Brightly Shone The Moon that Night

If this is heaven, then someone’s made a real screw-up with the paperwork.

Shreela

Synopsis

The TARDIS crew encounters a shameful secret of the Time Lords. History has been rewritten, and this time, it’s all the Doctor’s fault.

Review

After some plot threads were pulled together in the previous story, we are finally at the culmination of this anthology. With the Doctor unwittingly releasing the Were Lords, we finally get answers to the mystery behind why the TARDIS has been landing in the 59th Century in these adventures, as well as filling in some of the backstory surrounding Peri’s partner, Joe, including how they met, and brings back characters from the first two parts of the story.

I wrote about the consequences of the Doctor’s actions in the previous review and here it is revealed how his actions in the previous stories have led to this point. His interference on Naxios led to weapons not being produced using the planet’s living silver to fight the Were Lords, and the destruction of the Ishtar Institute meant that the rejected embryos, who were sold to the military, were not developed into soldiers designed to fight them. Combined with the events onboard the Tate Galactic in the previous story, the Doctor is manipulated into the role, but I think it makes the character of the Doctor stronger. It is important that the Doctor does not become an infallible hero, always making the right decisions for the greater good, as it makes him (or her) more relatable. It is particularly effective when the incarnation in question is Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor, who is at times more confident and arrogant that some of the other incarnations that came both before and after him and this story and anthology in general does seem to take some wind out of his sails.

I quite like the concept of the Were Lords and the fact that they are the origins of the myths and legends of werewolves on Earth. They are Gallifreyan soldiers used to fight in the Vampire Wars and who fled. With the ability to regenerate, they certainly feel like a worthy foe and as in this last story, Steven Elder does a great job with Lycaon. The Were Lords plan to use the belief system to ensure that they subjugate the Earth by creating a climate of fear, which is a clever call back to the belief system in the first part, and I quite liked the way that the Doctor eventually defeats the Were Lords, using the ability to regenerate between forms against them.

I’ve spoken about how Peri is at the fore of these stories and, with this story focusing in on the Doctor making mistakes, it is important to note that Peri has also made an error by allowing Joe onto the TARDIS. Here, we find out that he is also a Were Lord, who has posed as Peri’s partner in order to allow his race to break free of their captivity. This reveal helps to answer some unsolved questions, such as why Joe wasn’t more involved in these stories. I must admit I felt a bit slow when it was revealed that he was a Were Lord, having missed the fact that he was unable to go down into the caves on Naxios due to the silver, although my suspicions were aroused when he was unable to go through a mistletoe-garlanded arch in the previous part. There are some particularly powerful scenes between Peri and Joe here and both Nicola Bryant and Luke Allen-Gale do a good job here. Allen-Gale shifts his performance slightly following the reveal and is less fawning and more unpleasant, which worked really well, and the scene between the two in the airlock is particularly memorable, and Bryant is also superb when she meets the incubator robots representing her children, aged to 25 years old, which is a lovely way of rounding off the unanswered question of what her children would be like as grown-ups left dangling in The Baby Awakes.

Verdict: Brightly Shone The Moon That Night provides a satisfying conclusion to this collection of stories. Nicola Bryant particularly shines here. 8/10

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), Luke Allen-Gale (Joe Carnaby), Steven Elder (Lord Lycaon), Louise Kempton (Selene), Dawn Murphy (Ratty/Cordeline), Becky Wright (Mole/Shreela/Janey), Roger Parrott (Toad) & Cliff Chapman (Robot Attendant/Paul).

Writer: Nev Fountain

Director: John Ainsworth

Behind the Scenes

  • All four stories in Blood on Santa’s Claw and Other Stories were written by Nev Fountain. The pseudonyms were employed to throw people off the scent of an audio anthology.

Best Quote

Doctor, are you okay?

Of course I’m not okay! Arent’ you paying attention? If what they say is true, this is too horrible to contemplate.

It’s not your fault. They manipulated you.

Well, they didn’t need to. They just wound me up like a clockwork solider and marched me into battle!

Peri Brown and the Sixth Doctor

Other Stories in this anthology:

Blood on Santa’s Claw

The Baby Awakes

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day

What would be the point in going to a party on a space station when there’s a whole universe to explore?

The Sixth Doctor

Synopsis

A Christmas party that has been going on for three years. Strange silver robots who guard the Christmas decorations with lethal force. What is the secret behind the festivities on Tate Galactic?

