January 3, 2000
A well woven, character-driven piece, Dark Dreams seems to still fail due to that bugaboo known as lack of budget. There simply are too many characters verses not enough actors and a distinct lack of sound effects used when this obviously should have been one of those big-budget blockbusters. If you can manage to get past what it sounds like, however, and concentrate solely on the story, Dark Dreams rises above the rags that it was clothed in. (3/10)
Dark Dreams is the third story from Jeffrey Coburn's first series. It has a total of five episodes.
First of all, I felt that the storyline was a very good one. The fact of aliens coming to Earth just to finish a war that started back in the depths of space gives this Doctor Who story a very nice touch.
However, I felt that the storyline was slightly let down by the fact that there was too much chat, and not enough action - especially in the last two episodes.
Also, some of the voices were very hard to hear, especially when the actors and actresses tried to put on Russian accents (in Parts Four and Five). This made the storyline plot of travelling to Russia fail a little.
As another minor point, I felt that Part Five went on slightly longer than it needed to. At a total duration of just under half and hour, I think that this story could have easily been produced in six parts (rather than five).
To finish off with, Peter Hinchman (Comdr. Mark Triyad) had a slightly easier job than Jeff and Sheri in Part Three, as he spent most of the episode unconscious. I don't think writing his character out of the storyline (even for a brief amount of time) was such a good idea. This is because that Comdr. Mark Triyad's character has a very war-like background, and as the storyline contains a war-like quality, I felt that he should have had a bigger part in that particular episode.
Unfortunately, Dark Dreams just didn't fully grab my personal attention.
UNIT uses a space/time telegraph to summon the TARDIS back to Earth, as it seems two UFOs have crashed on either side of the Iron Curtain. Since Colonel Crichton is a total moron, it relies on the Doctor to explain the patently obvious to him: that the two aliens have allied themselves with opposite sides of the Cold War. When the UFO on the Northern American side is blown apart, the Doctor realizes the natives were responsible rather than the alien itself. Indeed, while UNIT wander around getting nowhere, the Doctor actually finds the alien and its US allies, and defeats them before they can carry out their plan. However, there are two more episodes to go, so it turns out the other alien has Russian allies and is himself being hunted down by another Time Lord, the fiery, warlike violent, ruthless, renegade “Harlan”. What a stupid name. Not as stupid as “Gascoolerosessix”, but... Anyway. Moving on. UNIT and the KGB forge an unholy alliance and get rid of the aliens. Unfortunately this one DOES fire the missile, but luckily Harlan has god like powers and is able to blow up the missile before it does any damage. Gazooks!
Ever since the days of Tom Baker, it is traditional for every new incarnation to encounter a roll call of returning characters – Daleks, Cybermen, the Master, UNIT. With the Fourth Doctor, it was a simple case of putting the square peg of the new main character into the round hole of already established stories and seeing what happened. Nowadays, a given incarnation is not a ‘proper’ Doctor until he’s encountered such old enemies, and leaving something new to the mythos is secondary. Christopher Eccleston’s shortlived Ninth Doctor still managed to encounter Daleks, Cybermen, Autons, UNIT and chronovores, as well as introducing the Cardiff time rift, Captain Jack, the Time War and the Powell Estate.
It comes as no surprise that the DWADs, now having a new incarnation established, would want to put him up against the old foes and friends, partly to help define Coburn’s Doctor, and partly because event stories tend to be more popular. With the season scheduled to include Time Lords, the Master, Zylons, Starfleet and Daleks, Dark Dreams is chosen to be the UNIT story, featuring the return of Commander Charles Crichton, the one-off replacement for the Brigadier in The Five Doctors who was totally forgotten by the parent show, which decided on Brigadier Winifred Bambera instead. Part of the reason Crichton was quietly forgotten was, apart from anything else, he was clearly a narrow-minded fool who hit the bottle after one conversation with the Second Doctor. Worse, Ian Dodd’s delivery of the lines is rather one note, with continual outrage which needs an exclamation mark for every single utterance.
All in all, if there was a story to turn you off UNIT fun and frolics, it would be this story. The organization is useless in every important respect – its staff incompetent, its commanders unimaginative (surely a disadvantage when running an army unit created to fight alien monsters?), its food appalling, its security non existent and a ridiculous desire to remain top secret despite having their organization’s name printed everywhere. It’s also shockingly Eurocentric for an organization run from the United Nations in Geneva, and the revelation there is no UNIT base in Russia is more shocking than the genuine plot twists.
