Saturday 30 April 2016


Sometimes stories are seasonal, they have a feeling and an ethos which completely grounds them in a particular season of the year. Surprisingly Nightshade is set in the winter but it feels distinctly autumnal. If you have ever been to Scandinavia, or indeed listened to “Stay On These Roads” by A-ha you will know what I mean. This story is steeped in melancholy, nostalgia and regret, it has a bleakness of spirit that permeates its very essence.
This is an important story in the history of Doctor Who – it is the first story written by one Mark Gatiss and he wears his influences on his sleeve in this one. First of all Mark is a self confessed Pertwee fan – this one feels like a Pertwee story in many ways, a could have been story from season 7. It’s also heavily influenced (almost an homage) to Quatermass (which itself was a huge influence on the early Pertwee era) but it’s more than this, because it actually feels like a New Adventures novel brought to life as well. This is a very early New Adventure, The Seventh Doctor and Ace are portrayed pretty much as they were on TV and for a two hour story not a lot really happens for quite a lot of the story – but when it does boy does it happen.
So Nightshade is quite small scale in many ways but aeon spanning in others, first of all the small scale – The Seventh Doctor and Ace arrive in the small Yorkshire village of Crook Marsham, it’s a rain sodden, bleak little place where nothing really happens and the melancholy of the place seems to even get to the Doctor who is contemplating retiring from being Times Champion and returning to Gallifrey, Ace on the other hand meets a young man called Robin who could turn out to be the love of her life. Its not the angst ridden emo fest you may be expecting either because events soon overtake Seven and Ace and again they have to get involved. The main plot involves the residents of Crook Marsham being haunted by ghosts of their past, being threatened by nostalgia and none more so than Edmund Trevithick (John Castle) – a retired actor who used to play Professor Nightshade on TV – now in his dotage at an old peoples home he is trying to relive his glory days through repeats of his TV show – but he finds himself threatened by the alien creatures that he used to act with – but these are no men in rubber suits, these are real. Add to this a deep space tracking centre receiving weird signals and an increasing body count and the obligatory “evil since the dawn of time” and simmer gently…
This story is very very big on atmosphere – a feeling of autumnal melancholy is part of its makeup and its two hour length allows all the characters to develop naturally and the drama to unfold at its own pace, it actually feels rather leisurely in pacing, enough happens to fill the two hours but every aspect of the story is given plenty of time to breathe and to mature. At its heart this is a very traditional story, but the skill of the Gatiss and Kyle C Szikora who adapted it and the natural style of acting that Scott Handcock engenders make this far more than the sum of its parts – one foot in the past, one foot in the 1990’s but with eyes looking forward to the more emotional take on Who that we get now this is a confident adaptation of one of the best remembered New Adventures – characterful, deep, melancholy and autumnal and a very well deserved 8/10.

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