Review

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day has a difficult job in this release, which I guess I can reveal now is an anthology rather than four separate stories. This serves the role of the first part of the two-part finales that we have become familiar with in the course of the new series, and starts to tie together some of the threads we have encountered in the previous two stories here. This story has to toe the line carefully to not reveal too much at once, instead dropping hints and it largely does this well, but it probably helps that the story isn’t trying to handle as weighty issues as the previous two.

Listening to this story in the midst of a global pandemic and various lockdowns, the premise of the story, a Christmas party that seems to have been going on for three years, has some added poignancy. Although I am writing this in December, days like this have felt a lot like Groundhog Day, spent with the same group of people. When you throw Christmas into the mix, it almost feels worse – as someone who loves Christmas, a part of what makes it enjoyable is that it is only a short period of time. To spend every day in the midst of a Christmas party would be pretty horrific, so it is fitting that the concept is ultimately revealed to be a prison for the Were Lords devised by the Earth government. Ultimately, the party was only supposed to be an initial ruse for them, but something has gone wrong with the mainframe.

This is a story in which the Doctor proves to be his own worst enemy and manipulated by his enemies into doing the wrong thing, despite having the purest of intentions. Especially in the original show’s run, the Doctor doesn’t really ever stick around to see the consequences of his actions and interference, and here he believes that those imprisoned on the Tate Galactic are political prisoners. Nine times out of ten in a Doctor Who story, the Doctor would be doing the right thing in helping Lord Lycaon and the other prisoners out of this psychological prison. Here, it is absolutely the wrong thing to do, and it’s interesting to see the Doctor put into this position. It is only when the Earth President confronts him about his actions that the Doctor even begins to question his actions and how badly he has misread the situation. There are clues as to the villains’ true identities through the deterrents used in the base, including mistletoe and the silver robots, but Lycaon comes across as a genuinely wronged party for a lot of this story’s run time, and Stephen Elder is a worthy adversary to Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor here.

This is also an important moment for Peri and Joe. The Doctor’s doubts about Joe’s suitability as a companion have been clear from the first story in this release, but here Joe expresses doubts about whether Peri is happy travelling with the Doctor. Joe has discovered that he has followers in the 59th Century, like a lot of pop culture icons do under the new belief system, and believes that he could have a lot of fun exploring the universe on his own terms. The emotional scars have not entirely healed for Peri from The Baby Awakes, and it feels as though this is heading for a collision course in the concluding part. Luke Allen-Gale and Nicola Bryant are good in the scenes that they share together and do come across as a real couple throughout these stories.

Verdict: A story that feels as though it is getting its ducks in a line ready for the concluding part, I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day is functional, but probably the weakest of the four stories in this release. 7/10

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), Luke Allen-Gale (Joe Carnaby), Steven Elder (Lord Lycaon), Louise Kempton (Selene), Cliff Chapman (Robot Attendant) & Heather Bleasdale (President).

Writer: Andrew Lias

Director: John Ainsworth

Behind the Scenes

  • The writer’s name is a play on words on “alias”, for reasons which will become clear!

Best Quote

Act natural, drink, smile, pretend I’m saying something fascinating – which should be easy.

The Sixth Doctor

Previous Story: The Baby Awakes

The Baby Awakes

Why worry about arguing with your offspring in future years when you can choose a more agreeable child?

Cordeline

Synopsis

The Doctor, Peri and Joe visit the Ishtar Institute, where the term ‘designer babies’ takes on a new and sinister meaning. Will our heroes survive Christmas day?

Review

After dealing with religious persecution and slavery in Blood on Santa’s Claw, the next story deals with another heavy topic: eugenics. This is a very Peri-centric story and she provides the emotional heart here and it is difficult not to be moved by her performance. The story takes a rather traditional approach, with the first part focussing on the weird circumstances the characters find themselves in and the second revealing the circumstances behind it.

The story centres around the TARDIS trio investigating the mysterious Ishtar Institute, which allows prospective parents to simulate their children through the usage of incubator robots. In the opening scene of the story, we see one of the simulations of Christmas day derailed by unruly teenager, discounting him from adoption. Joe and Peri pose as potential parents, with the Sixth Doctor as the amiable Uncle, but Peri becomes emotionally attached to her simulated children, insisting on having more simulations as Cordeline, one of the Institute’s staff, tries to get them to discard one of the children. As a concept, designer babies are nothing new, as Joe points out that the idea is hardly novel on 1980s Earth, but it is given a sci-fi tilt here. The idea of trying out children being something as normal as a streaming subscription service is a bit creepy and feels like something that would be at home in an episode of Black Mirror. When it is revealed that Balan, the head of the facility is in fact one of these robots and has been callously giving rejected embryos to the military for them to develop into soldiers, the gut punch is much worse when it is revealed that Shreela is one of those embryos, rejected purely for a poor performance in a school play.