The plot itself is nothing special. The idea that two opposing factions of the same race would use opposing factions of humanity to ally with them was done in Battlefield, Remembrance of the Daleks, Revelation of the Daleks, and was the basis for Season Eight (the Doctor and the Master). The alien Usali are not memorable or sympathetic. Ossup is a psychotic warmonger who revels in destruction, and Motuth is more pragmatic and believing in ‘the greater good’. Effectively, we have an evil alien and an amoral one, so no one really cares who wins. It’s hard to be sympathetic with the humans, since they are either Colonel Barry or the interchangeable, unnamed Russians who would be hard to tell apart even if different actors played them. Why the Americans and the Russians take the word of a hydrogen-breathing alien crustacean that not only can he provide them with superior firepower but also that its enemy will automatically oppose their beliefs is never explained, or why Colonel Barry wouldn’t suspect that Motuth’s definition of morality (which includes slicing up harmless humans when needs must) might differ from his own.
Apparently huge chunks of the plot were cut at a draft stage, which might explain the top heavy plot of the five-episode story: Dark Dreams is split into two stories, a three parter focussing on Motuth and a two parter with Ossup, which is mainly filled with the new character Harlan – a kind of young, rebel version of the Doctor only with unrealistic super powers that are called upon to stop the defeat of one alien being a retreat of the other. Dara and Mark play no real part in the story, and nor does UNIT. The doubling and in some case tripling of the cast mixed with the poor sound quality make it a nightmare to work out who is doing what, and in many cases the answer isn’t worth the effort.
Most irritating is the fact the major plot thread of the Doctor not being trusted by UNIT because of his regeneration. Leaving aside the fact UNIT were informed of the events of Countdown to Armageddon and Apollyon, it is ridiculous that an organization the Doctor has worked with since the 1960s is unaware that he is capable of changing his face and personality. Worse, at the start of episode three Chrichton suddenly announces he is convinced of the Doctor’s credentials and the matter is never raised again, so the whole thing has been a waste of time.
Coburn’s Doctor does not come out well of this story. A carefree incarnation, he fits badly into the Third Doctor’s role of being the scientist that sorts everything out, and the plot refuses him a chance to talk down the aliens or get a peaceful solution. It would have been interesting for Ossup’s motivation to be explored now he no longer has a reason to declare nuclear war on America, but it is avoided in return for drawn out death scenes as the aliens self destruct. The Doctor is further sidelined by the pointless arrival of a renegade Time Lord with super powers and a baffling set of eccentricities that leave him looking like a human teenager that just happens to have two hearts. The hitherto-unmentioned super powers effortlessly solving the plot mean the Doctor’s main role in the story is to pilot the TARDIS into awkward places and let his passengers do the work.
After this story, it is no wonder the UNIT idea was rapidly abandoned by the DWADs. The idea of the organization still has mileage even today, but the Boys Own of the Pertwee era is not suited to an era of The X-Files, conspiracy theories, paranoia and distrust of organized military. The next two appearances by UNIT in Empire of the Daleks and Mesomorph do nothing to dispel the idea that the organization had had its day and needed a rethink before it appeared again in the DWADs.
It still hasn’t.
Personal Appreciation: **
“This isn’t a movie!” shouts the Doctor. He’s right. It’s a badly made audio play with its plot upside down.
The Doctor has gone very mellow, using jelly babies to relieve tension (he gets stressed easily this week) and started telling Mark homilies about encouraging wisdom and curiosity. The distress call from UNIT causes him to break into a standstill, apparently the most worried his companions have ever seen. He reasonably expects to be recognized despite his regeneration when he steps out of a police box that appears out of nowhere just after being summoned, and his telepathy’s up a notch today. After discovering UNIT is now run by brainless morons who didn’t like his old incarnation (who could blame them?) he seems to lose all faith in his paramilitary buddies to even transport the TARDIS. Sulphor stenches don’t affect his Time Lord nostrils and he loves watching movies with popcorn. He knows all about Usais and their life cycle and can even do an impromptu lecture on their biology. He carries a lockpick used by Houdini which is quicker than the usual sonic screwdriver and he has a personal best time. He is quite happy to use violence and his inhuman strength on his opponents. He brews truly awful coffee if Dara is believed and is an insanely rabid collector of Dream Corridor comics from the 1990s. Sonic screwdrivers are all the rage on Gallifrey (though Big Finish suggests they are called Molenski Univarius).
