THIS ANIMATED EPISODE
TAKES PLACE BETWEEN
THE SARAH JANE
"THE WEDDING OF
SARAH JANE SMITH"
AND THE AUDIO BOOK
"THE LAST VOYAGE."
'DREAMLAND' DVD (BBC
DVD3163) RELEASED IN
Roswell, Nevada. The
dusty strip of desert
where nothing ever
grows except alien
legends and strange
stories about flying
saucers... The TARDIS
touches down in 1958
and another legend is
about to be born!
5TH DECEMBER 2009
(45-MINUTE ANIMATED EPISODE)
Doctor Who’s second animated adventure, Dreamland, is a much more mature and compelling tale than its first. Though it has clearly been conceived with a CBBC audience in mind, Phil Ford’s story is much more cohesive than 2007’s Infinite Quest, and based on an altogether more interesting premise.
If you were to close your eyes, there is little to set Dreamland apart from any other episode of modern Doctor Who as veteran audio director Gary Russell has done a tremendous job
of recreating the sounds of the series. The opening title music may be slightly curtailed, but David Tennant’s habitually exuberant performance is there to be heard, and even Murray Gold’s floating score (lifted mainly from last year’s Silence in the Library) is present and correct.
“Take me to you leader.”
However, the story’s CG animation is not as inspiring by any means. If you haven’t yet seen Dreamland, but have seen any of the stunning images lifted from it (such as those featured on this page), then you’re probably wondering what on Earth I’m talking about. Well, whilst the artwork is striking, the motion is poor – the characters move like Thunderbirds puppets! This awkwardness only emphasises the Doctor’s gangliness, making him look like more of
a caricature than a faithful, animated interpretation. ‘Camp’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Fortunately though, Ford’s story is so very good that after a few minutes I was able to look past the uncomfortable animation. Within the genre, Roswell and Dreamland have been the inspiration for many a tale; so much so, in fact, that ‘Roswell greys’ and ‘Men in Black’ have long-since become tired, old stereotypes. But rather than surrender to these stereotypes, or play them for laughs as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and even, at times, The X-Files were guilty of, Ford effectively reinvents them.
“Your day will come, Doctor.”
We have Roswell greys, but here they
run around wearing eye-patches and
toting guns. We have Men in Black,
but they are robotic representatives
of the Alliance of Shades – some sort
of galactic clean-up coalition. Even the obligatory US military officer isn’t hackneyed in any way – the Cold War-hardened Colonel Stark has thrown in his lot with the grey’s enemies, the insectoid Viperox, as he thinks they’ll help him destroy the USSR!
It’s also refreshing to see the Doctor paired up with a couple of American companions for a change, Cassie Rice and Jimmy Stalkingwolf. Georgia Moffett’s appearance has of course been the most-publicised, as she is not only the daughter of fifth Doctor Peter Davison, but star of last year’s episode The Doctor’s Daughter as well as the 2000 Big Finish audio Red Dawn. However, as good as Moffett is here, I was much more impressed with Tim Howar’s Jimmy, Cassie’s love interest. The Native American seems to be afforded the lion’s share
of the action, constantly blundering into trouble in an endearing, ‘Mickey the Idiot’ sort of way.
“Dreamland. The US government’s most secret base.
It doesn’t appear of any map and the government won’t even admit it exists until 1994.”
For me though, it is David Warner (Sympathy for the Devil, Circular Time, Masters of War) that steals the show as the Viperox Lord Azlok. Warner’s sonorous tones are truly the perfect match for the gargantuan arthropod.
All told then, I thoroughly enjoyed Dreamland. The CG animation might not be up to much, but the energy of the cast and the imagination of the script make this a ‘special’ that is truly deserving of the term.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2009
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
There were quite a few Doctor Who fans who were disappointed / upset / enraged
(delete as appropriate) to learn that 2009 would be a ‘gap year’ for the show. Considering the sixteen year stretch in which the TV movie was the only new episode, this seems a bit cheeky. We have become spoiled, especially since the episodes that have been produced this year have been of such a high standard. Dreamland, the second Doctor Who animated serial (third if you count 2003’s Scream of the Shalka) may not officially be promoted as a TV special, but special it certainly is.
