I thought at first that this story would be a modest, enjoyable story with a touch of gothic horror, but basically your typical haunted house in a small village type of story. The story I actually heard completely blew me away!
This story does not merely have a haunted house, but an entire village held prisoner by fear. Something is clearly wrong from the Doctor and Dara's first encounter with the villagers, but this is nothing compared to the cliffhanger which made my heart skip a beat!
From there the story only gets better, with moments of real terror and emotion that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. Even in the end, when the Doctor thinks he has the solution, it does not turn out to be anywhere near as easy as he thought. When the final resolution does come, it is absolutely perfect.
Jeffrey Coburn and Sheri Devine both put in wonderful performances; Sheri Devine portrays Dara's rollercoaster of emotions with absolute conviction; and Jeffrey Coburn shows all of the Doctor's facets: childish clown, absolute voice of authority, lonely old traveller, and Time Lord who cares deeply for his companions. The end of the story shows Jeffrey Coburn at his superlative best; he is not just A very good fan Doctor, he is THE Doctor (for me, at least).
My only complaint is that the last few minutes of episode 2 were a little confusing in places, as it was difficult to tell from the sounds exactly what was happening. The sound quality was occasionally a little low as well, but neither of these factors could make me lower this story's rating even one point. 10 out of 10.
It’s Dara’s birthday, so the Doctor travels to a small village in Germany, 1877 to meet Hans Christian Anderson – but he has been dead for two years in Denmark. The duo find shelter from the storm in the village, whose inhabitants are less than friendly and trust the local Baron Von Schuller even less than the TARDIS crew. When the local innkeeper is apparently killed by bandits, the Doctor and Dara find themselves placed in the Baron’s care, in his manor which seems to be haunted. Not that Dara cares, she’s got a fancy man by the name of Christoph. It turns out the whole town is controlled by a strange force that gives all the villagers nightmares, but has now decided to focus its attention on Dara. And somehow the Baron is enjoying life with his wife despite the fact she died thirty years previously. The Doctor realizes the creature is feeding on fear, and tricks it into consuming itself – but not before Christoph is killed and the Baron left totally insane. This adventure proves to be the last straw for the Doctor, who immediately ditches Dara back at school in her own time and place.
On one level, Morningstar Manor is a remake of Dragonfire – it is a three part story writing out the Doctor’s female companion, and its simple plot revolves around the loneliness of the Doctor, his friend and the main villain and it is this that drives the story. Dara and Christoph’s loneliness drives them into each other’s arms, the Baron gives up a whole town to get his long lost wife back and the Doctor comes to the grim conclusion he is risking Dara’s life out of selfishness.
Setting the story in 19th century Germany is ultimately a bad move – it pins the locale down to a specific point in time and space, whereas if the story had left it ambiguous as to where the unnamed town is (or even what planet it was on) it would add to the air of mystery. It also leads to rather stilted ‘Ja’s and ‘Fraulein’s (which, when you think about it, should automatically be translated). As Torchwood: Countryside proved, horrors outside civilization work even better when in a modern location. Had this small village been in England in the 1990s, it would have required little changes, and allowed a smoother departure for Dara as well. We also encounter three of the villagers, and only one of them is in the final episode, making hard to sympathize with a townsfolk we don’t see and seem to spend their time getting so drunk they’ll sleep through their nightmares (and if that works you wonder why they don’t get their children sozzled as well).
However, the story sacrifices credibility in the sake of scaring the crap out of the listener. There is no real reason for the weather to turn to dark and stormy whenever night falls other than to set the mood (if the creature is responsible, the town would have flooded by now), and the idea the villagers are going mad with fear after years of mental abuse is silly unless we assume the creature is healing their minds as it steals their fear. Although killing one or two of the villagers could conceivably make the survivors more fearful, the creature is at the end of the day cutting down its food supply. Likewise, Christoph and Dara have a whirlwind romance that starts before midday and ends before dawn the next day which is stretching things even if you believe in love at first sight. There is also the bizarre coincidence that Dara is a doppelganger for the late Baroness Hannah, which is incredibly unlikely unless you take it as a ghost story cliché.
Part of the fear of the monster in this story is entirely down to the fact it is not fully explained – much like the foes in Sapphire and Steel, its immediate threat is implied and that is enough. The Doctor implies it is some kind of telepathic alien force, but the creature itself neither confirms or denies this. Whatever it is, its plan doesn’t make much sense. It has apparently done a deal with the Baron several years ago: the Baron will keep the townsfolk together for the creature to generate intense nightmares and feed off the fear created, and in return will create a benevolent illusion in the form of the Baron’s lamented wife. But it’s not clear why it needs the Baron at all, as the creature is the one that keeps the villagers trapped. It also seems to think that driving Dara completely insane with terror will provide it with more nourishment than the entire town – why is Dara so special? One could suppose that Dara is not the target at all, and the creature is using her to get at the Doctor (whose larger brain power could presumably feed it all the better), but this is never stated. Since it was pure coincidence that the Doctor and Dara arrived at the village, why didn’t the creature scare all the villagers to death and move onto a new village?
