“Remember Fang Rock?”
The Tardis lands on a windswept, misty St. Michael’s Island just in time for a gathering of a small appreciation society for a famed century old magic lanternist. But there is more to the man’s legend than his skills with photography or mere charlatanism – a darker, more sinister spiritual edge.
What is the secret of the screaming glass? And why are members of the Caversham Society turning up dead?
“You’d better come in, you’ll catch your death.”
“You cannot catch death, old woman. Though I fear death is close on your heels.”
Returning to the strong current of humor and societal faux pas inherent to the Leela character (particularly when placed in a setting marked by Victorian or Edwardian high manners), Justin Richards draws from the general sensibility that marked the strongest Baker/Jameson era televised Whos – the Jago & Litefoot-introducing Talons of Weng Chiang and the turn of the century gothic Horror of Fang Rock, while simultaneously managing to avoid retreading well worn ground.
Pulling in the stronger elements of the later Image of the Fendahl, Richards utilizes the ostensibly unrelated period fascinations with daguerrotype photography and the proto-motion picture of the magic lantern show and that of mysticism, seances and the occult to craft what amounts to a classic old dark house story ala Agatha Christie.
“It is a mistake to theorize ahead of the facts.”
“But that is what you always do!”
“Nonsense, I make wild guesses. That is completely different.”
Baker seems to be in rare form, gleefully humming to himself and rattling off bits of amusing nonsense, absurdism and non sequitur with an abundance of fatherly chuckling and audial wink of the eye. Jameson, as ever, throws herself into the role with gusto, careening from confused light comedic cluelessness at social proprieties to lusty, throaty cries to battle at the drop of a hat. The two Whovians in our own household have always held Leela as our hands down favorite Baker companion (and one of our favorites overall), and it’s a real pleasure to hear her return in adventures worthy of her mettle (and the acting talents of the woman behind the character).
Guests Julian Wadham (yes, John Steed himself), Mark Lewis Jones and Sinead and Rory Keenan deliver the proper degree of stuffiness and (where applicable) likeability for listeners to invest themselves in the story and its characters, and Nick Briggs brings his ‘A’ game to play for a story that falls rather outside his usual preference for tales of bombast, warfare and Dalekania. It’s a good show all around.
“It is not good to dwell on the death of friends. Better to look forward with pleasure to the death of your enemy.”
Following a few more middling episodes of late, The Darkness of Glass marks a return to form of sorts for the Fourth Doctor Adventures. Working to both Baker and Jameson’s strengths, the script elicits gothic horror and occultism, a fin de siecle historical setting, oodles of atmosphere and a heaping helping of absurdism (Baker) intertwined with and offset by a larger scale comedy of manners (skewered by the very “natural” naif of Jameson’s Leela).
Whether in a more deep space, science fiction setting or in a more properly gothic historical one, this is what Whovians tend to think of when Baker comes to mind, particularly in his deservedly celebrated Philip Hinchcliffe and (if to a somewhat lesser extent) Graham Williams eras.
And honestly? This sort of story is really where any series focusing on the Fourth Doctor should be setting its baseline.