Curiously, an overconfident American teenager looks, sounds and acts exactly like this incarnation of the Doctor before being killed by Mortuth. And Colonel Crichton’s aide, the unnamed sergeant is another dead ringer. Odd that.
Mark seems bored rigid with his companions and doesn’t say much. This adventure doesn’t excite him much, as UNIT is laughable as a credible military force to both a solider for the future, and also anyone who lives in the real world. He was something of a nerd when it came to old Federation reports which luckily allows. Showing superhuman courage and bravery, he actually risks his life to save Dara from being caught in an explosion. He rationalizes that some deaths are worth saving millions, even though that argument tends to be abused by warmongers and the like (suggesting Mark doesn’t believe it, but only says he does to piss off the Doctor). He’s some of an antique car fan, as his knowledge of hovercars extends to the 21st century. He isn’t dumb enough to worry about the Doctor falling into a coma without evidence that it’s serious. Mark’s lack of faith in the Doctor is justified as, once again, only blind luck stops them getting reduced to salmon-liver pate. He is outright horrified at the idea of Dara seducing Harlan, which is the most scared I’ve ever heard him. Frankly, the idea creeps me out too.
Though she’s a lot more thoughtful and likable this week, Dara’s still driven her companions to hide from her in the depths of the TARDIS. She accuses a soldier of copping a feel off her when he tries to fend her off. She’s dumb enough to think that Mark will be fascinated by primitive troop movements, and saying “James Bond” or “Mission: Impossible” will somehow impress him. She and the Doctor tend to play Aggravation Poker a lot... not Strip Poker, thank God. She’s dissected a frog, but seeing the same thing done to a human horrifies her more than say, the fact she has killed people. She likes coffee, but not Dire Straits and is either uncharacteristically brave when she offers to sacrifice herself, or just trying to look cool because she knows the Doctor won’t let her. Rather oddly, she thinks in metric rather than imperial measurements. She would rather sleep in and have lunch than prevent nuclear war, and sniffs around Harlan like a polecat on heat. She’s a shameless hussy, that Hamilton, and probably took advantage of him while he was unconscious!
Heh. 3D. Ironic, considering how one-dimensional so much of this is...
What a wonderful hook to the story hearing a string of numbers spoken by Sheri Devine pretending to be a Dalek. And she’s getting very hysterical for an unemotional flight computer.
My ***, these aliens are stupid... You stay exactly where you are while I give a long, boring speech about why you must die on theological grounds and – hey, no fair! You shot me while I was pontificating!!
OH ***! Dara’s saying “Strewth” and “Gordon Bennett!” Who does she think she is? Ace? At least Ace knew what EMP stood for... Still she manages to say, “Uh, hi!” without me wanting to punch her lights out, so she might be improving. In fact, she goes fine until the moment she compares a PA system to a Dire Straits album, and suddenly the red mist descends once more...
Why do they think the Master can’t have had time to recover from his defeat in Apollyon? Hello? Time machine? And it’s not as if he was badly defeated anyway...
***, the dialogue could be a bit clearer. What sounded like a quiet chat is apparently in front of hundreds of squaddies. And surely Dudley Simpson’s Fourth Doctor theme doesn’t exactly suit the ‘ominous foreboding themes’ or ‘stern military sci-fi’? Neither does the Star Trek theme tune! Then it turns all Curse of Fenric in part two when all the appalling Russian accents begin. The over-the-top ‘duh-duh-DUHHH!’ stuff over the quietly spoken cliffhanger to part three... Does no one think about this?
The telephone distortion of Briggs’ is just someone holding their nose while talking! Who are these idiots expecting to actually fall for this crap?
“And I won’t order my men to take a risk I won’t take myself!” Is that supposed to impress us, Colonel Barry? This macho posturing of Mad Mick? The Brigadier never made such self-aware bollocks, he just got the **** on with it...
It’s “close to your chest” not VEST, you morons!
Motuth sounds like a Movellan with a sore throat as he hisses “We will be victorious!”
