We’re going Unbound this week, as we go into a totally different and anarchic universe; luckily we’re not alone, as Bernice Summerfield, an archaeologist in space and arguably a version of River Song before River Song is also hurled into the unknown. Today, we’re reviewing the penultimate story in the box set, The Very Dark Thing.
Tramatz is an idyllic world – the rivers hum to themselves, unicorns prance through the emerald forests, and, at the very corner of your eye, is a horrible secret.
We start The Very Dark Thing with the final moments of the Great War; a weapon of incomparable power being detonated in a hope to end the destruction. The whole pre-title sequence is very reminiscent of John Hurt’s speech to himself in The Day of The Doctor where he’s found the Moment and gone to the barn. Don’t you just love alternate universes?
This story seemingly takes place entirely on the planet Tramatz (who has a much more interesting name than yesterdays Planet X), a planet which is about to be obliterated. Tramatz is a planet with unicorns, whom aren’t the nice, happy, fuzzy unicorns that you had in your mind as a child; these unicorns seem to be much more brutal and probably use their horn to impale. I have to say, I prefer this type of unicorn.
The Doctor is already on Tramatz and seems to be rather familiar with the planet; although, he hasn’t got a clue with what’s going on. It seems as if recently the planet has gone somewhat haywire, with the gravity occasionally turning off and a something that is in the corner of your eye. The Doctor seems very hung up on the fact he doesn’t know the song that the river is singing (could this be in fact this universes version of River Song?) and Bernice seems rather annoyed at him for keeping them on Tramatz for weeks, with not much explanation as to why.
Considering the planet is being bombarded from beyond, it seems as if nobody from Tramatz is taking any notice, which is odd. Personally, if my planet was under attack I’d hope at least someone would notice. Preferably someone who could do something about it, but I won’t be too picky. It seems as if Bernice is the only person on Tramatz that can hear the bombs going off…
One thing I’ve noticed whilst listening to The Very Dark Thing, is that is compliments Planet X beautifully; whereas Planet X was a planet that was obsessed with the mundane and bland, it seems as if Tramatz is a planet that’s so interesting and so fairy tale that (almost) everyone is getting sucked into this twisted version of reality; totally ignoring anything bad that happens. It seems as if the Unbound universe is a universe filled with hyperbole; and I love it.
About 25 minutes into the story, we get introduced to the very dark thing from the title; a thing that is, well… very dark. In the corner of your eye, but you never see it. Much like the extra room in Amelia’s house in The Eleventh Hour. I wonder if it too uses a perception filter? Only time will tell…
There’s a scene in the story where Bernice is getting ready to shoot a unicorn, and the Doctor is hiding in a bush out of sight that I absolutely love. The Doctor forces Benny to talk to the unicorn instead of shoot it, and the musical accompaniment reminded me so much of the music used in Series 4 that just seems to make any situation seem sillier.
The final act of The Very Dark Thing seems to be very focused on morality and loyalty; two very important themes in life and in Doctor Who. The themes are echoed through different characters storylines in some very different ways. Una McCormark does an extremely good job in entwining the different characters in the story together through a similar thread of questionable morals, making it an extremely interesting tale.
I know that sometimes when Doctor Who attempts to do a whimsical story, it can be controversial in the fandom; a recent episode that seems to split opinion is Series 8’s In The Forest Of The Night. The Very Dark thing however, is much less fairytale, even though it contains unicorns and singing rivers, and focuses on the more sinister elements, most commonly found in the Grimm fairytales.
Overall, The Very Dark Thing is one of those stories that focusses so much on the morality in the tale, which, especially in these dark times that we live in, does a good job at reminding us that nobody is perfect, anyone can make mistakes and forgiveness is a necessity. Even though the title might be The Very Dark Thing, it seems to have a very light and heartwarming end; a rarity for Doctor Who but a welcome addition nonetheless.
Should you want to purchase The Very Dark Thing, it’s currently available as part of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield Volume 3: The Unbound Universe box set from Big Finish which can be purchased here for £20.00 for either the CD or the download.