As stated above, this story does really focus in on Peri, and like a lot of stories in the Sixth Doctor’s era, she does really get put through the emotional wringer here. Scenes like the beach one perfectly demonstrate why she is having such a difficult time choosing between her children, regardless of whether or not they are only simulations. When she and Joe decide to simulate their children to their teenage years, they mutate and attack the facility, something which Joe later states is due to Peri’s travels with the Doctor, further making her feel guilty for the destruction they have caused. To make matters worse, the Doctor and Joe seem rather blasé about these simulated children’s eventual fate at the end of the story, leading to a great emotional outburst from her at the story’s end.

The story’s focus is away from the Doctor, and he is doing traditionally Doctor-y investigations. He, like Joe, is rather taken aback by Peri’s outburst towards the end of the story, which feels very much in keeping with the character of the Doctor, especially during the original run, where characters were expected to shake off tragic events easily from one adventure to the next. We still don’t have much of a feel for Joe, but he certainly doesn’t seem to be as attached to the children as Peri and this story has certainly put their relatively young relationship under some strain.

Verdict: Another story with some dark undertones, The Baby Awakes is an excellent example of Nicola Bryant’s strengths as Peri and certainly packs a fair share of emotional moments. 9/10

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), Luke Allen-Gale (Joe Carnaby), Roger Parrott (Balan), Dawn Murphy (Cordeline/Dorrit), Becky Wright (Shreela/Jana/Pip/Janey) & Cliff Chapman (Kren/Paul).

Writer: Susan Dennom

Director: John Ainsworth

Behind the Scenes

  • The name ‘Susan Dennom’ is a play on the word pseudonym. The reasoning behind this will become clear!
  • The name of Peri and Joe’s children, Michael, Paul and Janey, are the ones given by future Peri in Peri and the Piscon Paradox – before she is revealed to be lying about having children.

Best Quote

TARDIS. That’s your safe word, isn’t it Doctor? Say the word ‘TARDIS’ and everything goes away. Well sometimes, it’s not ‘all’s well that ends well. And sometimes Br’er Rabbit doesn’t crawl out of the briar patch and laugh at Br’er Wolf.

Peri Brown

Previous Story: Blood on Santa’s Claw

Blood on Santa’s Claw

Father Christmas doesn’t exist!

Well, he certainly doesn’t now.

Peri Brown and the Sixth Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor and Peri land on the planet Naxios, where they discover the body of a reptilian Father Christmas. Who killed him? The strange individuals dressed in Shakespearean costumes or the talking waist-coat clad animals working in the tunnels?

Review

Blood on Santa’s Claw kicks off a Christmas story boxset for the Sixth Doctor, Peri and her boyfriend, Joe. This mixes some interesting themes with lighter moments, which does give it a bit of a wobbly sense of tone, but it is a good listen.

This story has some interesting ideas at its core. The TARDIS has landed in the 59th Century, where organised religions have collapsed after science has proven every miracle to be possible. This leads to the Earth government decreeing that any belief in anything is a valid belief system and power is doled out to those beliefs with more followers, leading to this story’s central conflict between those following Shakespearean texts and those following Wind in the Willows. The disputes caused by this new system are arbitrated by a group called The Creed, a group described a “crack squad of psychotic Santas” and it is one of these who the Doctor and Peri find murdered in the tunnels of Naxios. The new belief system is well fleshed out in this story’s runtime, giving the listener enough information to understand the system well. The story is almost Classic Doctor Who down to a tee – the Doctor and his companion help the enslaved Ratty, Mole and Toad against Iago, Cordelia and the Witch – but this sub-plot adds something a bit more interesting. Followers can believe in anything they want, from television programmes to pop stars.

The tone of this story is probably the weakest element – having Santa Claus and characters from Shakespeare and Wind in the Willows does give this a heightened atmosphere and there are elements that make this feel a bit like a pantomime. After all, this is a story in which the Doctor and Peri dress up as Santa and an elf respectively! This all contrasts with the more serious subject matter of religious conflict and persecution. The Shakespeareans have forced the animals to work in their mines and as their followers have augmented themselves to become the actual animals from The Wind in the Willows, they are dehumanised and tortured by the ruling class and only counted as two-thirds of a person. Whilst this adds to the intrigue of the story, the juxtaposition can be a bit jarring, especially in the lighter moments.