The music over the sandwiches theme gives this TARDIS crew a quiet, pleasant moment of introspection as Mark makes dinner, Dara uses her brain and the Doctor stirs up trouble. Nice. Until the same bit of music has been repeated seventeen times.
The resolution to cliffhanger two is the worst I’ve ever heard. Mainly because I have no idea what’s going on there. In fact, I’m not sure about what the cliffhanger was – Motuth is going to use Dara and Mark for experimentation, but whether that involves a James Bond-style laser ray or a bunch of snorting Marshmen is open for debate. **** it, why can’t any of these audios be dubbed professionally?! The machine gun fire is easier to hear than the ****** acting!
“Very well played!” Clearly your standards of acting are not like us human beings, Doctor.
It’s hard to concentrate on the plot in this one. I’m more interested in identifying the sound effects and music cues. That laser gun Motuth uses in part three. What is it? I know it from somewhere... this’ll keep me awake all night... I think it’s K9 mk I’s nose laser... something from Season 15... Yet later it’s the nose laser of K9 mark II... Oh. Sorry. Yes. Aliens causing nuclear war with Russia. Yeah. Very important.
Are we supposed to be amused by Sergeant [Unknown because Crichton just shouts ‘SERGEANT!’ and never calls him by his name]? Honestly curious. It’s like a joke being told by someone who doesn’t understand the punchline... And who thought getting Jeff Coburn to play two characters in the same scene was a good idea?
Maxim takes three hours off to enjoy a cup of tea? Is it laced with opium?
The Russian legend of the time travelling sorcerer sounds like a more interesting plot...
“Oh yeah, it looks like one of those things I saw in a Harrison Ford movie once!” Oh, Dara, you were doing so well. I shall now be forced to throttle you unconscious...
A Time Lord obsessed with young girls and Roses... like that’d ever get on Doctor Who.
“The Doctor must be trying to smother the gas canisters with his body!” Ah, sweet exposition.
The TARDIS has a transmat? Unless we assume In A Fix With The Sontarans is somehow canon, why? It’s like a sports car fitted with a penny farthing bicycle? And we are to assume the TARDIS isn’t radiation-proof? Worse, all this stuff heads straight into a climax from Timelash...
Preposterous Plot Points:
Why is it when David Segal is playing the Master, he gets credited as “Anthony Ainley” but when Ian Dodds plays Crichton he isn’t credited as “David Saville”. And are we supposed to believe that Crichton still hasn’t twigged that the Doctor can regenerate? After three audio Doctors? Good ***... it’s as cretinous as the United States having no info on the Doctor whatsoever! Or maybe the telepathic Harlan not realizing the Doctor is the Time Lord he’s been chatting with all episode BECAUSE HE LOOKS DIFFERENT.
It’s actually the third episode until they start to trust him, and only then because they’re so useless they’ve made themselves dependant on someone they don’t believe in to tell them the patently obvious! And THEN they trust him over their American allies! DEAR ***, THIS IS AGONY!!
UNIT itself is at its feeblest here, with its lack of understanding of ‘electronic mail or fax’, the sheer lack of respect given to the organization by other nations, and are terrified of dealing with anything alien without the Doctor to help them out. At least the whacked out three man cross between the Keystone Cops and the Professionals in the later Pertwee Years actually knew how to deal with alien invasions...
Why is an ‘international search’ needed to find Ossup when they know he arrived in Russia a day or so ago. Since he’s a crab in a spacesuit and unlikely to be able to get onto a plane easily, wouldn’t it be reasonable to search around the crash site first?!
The Doctor notes that he only ‘sounds British’ because he spends all of his time in Britain. But, he has an American accent. As does the Canterbury girl, Dara Hamilton. And Colonel Crichton. ***** ******, this is ridiculous! Just set the stories in America and we’ll say no more about it.
Time Lords have super powers including mental possession and Darth Vader-style telekinesis, do they? And only their moral code stops them from using these powers, do they? So why doesn’t the Master go God of the Fourth on everybody’s *** whenever he chooses?
Gratuitous use of the title:
DOCTOR: Ossup and his cohorts have revived the Dark Dreams of nuclear war and conquest.
Motuth sounds like he’s saying “lawyer” instead of “warrior” leading to odd lines like:
MOTUTH: We are lawyers! That is our stock in trade!
