Emblems of Darkness

William Merlock

August 2007

“Emblems of Darkness”, the second audio drama from the unofficial Doctor Who Audio Dramas featuring James K. Flynn as the Doctor, is also the second in a row set in Earth’s history, as the Doctor and companion Christine find themselves on the island of Puerto Rico in the year 1901. These were troubled times for the island, as it found itself changing hands from Spanish to American rule. Though many worked to adjust to the difficult change, there were some who would do anything to free their island from the dominion of foreigners.

It is the gentle farmer Orlando who first encounters signs of trouble. The simple but full life he lives with his wife Feliciana and their daughter Rachel is disturbed when he finds that some of his cattle have been attacked and mutilated. The Doctor and Christine are drawn into the mystery, which rapidly leads them into the world of the occult, against one who would control its powers for his own ends.

While there is plenty of mystery-solving and planet-saving going on in this story, its best moments came when it focused on Orlando and his family. Orlando comes across as a completely honest man, at peace with his lot in life, in his relationships, in everything. Orlando speaks often about his faith in God; in another character, these comments about his faith might seem like "the lady doth protest too much", but with Orlando, what you see is what you get. Orlando sees the world in very simple shades, but his world view is no less profound for its simplicity. This is why, I think, he's so quick to accept the Doctor for who he his, the good and the bad, and why he is able to handle seemingly supernatural threats to his family and his land with courage and conviction.

Julio Angel Ortiz's script is, for the most part, up to his normal stellar standards. A few lines could have used some tidying up, and occasionally things get a little expository, but for the most part this relaxed story takes its time establishing the characters and setting, giving the listener a chance to really soak in its atmosphere and events. The characters we meet, particularly the villains, are interesting and three-dimensional. The writing is clever, and there are moments of great fun, of touching poignancy, and of ominous darkness. But it is the threat present in this story that truly marks it as memorable; though the scope of the danger is on the galactic scale, it is felt most strongly, and most personally, through the eyes of a simple farmer.

The acting is fine, though I did find it distracting that although most of the people living in Puerto Rico have an accent, Orlando and his wife do not. Writer Ortiz plays Orlando appropriately low-key, simple, and straightforward. Karen Holliday, who has since been cast as the Doctor's latest companion, is the perfect match to Ortiz in her portrayal of Feliciana, Orlando's wife. The villains of the piece, Rosa and Raphael (Joan Hall Hovey and J.R. Russ), are particularly well-acted; their faith and their actions serve as a significant counterpoint to those of Orlando and Feliciana.

And James K Flynn equals, maybe surpasses, his excellent performance in his inaugural story. Flynn's Doctor is suitably complicated, whimsical and charismatic, yet at times manipulative and condescending. There is a darkness to this Doctor, if only visible in occasional glimpses. But Flynn's at his best as he plays to the major themes of this story; the Doctor's goal isn't to save the universe, or the galaxy, or even the world....he's trying to save a family. It's personal.

One thing I really like about the Doctor Who Audio Dramas, and Ortiz’s writing in particular, is that images aren't shoved at the listener. Sometimes it takes several listens to put the pieces together, but this is a positive thing. I really like this aspect of the writing; it demonstrates the difference in writing for the audio medium and the novel or the video/tv medium. I have listened to this story nearly a dozen times now and have found that each listening brings the story out more vibrant and full, and its meaning builds over time. The DWADs have captured the best of the Doctor, and their audios continue to meet the high standards they have set for themselves for over 20 years.

Last updated: Tuesday, August 21, 2007