I’m not in shock, I told you. I can do this, I just…I’ve got a thing about tunnels.

Well, that’s what we do, Joseph. We explore, we go down tunnels!

I just…don’t like tunnels, okay? I’ve got a thing about tunnels, I had a bad incident in Wookey Hole. I can get over it, just not today.

Joe Carnaby and the Sixth Doctor

Whilst this is the first adventure we have with Joe, he takes a backseat here, allowing Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant to really shine. The new addition to the TARDIS is not entire welcomed with open arms by the Doctor, with some seeming jealousy creeping in that there is someone else in Peri’s life other than him. It seems obvious to say but the scenes with Peri and the Doctor together feel really comfortable and they have a strong relationship. The exchange when they discuss how the Doctor introduces the TARDIS trio is really good, as it implies how uncomfortable he is with the change in dynamics. He has sussed Joe out as not being companion material, despite this only being their third adventure in the TARDIS, and, like the Tenth Doctor later would when Mickey briefly travelled with him and Rose, labels him as Peri’s responsibility. Bryant gives as good as she gets, and the bickering between them is more in tone with their other work with Big Finish rather than what was seen on television in the 1980s. Whilst he is not in a lot of this story, Luke Allen-Gale comes across as quite affable, maybe a companion in the mould of Harry Sullivan rather than other companions like Ian.

Verdict: Blood on Santa’s Claw is a good opening story for this set, with an interesting idea at its heart. It is let down by an uneven tone, but Baker and Bryant do a good job here. 8/10

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), Luke Allen-Gale (Joe Carnaby), Heather Bleasdale (Cordelia), Cliff Chapman (Iago), Steven Elder (Rudolph), Dawn Murphy (Ratty), Roger Parrott (Toad) & Becky Wright (Mole/Witch).

Writer: Alan Terigo

Director: John Ainsworth

Behind the Scenes

  • “Alan Terigo” is the first of three pseudonyms for writer Nev Fountain, a play on alter-ego. The reason for this will become clear.
  • Joe refers to having encounter difficulties whilst filming in Wookey Hole. Doctor Who filmed in Wookey Hole for Revenge of the Cybermen, where they also encountered problems.

Cast Notes

  • Steven Elder previously appeared in Jubilee and Something Inside, as well as playing Siy Tarkov in Dalek Empire.
  • Dawn Murphy previously appeared in Antidote to Oblivion.
  • Roger Parrott previously appeared in The Settling, as well as making appearances in Gallifrey and Iris Wildthyme.
  • Becky Wright previously appeared in The Rani Elite and Ironbright, and would go on to appear in Plight of the Pimpernel.

Best Quote

You know, Peri, I’m getting quite comfortable in the red velvet. Perhaps I should get rid of “the coat” and keep this ensemble.

No, Doctor!

Oh?

I never thought I’d say this, but keep the coat! I’ve got used to it.

The Sixth Doctor and Peri Brown

Blood on Santa’s Claw and Other Stories is available from the Big Finish website.

In the Forest of the Night

There’s no such thing as an arboreal coincidence.

The Twelfth Doctor

Synopsis

Everywhere, in every land, a forest has grown up overnight and taken back the Earth. It doesn’t take the Doctor long to discover that the Earth’s days are numbered…

Review

In the Forest of the Night is one of those episodes that has an intriguing concept at its centre, however, it doesn’t feel as though it has enough plot to cover the story’s run time. After a strong run in the latter part of Capaldi’s debut series, and indeed some great stories that I’ve recently reviewed on here, I’m not going to deny that this story took some effort to watch to write this review. There are certainly positives here, but make no mistake, this is the weakest episode of Series 8 for me, made all the more surprising that it has come from the acclaimed writer, Frank Cottrell Boyce, who would later go on to write Smile, which is certainly a better story than this one.

I’ll start with the main positive, which is the direction of Sheree Folkson. This is her only directorial credit for Doctor Who, which is a great shame as I think she does some great work here. The early establishing shots of Maebh running through the forest are simple but really fantastic, starting off by focussing on the trees before introducing us to the character. Equally, once Maebh arrives at the TARDIS, there is some lovely camera work going around the upper level of the set as the two walk around before coming back down to the central console – it is a good use of the available space. Folkson does the more out of the ordinary stuff well here too – the scenes where Maebh talks to the lifeforce of the trees looks visually stunning. If Sheree Folkson came back to direct another episode, I think we could expect some more solid direction work from her.