Amazing one info-dump can wreck a character’s credibility totally:
CRICHTON: Now wait just a minute... I’ve been on the line for almost ten minutes! I want InterSat and I mean now! Someone in charge, obviously! Then you tell them that Colonel Charles Crichton, the commanding officer of the UNIT Britain Section is waiting on this line and has been for ten, er, now fifteen minutes! Whoever you can spare! OF COURSE I’LL HOLD!
The Doctor’s usual stealth and subtlety:
MARK: Should we shut off that computer?
DOCTOR: No. A penguin or somesuch appears and walks all over the screen.
Motuth defends dissecting a soldier -
BARRY: Your people are centuries ahead of us! Why couldn’t you use a computer simulation or something instead of mutilating good men?
MOTUTH: The only equipment I have is what I wear. And I didn’t have any medical data on your people.
The new Doctor treats Crichton with all the respect he deserves:
CRICHTON: Very well, Doctor, let’s say you’re the real thing for the sake of argument!
DOCTOR: Don’t let’s argue, please - this should be a joyful reunion no matter how brief! MYSTERY IS AFOOT!!
‘...and it’s in my right hand and it’s loaded!’
BARRY: Nobody move! I have a gun right on her spine!
MOTUTH: No sudden moves, Colonel, I have my laser tube aimed at you!
DARA: You killed that man?!
MOTUTH: Which one?
RUSSIAN 1: This is incredible! This is like those silent movies you showed us!
RUSSIAN 2: Propaganda from Stalin’s time? The Martian Proletariat rising up against our Capitalist Oppressors! At least that thing on your engine block is more creative than painting monkeys green...
You wonder why they never brought him back in the TV series? This is why -
CRICHTON: It’s suddenly Rag Week!
And this -
CRICHTON: Fetch the Doctor! We need him to join the search! Tell him we have nothing except for two more bodies to show for our efforts! Cajole him! Threaten him! Break radio silence! Or drag him here kicking and screaming if you have to! BUT GET HIM HERE!!!
And this -
BRIGGS: Sir, if you don’t mind my asking, does this mean we’re officially recognizing this doctor as the genuine article?
CRICHTON: Good question, Lieutenant! We lack concrete evidence to confirm his identity BUT that man has some kind of, it’s such genius, it’s unique! He must be the Doctor! Who else could he be?
BRIGGS: Who indeed, sir?
CRICHTON: Bear in mind, UNIT is a SECRET organization!
(Wasn’t funny the first time.)
HARLAN: "Occupied"? You make me sound like a rest room!
This story replaced the ditched Empty Earth, also by Joseph Medina. No idea what it was about, but I like to think it was about Atlantean mutants living inside the core of the Earth, kidnapping surface dwellers and gathering them together with prehistoric monsters... wait. That was probably why it was ditched.
What Could Have Been Done To Improve It:
- A larger cast. This is just embarrassing hearing the Doctor and Dara pretending to be some teenage couple that get eaten...
- Cut all of UNIT’s incredulity in part one. It’s just tedious.
- Get UNIT some kind of professional pride. They are so clueless, idiotic and downright useless I’d rather Torchwood Three was sorting out delicate problems between the super powers...
- the accents... sweet ***** of ********... the accents!
The Party Line:
A well woven, character-driven piece, Dark Dreams still seems to fail due to that bugaboo known as lack of budget. There are simply too many characters verses not enough actors and a distinct lack of sound effects used when this obviously should have been one of those big-budget blockbusters. If you can manage to get past what it sounds like, however, and concentrate solely on the story, Dark Dreams rises above the rags that it was clothed in.
The Awful Truth:
Apadded, virtually plotless runaround, lack of budget is least of its worries. Characterization consists solely of “I had to do what I had to, to stop them before they stop us!”. Americans, Ulasi, Russians, UNIT, let them all burn. The accents are appalling, the characters unengaging, the plot resolution an out of the blue dues ex machina, and a distinctly immoral ending as a teenage girl has sexual fantasies over a centuries-old alien and the UN and the KGB form an alliance based on slaughtering mutual enemies. There’s five episodes of plot spared between two of them. If people think this is a deep story, then they are worryingly easy to impress.
Last updated: Sunday, March 16, 2008