And this time, that isn’t a metaphorical statement about the relative moralities of the combatants; it’s the quite literal truth. Brian Hayles’ pitch for the first Doctor has been expanded into a full-length story by Matt Fitton, with narration by William Russell and Maureen O’Brien, and each playing their own original role, as well as their gender counterpart (the Doctor or Barbara). There’s a mix of full-cast scenes and reported speech which works well for the most part – I have to say that I’m hoping the latter element is reduced even more for the Early Adventures when they arrive this time next year.
Hayles’ story is not one that could probably have been achieved by the BBC production team at the time – at least this variant of it, based on the synopsis given in Nothing at the End of the Lane (sites around the web suggest that some versions of The Dark Planet were very different). It’s based around sentient shadows battling with light creatures (which remind me of the original Battlestar Galactica’s Ship of Lights), neither of which is easy to portray on film – and certainly not on audio, requiring a higher use of narration than otherwise might have been required.
Doing this with just four actors must also have been a challenge, and John Banks and Charlie Norfolk do sterling work alongside Russell and O’Brien. Ken Bentley’s direction – and good use of Toby Hrycek-Robinson’s score – maintains the pace, allowing the parallels with the Cuban Missile Crisis to come out in the final parts without it becoming too obvious (I’ll even forgive the rather melodramatic line about the world holding its breath, given the source of the analogy). Am I the only one who mentally envisaged a Saturn V rocket as the ship takes off, particularly given its similarity to an infamous scene in Revenge of the Cybermen?
Verdict: With so little to work from, this story walks the borderline between Lost Story and Early Adventure, and makes enjoyable listening. 8/10