The Plague of Dreams

Posted in Audio by - May 02, 2018
The Plague of Dreams

Released June 2017
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

As The First Doctor Volume Two draws to a close, Guy Adams with ‘The Plague of Dreams’ attempts to channel the most ambitious attempts of the early years of Doctor Who when, despite the technical limitations confronting the production staff, budgetary and practical shortcomings were embraced in the spirit of imagination and ideas taking precedence. Though the audio medium is not necessarily subject to the same constraints of 1960s television, Polly finding herself in a play within a play allows for a boldly experimental tale and a great degree of fun and true emotion to be mined from the strengths, weaknesses, and pratfalls of audio and stage stories and performances as drama and magic, angels and demons, nightmares, an unknown plague, and a war fought through time itself all feature in this harrowing fantasy in two acts.

The revelation that the events of this story and the very brief oddities in the previous tales are related at least indirectly to the Time War is a bold decision given the era but one that doesn’t quite deliver the intended impact precisely because of the era to which the script tries to adhere. Despite the Player’s claims that everyone involved will forget these events, the script tries to stay within the contextual norms of the William Hartnell era by refusing to mention Time Lords and Gallifrey directly by name, a seeming misstep given the audience’s foreknowledge and how physically and emotionally momentous the event is both in the Player’s present and the Doctor’s future. The trailer for this set does serve as prologue for this story to further develop events, itself an odd choice for those just picking up the set for enjoyment, but this is ultimately more a means of showing respect to the first man to play the title role while preparing his ailing character for his inevitable regeneration to start his evolution into the man the Time Lords need him to become as the Daleks amplify their attacks.

Wisely keeping the true identity of the Player shrouded, ‘The Plague of Dreams’ is humorous, insightful, and often meta, thrusting Anneke Wills and Elliot Chapman into the spotlight where at times they must purposefully overact, indulge in Shakespearean tropes, admit to each other what roles they are playing and who they are imitating, and stop the action to explain the logic or lack of need for logic behind certain actions their characters take. As Polly finds herself forced to give the Doctor a voice during this play as dreams and nightmares threaten to destroy everything, the Doctor’s propensity for technobabble and scientific mastery is quite wonderfully seen through Polly’s eyes, and the script quite overtly stating the fact that it’s simply the belief of the audience that is needed to make any action work in forming a satisfying resolution successfully speaks to the core of the Doctor as a fictional hero and the franchise as a whole. Wills and Chapman are given an incredible range of material here, and both deliver powerful performances bolstered by a superb chemistry to bring this daring tale to life expertly.

With confident direction and a script and format that is intelligent, ambitious, and hard-hitting beneath the obvious pleasure that toying with theatrical norms allows, ‘The Plague of Dreams’ is a fitting prologue to the First Doctor’s regeneration in Antarctica that highlights the best of the character who developed so much during his tenure as well as the important role he would come to play with the entire universe at stake. Although the Time War aspects are simply too vague to truly deliver any narrative impact for this otherwise sublime story, the prospect of the effects of the Time War reaching this far back into the Doctor’s personal timeline as everyone on Gallifrey finds themselves involved in the inevitable fight is chilling and proves that truly no person and no place is ever truly safe even with the Time Lords watching.

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