As I said in my introduction, I think the central idea of In the Forest of the Night is an interesting one, but it is possibly too simplistic to cover a 45-minute story and would possibly have felt more at home with Matt Smith as the Doctor than Peter Capaldi, as this feels like a fairy-tale. I think that a large degree of this is because there is no real sense of threat. Whilst Maebh, the Doctor and Clara encounter wolves and a tiger whilst in the forest, they are dealt with easily and the fact that the reasons behind the forest springing up overnight are benevolent undermine the story somewhat. From reading around in preparation for this blog, a lot of commentators draw parallels between this story and Kill the Moon, which certainly is the case here, especially with the speech Maebh gives telling humans not to attack the forest feeling very similar to Clara’s about the hatching Moon earlier in this season. For my money, Kill the Moon takes similar steps and does them better than they are demonstrated here. This story also has some leaps, like the world waking up at the same time to find that the world is covered in trees, disregarding time zones entirely, or the fact that London is seemingly deserted, with only the central characters, Maebh’s mother and the team trying to burn the trees down out in London. Whilst Cottrell Boyce’s central message of listening and believing children is admirable, it almost goes too far in suggesting that children taking medication to help them deal with issues is a problem – Maebh is presented as the rule, rather as an exception. However, the story is clearly intending for us to agree with the Doctor rather than Clara and Danny, who are insistent that she needs to take her medication, which is a troubling message for the show to be sending out. The story also falls down when it comes down to the ending. As soon as Maebh mentions her missing sister, Annabel, you can almost guarantee that she will show up come the ending. It feels like an afterthought, however, with no real reason for this brief scene to be there. The story also has the problem that the human race ultimately just forgets the events of this story is also a big minus and feels like a cop out.

This story features Clara and Danny’s ‘gifted and talented’ group of school kids who have had an overnight field trip in a museum. As the famous saying goes, ‘never work with children or animals’, and Doctor Who is no exception to having had experience of the lottery of child actors. The most recent examples before this episode were the Maitland children from Series 7 and Courtney Woods from Kill the Moon. The kids here are a bit of a mixed bag, from good (Abigail Eames as Maebh) to non-descript (the majority) and the irritating (Harley Bird as Ruby). I don’t think that the poor performances are entirely down to the actors, but, as mentioned above, the story isn’t fantastic.

This is stressing me. When I get stressed, I forget my anger management.

Bradley

This is an episode that certainly focuses more on Danny, who almost occupies the Doctor role of this story, focused on getting the children to safety. Samuel Anderson does really well here, as Clara is preoccupied with the situation with the Doctor. This story marks the culmination of Clara’s lies to both him and the Doctor, with Danny finding her marking on the TARDIS. This episode showcases the Doctor’s innate ability and affinity towards children, especially characters like Maebh. The fact that she is able to break down his coarse exterior is something that we previously saw with Courtney Woods and reinforces that this is the same character as his predecessors. Equally, the scene where Clara sends the Doctor away shows how far this Doctor has come. Clara is a bit of a mixed bag here and her priorities seem off for the entire episode. At first she is more concerned about informing the Doctor than ensuring that the children in her care get back to their parents safely. Later, she is more concerned that Danny has found her books on the TARDIS than a potential disaster.

Verdict: A good concept for this story coupled with some great direction is let down by the lack of peril and there is not enough plot to cover the runtime. 3/10

Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink), Abigail Eames (Maebh), Jaydon Harris-Wallace (Samson), Ashley Foster (Bradley), Harley Bird (Ruby), Michelle Gomez (Missy), Siwan Morris (Maebh’s Mum), Harry Dickman (George), James Weber Brown (Minister), Michelle Asante (Neighbour), Curtis Flowers (Emergency Services Officer), Jenny Hill (Herself), Kate Tydman (Paris Reporter), Nana Amoo-Gottfried (Accra Reporter) & Eloise Barnes (Annabel).

Writer: Frank Cottrell-Boyce

Director: Sheree Folkson

Behind the Scenes

  • The title is taken from William Blake’s poem The Tyger – “Tyger! Tyger! burning bright/in the forest of the night!” It had previously been quoted in Planet of the Spiders and audio story The Emerald Tiger.
  • One of the buses seen in the background has an advert on it for Series 8 of Doctor Who. A in-universe appearance for the show previously occurred in Remembrance of the Daleks.

Best Moment

They are pretty thin on the ground here. I like the brief Missy cameo and the shots of the spirits of the trees.

Best Quote

Be less scared. Be more trusting.

Maebh

Previous Twelfth Doctor Review: Flatline

Other Reviews mentioned:

Kill The Moon