Thursday, 29 December 2016
Antarctica - those huge frozen wastes populated only by penguins and David Attenborough, “the last truly unspoiled place on Earth” - is both the ideal location for a Doctor Who story*, yielding claustrophobic bases and agoraphobic expanses, extreme weather and extreme beauty, and yet a terribly difficult one to achieve, mostly because, um, filming in Antarctica isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world. No surprise then, really, that it’s only been attempted a couple of times as an in-studio job - once in The Tenth Planet, once in The Seeds of Doom (and briefly in the SJA story The Gift) - but you’d think it’s the ideal place to set an audio story, where one can rely on the visuals of the imagination for the full effect. Of those I’ve heard, I can only think of Frozen Time that is set there (although The Land of the Dead and Winter for the Adept have a similar feel to them, even if they’re set in marginally less inhospitable winter wonderlands) so I’m glad that David Bishop chose to set the second story of this second season in an Antarctic base, once more contributing to the range’s globe-trotting feel.
Buried Secrets - the opening story of Sarah Jane Smith’s second season - manages the tricky process of feeling both like the stories that have gone before (certainly, it doesn’t feel like a complete break from the past, and indeed the theme of the past haunting you is arguably the crux of the story) and yet almost like the relaunch of a new programme and a new style. For one thing, there’s a new theme - much more appropriate to the investigative Sarah, but with a jaunty lightness of touch that seems to pre-empt The Sarah Jane Adventures. With the new theme comes new incidental music and sound design in general, here provided by Steve Foxon, and in my view a step-up in quality from David Darlington’s efforts. For another, David Bishop relies once more heavily on news broadcasts, something which previously only his own Season 1 story, Test of Nerve, had bothered to do; here it works even better than last time, in no small measure due to the way Bishop has already started setting up plots for later stories in the season (the world’s first tourist flight into space; animal rights activists; and a mission to Antarctica which I already know is going to pop up in the next story, Snow Blind) - but also as a way to sweep the past under the carpet (the newsreader reporting on the deaths of Hilda Winters and Philip Harris, for instance, or Maude Fletcher from Comeback popping up again on the radio).