The Dark Planet

Posted in Audio by - August 03, 2017
The Dark Planet

Released September 2013

The fourth and final series of Big Finish’s The Lost Stories kicks off with Brian Hayles’s ‘The Dark Planet,’ a reunion for William Russell and Maureen O’Brien in a tale originally intended to air during William Hartnell’s second season. As the TARDIS lands on a world lit by a dying sun in the earliest days of the universe, the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki quickly find themselves in a civil war between the planet’s two ages-old denizens, those of light and those of shadow, as escalations rise and nothing is quiet as clear as it seems.

Had ‘The Dark Planet’ made it to broadcast, it would have yielded a marked contrast to many of the stories around it, placing the heroic travelers directly into the conflict and exploring the many facets of each side gradually and logically to paint a satisfyingly complex picture of events on this dying world. Although the story itself cannot quite sustain six episodes’ worth of material and as a result does suffer from padded scenes and irregular pacing, the heavy atmosphere created to explore this most primal and direct of battles is immense and easily helps to sustain interest even when there is a lull in action, giving credence to the notion that calm and collected communication is by far the most effective approach to conflict resolution.

As nuanced and layered as the core conflict ends up being, however, the characterization is the standout component of this story, benefiting greatly from its placement during the second season when Hartnell’s First Doctor was more prone to acting and interfering based on principles and morals. William Russell again does magnificent work in deftly switching between and adding distinction to his Ian Chesterton, First Doctor, and narrator voices, and the wonderful bond between Ian and Barbara is on full display even with Maureen O’Brien reading the dialogue for Barbara. Indeed, with O’Brien flawlessly recapturing her younger tones, this is a tale that features the very best of all of the four main heroes, and Vicki benefits from a very proactive and shrewd characterization that wasn’t always at the forefront during her character’s tenure on television. The increasing complexity of the dilemma around them is mirrored by the increasingly layered and strong personalities of its leads, and ‘The Dark Planet’ is all the stronger for it.

Of note is Toby Hrycek-Robinson’s eerily effective score which perfectly creates a sense of unease during this unknown time without ever encroaching too much on the plot and dialogue. In fact, with uniformly excellent performances, evocative dialogue and narration, strong direction, and inspired sound design, it is only the script itself that sometimes offers moments that break away from the general high quality on display, and this itself is only because of its extended running time. ‘The Dark Planet’ does a surprisingly effective job hiding its rather straightforward plot with changes in scenes and perspectives, but the pacing is simply too inconsistent to sustain the intrigue through six episodes. Thus, while ‘The Dark Planet’ is a thoroughly enjoyable and poignant tale that captures the essence of the second season of Doctor Who wonderfully, it is nonetheless a slightly uneven affair that doesn’t quite reach the truly magnificent heights a slightly more condensed script could have achieved.

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