and less wide-ranging. Most disappointingly, Forward sweeps aside any possible attempts to examine the Doctor’s place in the Galyari’s own legends as the Sandman from the intriguing position of his successor. How does the Seventh Doctor’s detached perspective of his former self make him consider those past actions? An interesting avenue of investigation is frustratingly ignored.
What really distinguishes Dreamtime is its plot, which when broken down is actually quite shallow but for once this isn’t the kiss of death that it has been for so many recent Doctor Who audio plays because of how Forward’s priorities are different. Rather than script another solid but formulaic drama, he’s much more interested in creating a stylistic mood piece where the dreamlike state encompasses all. It’s a brave move for Forward as it certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but with the exit of conventional plot devices (most notably the lack of a real villain) comes a mature sense of ambiguity that gives the drama depth and layers through its shades of grey. This play feels excitingly different and much of that comes from the mystical legends that Forward uses as a foundation as they feel very alien, despite originating from humanity.
Sylvester McCoy sounds as if he enjoyed himself during the recording of this story and that comes across in the way he portrays the Doctor, particularly in the early scenes with his two companions which shows a good banter developing between the three. His most effective dramatic scenes come when he’s imploring Baiame to feel compassion and save those he intends not to but also the Doctor’s reaction when he realises the cause behind the desolated city that occupies the asteroid. The script carries on the thinking behind Ace’s presentation in The Harvest by writing the character with a much more mature touch, letting Sophie Aldred deliver a much better performance than she usually does in these plays. Not that Ace has a particularly large or important role in the drama, as Forward doesn’t quite get the balance right in weighting out the three regulars’ subplots with the Doctor and Hex featuring more prominently. While the Doctor should always be the most important character in a story, it’s probably fair to give Hex the meatier role from the companions as he’s still new and being integrated into the team. Philip Olivier continues to impress though by bringing out Hex’s continual amazement at what he’s seeing and there’s some nice, depreciating humour about his would-be catchphrase (which really needs to be retired before his next appearance). What is perhaps most memorable about Hex’s role within Dreamtime is how the script puts him into a situation where he’s totally out of his depth, without the help of his two guides, and watches him deal with the uncanny. It shows both his own resourcefulness and how he has to trust his own instincts if he is going to survive.
The guest cast is generally fine with John Scholes deserving particular merit as Baiame, the spiritual All-Father of the land who is extremely convincing as the charismatic leader who has drawn many thousands of people to Uluru. The only performance that seems slightly misjudged is Josephine Mackerras as Toomey. Although her character is supposed to be alone and very frightened, the way she imbues the fear comes dangerous close to being over-the-top and something a little more restrained might have been more credible. As she’s a very minor character, it’s quite inconsequential to the play’s overall success.
Steve Foxon’s technical presentation captures the ambience of the script well, emphasising the dreamlike qualities by making everything seem slightly off balance. His evocative sound design gives the empty city a barren quality of desolation, only broken by the equally vacant howling of the wind. Equally impressive is the chaotic nightmare of the background present in the Dreaming itself which gives the sense of being everywhere and yet nowhere at the same time.
Dreamtime is rather a courageous departure stylistically from Big Finish’s recent output and Forward is to be applauded for bringing some invention to his play and creating something more leftfield. Its failure to conform will certainly alienate some listeners who are after more basic adventuring from their Doctor Who, but essentially Dreamtime is an intriguing work that benefits from the twist of imagination the mythology drawn upon brings.
If there's one thing that Simon A. Forward seems to be terrific at in his scripts, it's coming up with really cool settings. Here we have a derelict Australian city and Ayres' rock floating on an asteroid under a Doppler-shifted outer space sky, populated by mostly stone people and stone cars. This gets backed by some suitably "nighttime" cool Steve Foxon music and good "empty street" echo sound effects, and the end concept is breathtaking to listen to. (though Hex wouldn't like me to put it that way when they're this close to outer space.