Luckily for me, my shiny new computer arrived just in time to catch these mini-episodes (we haven’t actually paid for it yet, but that can wait). I was pretty disappointed by the BBC’s red button service - maybe it’s my old telly box, but when trying to view the first episode all I got was the middle of the instalment. Maybe you needed to tune in at a specific time, but finding the beginning on a looped ten-minute broadcast is going to be a pest. Better to get onto the BBC’s Doctor Who website, where each episode was homed following broadcast. Still, for those of us without access to such wonders, the whole serial was broadcast the following week on BBC2 in an omnibus format, curiously clocking in at the same length as a standard episode. It works just as well in either format, with the highly effective cliffhanger episode endings unobtrusive when edited into a single whole.
OK, so the animation wasn’t great. As much as I love the highly stylised artwork, I’m not too impressed on the actual CG animation itself. There seems to be a tradition already in place to only use quite sluggish, jerky movements in Doctor Who animations, leaving them in real danger of looking a little slow compared to the majority of today’s cartoons. However, one thing is perfect - the Doctor’s face.
Somehow this looks, speaks and
moves exactly like David Tennant!
Perhaps this isn’t a surprise, the
man’s practically a cartoon as it is.
He lends himself to being animated.
“Human, Time Lord, its all just a matter of dimensional geography when you get down to it.”
The story is a cracking one, a simple but effective bit of mystery surrounding the infamous Groom Lake Airbase, aka Area 51, aka Dreamland, with plenty of good ol’ captures and escapes to keep things moving along. There’s a liberal dose of clichéd story tropes thrown in. Doctor Who has never been afraid to let the classic genres influence it, and there are plenty of them on show here, albeit of a distinctly American flavour this time round. We’ve
got Men in Black, native Americans armed with bows and arrows, a mine cart chase, a classic 1950s diner, a ghost town, bit B-movie monsters and alien greys. There are some more specific references too - apart from the Doctor listing the various versions of Alien
and Die Hard, there’s a direct Aliens homage when we see the Viperox queen laying her huge, pod-like eggs, while the search through the warehouse full of crates evokes Raiders
of the Lost Ark.
David Tennant is on fine form as the Doctor, as one would expect, while his two temporary companions are, if a little sketched in character-wise, good fun and well-played. Georgia Moffett returns to the show as a new character, Cassie Rice, providing a spirited perform-ance and a convincing American accent, while Canadian actor Tim Howar keeps native American Jimmy Stalkingwolf from becoming too much of a cliché.
The main villains of the peace are also excellent. Doctor Who has been far too pro-military lately, so it’s good to see a genuinely untrustworthy, all-guns-blazing commander like Stark here. Stuart Milligan makes this reds-under-the-bed character almost three-dimensional
with a fine performance. Meanwhile, chief of the Viperox, Lord Azlok, is brought to life by non other than distinguished thesp David Warner, who I just adore to see or hear in just about anything. With a subtle bit of modulation, his cultured tones seem almost natural coming from the mouthparts of an enormous insectoid.
Meanwhile, the alien Greys, although victims of the piece, aren’t totally innocent. Rivesh Mantilax, voiced by Nicholas Rowe (best known for Young Sherlock Holmes and Lock, Stock) has created a devastating genetic weapon with which to destroy the Viperox in retaliation for their devastation of his world. Still, he’s now more concerned with finding
his wife, voiced here by Lisa ‘Bernice Summerfield’ Bowerman, a prisoner of Colonel
Stark. The Doctor’s involvement is the catalyst to bring these disparate protagonists
and antagonists together, before sorting out the situation with the minimum of fuss.
“I don’t think she’s amused. I have this effect on royalty.”
If there is a complaint, it’s that the episode sort of grinds to a halt when the Doctor does some sonic jiggery-pokery to the genetic weapon, somehow rendering a mostly harmless device for making annoyingly loud noises. Also, the Skorpius Flies that pursue the Doctor
in the last episode, though a marvelous concept - a killer swarm with a gestalt mind - take attention away from the main plot too late in the day. Plus, the Doctor refuses to allow Man-tilax to use the weapon to destroy the Viperox on the basis that they will one day evolve into a peaceful society. All quite right, but does that mean he would have happily let the species be wiped out if he hadn’t any evidence they were going to improve? One more little quibble: broadcasting this after The Waters of Mars was a mistake; wouldn’t it had been better to have that episode run directly into the finale?
So, not a perfect story, true, but a hugely entertaining, generally well-written, well-performed slice of hokum; just as much a proper episode of Doctor Who as any of the more celebrated specials this year.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2009
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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