“We have great power. You choose to abuse it. I choose to clear up the mess you and others like you leave behind.”
Don’t let the first few minutes fool you: despite a quick cameo from the inimitable Sylvester McCoy, this is a box of Eighth Doctor Adventures, or the current rebranding thereof. That’s right, with Dark Eyes having run its course, we’ve now begun a new series of (presumably quarterly) box sets in the McGann line.
Carried over from Dark Eyes is Nicola Walker’s life-hardened futurist Liv Chenka, who proves both useful and something of an annoyance to stuffy Gallifreyan CIA head Lady Farina (Caroline Langrishe)…
In Matt Fitton’s The Eleven, we kick off from a Silence of the Lambs scenario, where a mad timelord of the selfsame title (so named for his carrying all of his regenerations simultaneously in his therefore insane mind) escapes from his Gallifreyan prison. Sheesh, and we thought The Master had gone off the deep end since the Eric Roberts iteration…
With the President offworld, The Eleven, as member of the Gallifreyan High Council, invokes an obscure regulation to become Acting President…cutting the power and trapping The Doctor, Liv and Lady Farina with a wing of dangerously violent maximum security prisoners…and when The Eleven decides he needs a companion, will Liv be his choice?
While it’s inherently comic to hear one actor having to pull off multiple personalities arguing with each other, Marc Bonnar does his level best to imbue his portrayal with po-faced seriousness and even a degree of menace – no easy task, considering.
Then John Dorney has The Doctor and Liv travel into the past, to the dawn of 60’s Swinging London! A private collection of archaeological artifacts is donated to the National Museum…one which is very specialized in focus. For it traces the representations and appearances of a mysterious “red lady”…
“Have you ever actually met a woman?”
This episode introduces new companion Helen Sinclair (Hattie Morahan), who finds the patriarchalism of her day positively stifling. Whether being passed over for promotion at work or dealing with stuffy parochialism on the party circuit, she’s a tightly wound bundle of frustration. And a trip on the Tardis seems like an all too welcome way out…
The story itself is primo sci-fi horror, which taps into a vaguely weeping angels aesthetic, but involving a far more cosmic menace, wending her way through history…
There’s an interesting conceit that only the artist, musician, author or poet would truly understand, where once the titular being is seen, she infects and obsesses the viewer, to the point where she (the muse, if you will) must be exorcised through the art of creation: write, draw, sculpt, paint her image, or be consumed in the unfulfilled fires that drive what is these days so inaccurately lumped under the all-encompassing term “artist” (as if pop princesses were worthy of the Louvre, or study in future school textbooks…don’t get me started). Nice touch.
“When you’re old and disgraced, and alone in the dark…even half a hope answered is better than none.”
Then Marc Platt (of the McCoy era teleseries serial Ghost Light) drops the requisite historical on us with The Galileo Trap. Apparently post-imprisonment and blindness Florentine astronomer Galileo Galilei has discovered a new planet between Mercury and the Sun…which is apparently what blinded him in the first place.
But he cannot tell his secret – both for fear of another church inquisition and due to the cruel guards who may be more than they seem…and did we mention a mysterious plague raging through the city?
Liv and Helen run across an alien security officer while The Doctor and Galileo are threatened by the very prey he hunts here…
With humans being hunted as livestock and traded to interstellar forces, there’s a whole lot of trouble in store in old Fiorenza…
Busier than your average historical, the more fantastic elements do help to make the drier bits go down a bit less roughly, and John Woodvine’s Galileo proves a likeable, good humored sort in spite of his social and physical afflictions.
Finally Edward Collier delivers the requisite New Who/Grant Morrison “bigger is better” grand universal threat episode, The Satanic Mill.
There’s plenty of bombast, menacing from our grand villain of the piece and ostensible “action”, but precious little substance to dig into beyond that.
Essentially, The Doctor walks into a trap set by The Eleven that brings things like Omega, the Eye of Harmony and the Stellar Manipulator into play, with The Doctor himself being the catalyst for great interstellar destruction. Oh, and it’s set to kick off with planet Earth, right at the dawn of the Age of Reason, just to seriously piss our hero off.
Quite a bit of barnstorming on the acting front, particularly from Bonnar’s insane Eleven, and sure to appeal to Newvians world over. Equally likely to be too damn noisy and Hollywood for the Classic Whovian…
Overall, this isn’t a major change in tone from the Dark Eyes run. We’ve swapped The Master, the Daleks and The Eminence for The Eleven, and Molly O’Sullivan for Helen Sinclair, but it plays to the same audience and bears the same essential sensibilities.
McGann, straddling the divide between Classic Who and New Who, proves the ideal protagonist for this sort of thing, allowing for a few more thoughtful, old school stories (such as the excellent Red Lady) to be scattered among the more Russell T. Davies/Steven Moffatt approach to both the historical and the over-dramatic “menace in space” and “iconic villain” business.
Some bits were quite nice (Woodvine’s very enjoyable take on Gallileo, the building chumminess between Walker’s Liv Chenka and Morahan’s Helen Sinclair) and Bonnar is to be commended for delivering a measure of gravitas to what could easily have been an unintentionally hilarious role (picture someone like Bob Goldthwait reading those very same lines, and you’ll snap right out of it).
But in the end, it’s just a new season of Dark Eyes, rather than a return to the more Classic Who-oriented style of the Eighth Doctor Adventures or even McGann’s run in the main line of Big Finish Doctor Who, where the man further felt more central to the proceedings than he does in all the explosive, haute tension Earth (and universe) shattering business these days.
Younger listeners should feel right at home with The Doom Coalition, as with Dark Eyes before it, and wonder why more Classic Who oriented ones may find their noses have been put a bit out of joint at this ongoing new direction for the Eighth Doctor.