I personally had a problem in the scene-setting though, with the assumption on the story's part that the listener knows what Uluru/Ayres' Rock is and that it means they're in a displaced Australian city. My knowledge of Australian geography is more limited than it really ought to be (to what I've seen on the 2000 Olympics coverage and the bits of that one season of "Survivor" that I saw) and until this audio I hadn't heard of this landmark. In having seen pictures of it after listening to this, I did recognize it as something I had seen before, but somehow the name was never attached to it when I did see it. So I got a bit lost here.
The Doctor, Ace, and Hex are all in suitable "exploring the weirdness" modes. I particularly liked the Doctor's line about how "we trespassers need to stick together" (or close to that). Hex is having more of those "ohmygod" moments, the exclamations of which I suppose are the aural equivalent of Rose's eyebrow-curling on the new TV series.
It's also nice to hear the Galyari back (their previous appearance being in "The Sandman"), and to be able to understand them clearly on the first listen this time. The change to their voice effect is very, very welcome. I always did like their culture and mores and the idea of the Clutch, and it'll be interesting I'm sure to hear what they make of all this strangeness.
We meet a few other defeated-sounding denizens just shortly before some shadow monsters turn up and turn the Doctor and another survivor into the same stone that everyone else has been turned into. That's a nice cliffhanger, and the only shame is that we can't see the Doctor in this frozen statue form, as I'm sure it'd make a terrific visual. (and no doubt a collectible figurine opportunity for some manufacturer. An excellent start then. Almost flawless.
Part Two seems very much like Part One.... really cool-sounding. The aural "landscape" continues to be very well-painted, and there's never a sense of "where are we" in a scene or of dullness. There's atmosphere in every sound and note.
We learn today that the Uluru and the town/city around it has been lifted into space, sustained, and propelled by what seems to be the combined psycho-spiritual forces of several thousand people drawn to the place a good time ago by a guru figure. We learn this via the Doctor's own crossing over in "the Dreamtime," which is apparently what happens when the dream monsters get you and turn your body into stone. The woman that went with him gets lost in confusion, but the Doctor's able to keep his own mind and use the Dreamtime to venture into the past of the place. It's unclear yet if this is the real past or a dreamy recreation of it. Whichever it is, what it is and how we learn it is also very, very cool. Sylvester McCoy seems to have an extra step in his performance here, and you can almost hear his eyes and eyebrows darting around enigmatically as they did in his best-directed TV stories.
Meanwhile, Hex, Ace, the dream commandos, and the Galyari try to figure out what's going on back at the real world and eventually split up, some to investigate the mines and some to remain behind and try and pull the Doctor back out of the dreaming. These are decent developments... splitting the regulars up is always a good idea. The "veteran" and "rookie" relationship between Ace and Hex that we saw in "The Harvest" reemerges here, and again I really like this dynamic. The Galyari continue to have their own reasons for wanting to stay and "help," and you just know that's going to turn sour later on. :) The only thing I didn't like so much was these dream commandos... the idea of warrior mystics is fine enough, just not these ones... they speak of not wanting to leave Uluru, but in most other respects they speak as though they've already been beaten. I guess I just wanted a bit more backbone from them... a reason for me to remember their names. At this point they're just generic dream commandos.
I like this story structure of starting part one and ending part two with the same scene, of Uluru and the town lifting off into space, only with a little more information the second time around. It's a cliffhanger cheat in reverse in fact! Normally we get the "extra info" at the start of an episode rather than at the end. Mostly good still.
Here are the good bits that I "got" in today's episode.
That the Doctor really was in the past and that his intervention that saved the lives of Whitten and his men (when Baiame and his followers used the power of the Dreamtime to lift the whole of Uluru and the surrounding area off the surface of the planet and into space) has somehow caused the whole plan to go wrong in the time the TARDIS landed in. Apparently, this is all an exercise in psycho-spiritual-mythological terraforming, where this whole area and community goes off into the stars to find a new world to live on after the Earth was about to be roasted by the sun in some way. And this is all a very cool set-up, and I love this whole idea. (I wonder which sun-fries-the-Earth this was... the "Ark in Space" solar flares, the fireball from "The Mysterious Planet", or "The End of the World" itself. They never say, but I'd guess one of the earlier ones since there are plenty of pure humans left here.)