Ultimately, these matters aren’t really a problem. The only real problem is the Doctor’s defeat of the creature. Apparently having ascertained its weakness via their telepathic contact, the Doctor is nonetheless shocked learn the truth about the Baroness (when he should already know it) and then tells Rutger to think about terror on the assumption the terror will focus on the creature and force it to feed on itself. This is another case of the story going for what feels right over what is a logical story telling technique, but its aims to be a small scale ghost story mean it should be allowed this indulgence.
Personal Appreciation: ****
I love it for what it sets out to do (haunted house story, get rid of Dara), not necessarily HOW it does it.
The Doctor is at his most clueless in this one – he doesn’t seem to be acting dumb, but even though he’s clearly suspicious of the town, he hasn’t got a clue as to what the truth is. It takes him five different attempts to reach a destination and even then he finds out he was aiming for the wrong place and time. His vagueness about his own age is down to him forgetting to celebrate his birthdays, but he’s ‘about fifteen hundred or so’ (which puts him about three centuries older than David Tennant’s Doctor). He can still remember being 20. He’s got a handkerchief that turns into an umbrella. He enjoys a pint of ale and finds unfriendly German pubs charming. He has an over-inflated ego according to his companion (who didn’t get to know his predecessor) and wears Winnie the Pooh pajamas. He deliberately blinds himself to the fact his companion is flirting with strapping young men. Again. After being knocked unconscious, he starts speaking fluent French for some reason. When Dara is left in a coma for a day or so, his guilt gets the better of him (maybe a side effect of the creature’s emotional manipulation?) and decides that he couldn’t cope if Dara died on her travels and it would be best for them to part company. It’s heavily implied he’s been using his female companions – and Dara in particular – as substitutes for Susan, his granddaughter. Ew.
Dara’s favorite author is Hans Christian Anderson – her mother used to read her the stories before bed and she always cried at the end of The Little Mermaid. Thank goodness she never saw the Disney flick. Despite her incredible egocentricity, she completely forgets her birthday. Since she is now 20 and past the age of consent, its unsurprising her first instinct is to shack up the nearest good looking bloke. It seems she might have some kind of telepathic ability, as this story seems to focus on her mental abilities, but that could just be the whole pubescent-teenage-girl-in-horror-stories motive. She and Christoph spend lots of time together, if any slash/shipper fics need to be written (but she’s more interested in social climbing than shagging a hottie). She is dumb enough to ask for a peppermint tea in a nineteenth century German inn and simply being called ‘fraulein’ is enough to make her forget all her mistrust and suspicion of a sinister town. Moron. She loves the idea of being ‘Lady Dara’, and having servants and being rich. In one last moment of total insensitivity, she forgets all about Christoph five minutes after he’s dead.
The beginning of the story is very entertaining and actually manages to make Dara not so totally irritating and annoying. But if she hated the weather so much, why not head back to the TARDIS? Are they really that put out by a bit of rain?
Ouch. Violent drunks. Instant way to convey sympathy with honest German peasants. And the background mumble are clearly David Segal and Chip Jamison making ‘talking noises’. It’s embarrassing, it really is.
Oh. My. ***. They actually do the ‘pub goes all quiet as visitors arrive’ shtick. HAVE THEY NO SHAME?!?
Morningstar Manor, eh? What a friendly, innocuous name that is. No one would get suspicious, would they? I mean why not go the whole hog and call it Lucifer Gardens or Pentagram Drive?
Could it be my imagination or does this story actually boast some original music? No, wait, we’re back to Ghost Light again...
“I wouldn’t care if we were staying at the Bates Motel, I’m exhausted!” How is it my worryingly low opinion of Dara sinks even further when she makes smug pop culture references? If only the silly bint was at the Bates Motel she could be dead by morning. Has she learned nothing over the last year?!
You know, much as I hate to admit it, those voices ARE creepy... very much like the voice of Pipes in Ghostwatch, officially the scariest thing ever. ARGH! THE PIANO IS PLAYING ITSELF!! Oh, wait, it’s supposed to. That was close. Phew.
**** it, just as they start to crank up the tension, the Doctor starts reminiscing about Attack of the Cybermen and City of Death! **** it, **** it, **** it!