That was about it, though. The rest of the episode left me feeling the way I did when I first saw "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring." It was all amazing to experience, yet at the same time I felt I was being left behind as a steady stream of proper names was wheeled out by characters who all knew what they were talking about yet it meant nothing to me, such as "He is Aragorn! Son of somethingelsegorn, and heir to the throne of Gondor!" or "oh no, the Balrog!" or "oh no, Gollum's following us." Having never read the book before, I came to that cold and it lost me at points. (I believe "the Watcher" said something very similar in a DWM column of the time.)
Anyway, that's what part three of this story made me feel like, as everyone starts going on about Australian Aboriginal legends and mythology and treating it seriously and real, and I haven't got a clue what any of it is or what the rules of it are. Maybe I'm being an ignorant American again about this, and maybe there's something wrong with my country's primary, secondary, and college educational systems, none of which covered this material, or maybe I'm being insular and reactionary for never having flown all the way to Australia for a visit, or maybe I'm being woefully conservative in not having had a subscription to "National Geographic". The fact is, I have no idea what these things being talked about are, and I got lost as a result. With "The Land of the Dead," Stephen Cole was kind enough to have the characters review and explain the Inuit legends that were being talked about. In "The Eye of the Scorpion," Iain McLaughlin was nice enough to have the characters lay out the geography of the land for us and explain where we were in history and so on. Simon Forward seems to just be assuming that his audience already knows enough about Australian mythology that he doesn't need to connect that dot. And maybe for the majority of this audience, that truly is enough. All I know is, it's lost me. Maybe that's my personal problem. If it is, I'm sorry.
I think that what's happened here is that all the story threads have come together into an exciting and well-crafted conclusion. The Doctor gets himself out of the Dreamtime and then records the sound of those whirling, swinging things, pumps them through the P.A. system of the Galyari ship, and the resulting amplified hypnotic effect draws everyone out of the Dreamtime and shuts down the premature terraforming that had crippled the place. Yes, that is a very neat solution now I come to write it out. I had to stop and think about it because, again, some of the underlying mythology assumes foreknowledge on the listener's part which I didn't have. This even seems to spread to Ace today, when there's a moment where Baiame cleverly conjures up an Australian bird to cause Cmdr. Korshal to delay his attack since birds are sacred to the Galyari (neat idea!), and Ace correctly exclaims the bird's name. I would've though Ace would've been hard pressed to name an English bird on sight let alone this one.
Everything on the production side of the story continues the high pace set by the preceding episodes, and I particularly like what Steve Foxon has done with the music in today's episode. Even as the plot reached its climax, he didn't amp up the pace at all... he just increased the moodiness and the depth and the volume from where it already was. That's the best decision I could think of. Well done.
There's some more good character moments too as Ace grapples with whether that was really the Doctor who told them not to harm Baiame, or how she and Hex later tease him on how he didn't do much to help the buildings of the colony, which all still need rebuilding.
All in all then, I can tell you that "Dreamtime" is a wonderfully evocative, cool, involving, and no doubt deep story if you already have a knowledge of Australian Aboriginal legends connecting to Uluru. If you don't have that foreknowledge, strike "involving" off the list as you'll be bewildered by what's being said, particularly in part three.
One last thing... I couldn't help but think during the epilog scene where the Doctor is ruminating on how the people here may come to know each other better now that they've shared in the Dreamtime and also have to reconstruct everything that this would make for a very interesting sequel story... perhaps not a "Doctor Who" one, but this strikes me as a really neat place to set a story or short series about people doing just as the Doctor described here... it's a fascinating premise.
In which Dorothy really does go to Oz.
It has to be said that the first scene in ‘Dreamtime’ is one of the most baffling in a long time. A riot. Soldiers. The sense of something threatening – and then something - wonderful? Who knows? But it certainly leaves you disoriented.