As soon as Dara’s boyfriend is revealed to be a renaissance man who has yet to hit the big time, he might as well be wearing a red shirt and promising to marry her after he flies one final mission. Dead meat.
Apparently the Doctor’s line ‘Dara, are you all right?’ was an adlib since actress Sheri Devine fell flat on her *** during recording. If so, her costars care less about her than they do the character she plays...
Lovely segue from the Baron explaining the situation to Dara to Rutger explaining the situation to the Doctor. And creepy speech too. Pity they give the lion’s share to Chip ‘What’s “act” mean?’ Jamison.
Did 1877 German manor houses have showers? And Christoph must be pretty groundbreaking to try and do the “baby, I’ve changed” act while Dara is in one... You know, on TV with a completely different cast, that scene could have been a winner. Or at least an intro into a porn flick. Oh, was that supposed to be the rain in the background? I just assumed she was having a shower.
“I would die for you, Dara.” Okay, Christoph A) you met the bint less than six hours previously and B) you’re just asking to die horribly with that.
“I’ll give you full marks for inventiveness.” For shouting out ‘Doctor!’ and laughing like a madman? Scary, yes, unnerving, yes, but inventive? Clearly you don’t have the same definition of ‘inventiveness’ to me...
Wow. Rachel Summers plays Michelle in the final scene but is not credited as Uta in the previous two episodes... Just why was the cast so small, anyway? Was this the cheap story of the season?
Woo-hoo! The Doctor finally tells the ***** to shut her mouth! Smack down! Seriously, though, this is a very sad departure, showing the Doctor at his wits’ end, running on empty, and feels surprisingly like the final episode of the series. The Day Doctor Who Has A Nervous Breakdown would be a good title...
Morningstar Manor really is a teenage drama as Dara’s first full flown love affair ends abruptly with tragedy, leading to her realization that her ‘parent’, the Doctor, is not a god and is forced to give up her fairytale childhood to live in a normal everyday land. Bit like what happened to Rose Tyler, except we care about what happened to poor Rosie. Oh, I’m tearing up even now... Dara can rot in ****.
Preposterous Plot Points:
The Doctor says he’s never met Hans Christian Anderson, which contradicts The Romans where he explains he gave Anderson the idea for The Emperor’s New Clothes.
Where did the Doctor get his pajamas from? Does he wear them, Superman style, under his magician outfit? In fact, one would expect the Doctor – especially in this enfleshment – to just crash out.
While I might accept that Christoph and Dara are soul mates, the fact she happens to zero in on the one person in the village she might fall in love with after five seconds is a bit suspicious, isn’t it? I mean, it’s clearly not some kind of act, which would be a real twist in the tail.
While the Baron mistaking Dara for the Doctor’s granddaughter is subtle foreshadowing – it doesn’t really make sense, does it? The Doctor looks to be about forty at most and Dara’s just sixteen. Maybe 18th century Germany had a higher rate of teenage pregnancies or something? Speaking of which, after spending the night with Christoph, Dara develops an unexplained craving for vast amounts of tea. You don’t think... no, it’s too horrible to contemplate.
It might be a character point about Dara’s stupidity, but she complains about the ‘19th century manor’ when it was built three hundred years prior to 1877, in the 16th century. Pedantic, I know, but she’s got to learn.
Considering the average human being can barely survive twelve days without sleep, the villagers should be dead or at least insane from years of sleep deprivation and no decent REM. Of course we get the ‘years’ bit from the town drunk in a bout of incredible self pity, so maybe we should take Rutger’s word with a pinch of sodium chloride.
I’m sorry, the Doctor knew Susan at most for fifteen years. He has lived a hundred times that, as this story confirms. In fact, he’s lived for a thousand years without her, so surely he should be over her by now? His fifth incarnation definitely was, so the idea that all the pretty girls he’s been with since... dear ***. It puts his relationship with Rose in a disgusting angle. Especially since she treated him on one level as a substitute dad... No, this is all wrong. Let us put it down to a mental imbalance on the part of the Eleventh Doctor thanks to the mysterious ill defined phobic vampire and say no more.
And just why did the creature need Dara but not a whole town’s worth of human beings?
Gratuitous use of the title:
BARON: Welcome, Doctor, to Morningstar Manor.
Will we miss Dara Hamilton? No.
DOCTOR: Dara! Did you have a good time?
DARA: Oh, Doctor, it was wonderful! We went horseback riding, Christoph showed me his farm, and then it started raining! It was all so romantic!
DOCTOR: Romantic?! You were just complaining about the rain only yester—OW!
DOCTOR: That’s the trouble when you try to fool with the mind of a Time Lord, Baroness – we learn an awful lot about you that way. For instance, I know you hate Tuesdays, you can’t stand puppies, and most of all, I know YOUR weakness.