But once the first three or four minutes of ‘Dreamtime’ is out of the way the confusion passes and you are comfortably in Seventh Doctor territory with all of the gloom and foreboding you could wish for. The Doctor, Ace and Hex have arrived in the middle of a gloomy city lying somewhere between the stars; a city devoid of inhabitants save for crowds of crude humanoid statues; whilst at its very centre is the gigantic mass of Ayers Rock.
Admit it – you’re intrigued.
The story deepens as the Doctor and companions learn that the few traumatised survivors are hunted by creatures from Aboriginal mythology. A city in the unimaginable far future is threatened by The Dreamtime – a state of unbeing that existing not only before creation – but also alongside it.
Also drawn to the city are a group of Galyari (from Simon Forward’s previous ‘Sandman’ and ‘Bone of Contention’) - a hard-hearted race of traders who have little time for the shifting myths of the Dreamtime.
‘Dreamtime’ is built on firm Doctor Who foundations – the conflicts between rationalism and mythology, between brute force and subtlety and good and evil. The story also manages to go beyond these confines. It’s hard to say if any of the protagonists are actually truly good or evil – instead some are more self-serving than others. Crucially, “Dreamtime’ only takes place because of peoples’ desire to ‘do the right thing’; even the best of intentions can have the most awful consequences. The story is told in shades of grey; something that should be familiar from Simon Forward’s earlier DW books.
I really don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t heard the story, so I’d best just say that the revelation of the Dreamtime IS worth waiting for. This is big science fiction of the type that DW usually manages to fluff; it’s new and it’s clever.
At first you feel a little overwhelmed by the story; so many characters, an element of time-travel and the general spookiness of the Dreamtime – THEN an alien race turning up; but the story actually needs all of those components to succeed. You’re going to have to concentrate on the story because just about every line is used to develop the plot. In fact you’ll probably need to listen at least twice in order to catch every nuance of the plot.
The script deserves special praise, it contains a large cast of characters and manages to give them all (with one exception) plenty to do and plenty to say. It has some good jokes and not too many references to past stories – so newcomers won’t feel too much out of their depth. Ace and the Doctor are clearly on top form enjoying the scope of their characters to the full. She comes across as a rounded character light years from her monotone introduction all those years ago, whilst he fizzes with brooding energy – chewing up the script with great relish. Hex – hmmmm – I can safely say he made next to no impression on me - would I be right in thinking that he wasn’t originally in this story? The remainder of the cast are great – some real Australian accents for a change and the Galyari are (finally) understandable – fixing a problem dating all the way back to ‘Sandman’.
So is it perfect? Not quite. In fact ‘Dreamtime’ unforgivably manages to blow a crucial scene early on. Ayers Rock – just say it and you can see that image of a brick red mountain looming up out of a featureless plain. It’s an amazing sight, one of the greatest in the World. Now imagine it sitting in the middle of a surrealist city – in space! Your mind boggles at the audacity of the image. In a science fiction movie it would be the big money shot, the score would swell, you’d turn to your neighbour and say ‘Oh wow!’ Had the series ever broadcast ‘Dreamtime’ that would be the sight people would remember. It is potentially that good. Except here. The revelation of the great rock is so underwhelming that it undermines the magic. If only the story just paused for a moment in its headlong rush, gave you a chance to go ‘Wow!’ or to feel the shiver-down-the-spine sense of awe that should be there. The sense of mystery and menace never quite builds. It SHOULD be terrifying, instead it’s just unsettling.
Overall, ‘Dreamtime’ is a good solid story that does require some intelligence from the listener. Unlike many stories it rewards a second and third listen; new aspects of the plot become clear only in retrospect. There are some minor pacing and character problems that are more likely down to the production process than any underlying flaws.
You’ll need to work to enjoy ‘Dreamtime’ – but it is worth the effort.
Dorothy and Oz – that’s not a coincidence is it?