It scared the **** out of me...
UTA: Are you all right?
RUTGER: Oh my... Look at her eyes!
DARA: No... No!
UTA: It’s too late. It’s got her.
RUTGER: What do we do?
UTA: We – KILL HER!!!
RUTGER: It looks like she’s seeing something...
UTA: Oh, God forgive us, Rutger. What have you done? (TO DARA) Fraulein, it’s okay. We’re you’re friends. All we want – IS TO KILL YOU!!!!
DOCTOR: I think it’s time you told me a ghost story...
GHOST: Come, child. An eternity of terror won’t be THAT bad. I’ll be there to keep you company.
Jeff Coburn’s tortured performance actually makes this very abrupt companion
departure scene convincing AND moving (especially considering who the
companion is) -
DARA: Doctor? Doctor? You’ve barely said two words to me since we left town. Is something wrong?
DOCTOR: ... I’ve been a selfish old fool, Dara.
DARA: What? Where did that come from?
DOCTOR: I nearly lost you yesterday. I know we’ve been in some tight scrapes before, but this time I really thought... I don’t know what I would have done if something had happened to you.
DARA: Oh, come on Doctor, it’s not like we haven’t pulled each other out of the fire before. We probably will again.
DOCTOR: That’s the point. You forget how very fragile life is sometimes. Being a Time Lord, one does tend to become complacent – after all, we always have the hope of regenerating – but you... The life I lead, Dara, is NOT one of my own choosing. I am an exile, forced to spend eternity wandering around the universe. Not family. Not friends. Alone. So here I am, desperately clutching to anyone who’ll share my agony for however long I can keep them, exposing them to the dangers, the evils that I’ve brought upon myself... All because I can’t STAND this loneliness.
DARA: Doctor, I’m here because I WANT to be here.
DOCTOR: I offer you the forbidden fruit of the universe. I knew no one could resist. All so I could find a few moments of peace from the forever of torment. And at what cost? You’re the closest thing I’ve had to family for a long time, Dara. You remind me so much of— ...If I were to lose you, I would never be able to live with myself. I cannot let that happen. Not because of ME.
(The Doctor lands the TARDIS.)
DARA: Doctor, what are you doing?
DOCTOR: It’s time for us to say... goodbye.
DARA: What? No!
DOCTOR: You have a long life ahead of you, child. Live it the way you were MEANT to. Don't waste something so precious to an old man like me.
DARA: Doctor, please, you’re not thinking clearly.
DARA: I’ve NOT wasted my life with you!
DARA: You’ve shown me so much, but there’s still so much more out there!
DARA: I want to—
DOCTOR: THAT’S ENOUGH, SUSAN!! ... Dara... forgive me...
(The Doctor opens the doors.)
DOCTOR: Don’t forget me.
DARA: Will I ever see you again?
DOCTOR: Who knows? (Dara leaves) Who knows?
This story is chosen for the ‘From Script To Stereo’ segment of The Audio Drama Handbook: The Jeffrey Coburn Years, which has interviews with author Joshua Shrodier, script editor Thomas Himinez, Dara actress Sheri Devine, executive producer Richard Segal and producer Douglas Phillips. Some of the cast and crew had nightmares from this ‘terrifying’ script. So move over Blink.
What Could Have Been Done To Improve It:
- Dara being ditched at the end of Apollyon. Or better yet, never included.
- Have her love affair turn out to be masterminded by the alien for its own evil ends.
- Lose the “Illusions! Phantoms of the mind!” Five Doctors quotes. It’s just tedious.
The Party Line:
Areal listen-to-with-the-lights-out kind of story. A bit short, but then a fourth episode would probably have padded it out too much. The scenes with the ghostly voices are very well done, you can almost feel yourself going insane along with Dara. The only real complaint is that, for Dara’s last story, she really gets the short end of the stick, being allowed to do little else than scream in terror and cry. But then, sometimes that’s what you need the girl to do in order to get a really good ghost story going.
The Awful Truth:
Thetheme tune really doesn’t suit the mood of this story, being far to bright and sci-fi. Apart from that, this story is a rare beast – a story that earns the reputation it has. It’s creepy and spooky and the lack of clear explanations make it all the more eerie, especially the casual appearances of the Baroness in the last episode. The plot isn’t watertight but it’s the story that matters and ironic that the story that has the last chance to make us fall in love with Dara confirms once and for all she’s the stupid ***** we’ve hated since the very beginning.
This was the first I had heard and was quite impressed. The best character by far is Dara - who unfortunately leaves. Three episodes of mind-monster-Who" which is quite entertaining if not perfect. 8.5/10
Last updated: Wednesday, January 3, 2013