And so the gang from Bannerman Road make a triumphant return to telly!
Incredibly, the Doctor Who spin~off is now in its fourth series and, by the signs of this opening two~parter and the second story too (but more of that in a few days), it’s as good as ever. I have to say that I was slightly surprised to see the opening tale, usually an entertaining, upbeat romp (Prisoner of the Judoon, for example), was to be written by Joseph Lidster.
Lidster normally takes on the more thoughtful affairs for Sarah Jane & Co.; The Mark of the Berserker and The Mad Woman In The Attic (review here) are stories which deal with character and ideas as opposed to “romp” and “fun”. His latest offering, The Nightmare Man, makes no detour from his previous work – thus breaking from the rompular nature of the traditional series opener.
In fact, the word “Nightmare” aptly describes the mood of the piece as we discover that Luke is battling some inner demons, coming to terms with the prospect of moving away from home to university. As a product of the Bane, the boy wonder shouldn’t be able to dream – an indicator that all is not well. The titular character of the story invades Luke’s mind, infecting him with paranoia, doubt and insecurities.
And this is at the very heart of The Nightmare Man. It’s really about coming to terms with change and dealing with issues of the future and loneliness. It’s not just Luke suffering though. Rani and Clyde (both on top form, as always) try to come to terms with their friend’s possible departure (and the resultant jealousy/resentment felt) whilst Sarah Jane considers a life alone again.
The bad~dream maker/invader, played with some relish by Julian Bleach (Davros in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End), is a manifestation of worry – a point that many, I’m sure, can relate to. Keeping problems internal can only lead to an external release, and this is what happens here. Part one deals with Luke’s nightmares but he can’t tell anyone until, of course, it’s too late. It opens not unlike the final episode of Torchwood: Children of Earth where we witnessed Gwen Cooper giving a “final” message to a video camera. Here Luke does the same and the rest of the first installment takes the form of a flash~back.
The character of the Nightmare Man is eerie and most unpleasant – one wonders what the younger viewers will make of him. I suspect he will be the originator of a few actual nightmares in the audience thereafter. Interestingly, in the second part, he becomes “real” and, as the story becomes more horrific for the gang he becomes less of a threat, drinking in the world he finds himself in.
Luke, Rani, Clyde, Sarah Jane and even K9 do an Inception in the second part, jumping into dreams and getting up to all sorts. These bad~dream scenes are wonderfully shot and lit, using numerous horror techniques to great effect (there’s even a nod to The Ring); featuring monochrome corridors stained with blood red doors and windows and unusual camera angles to complete the effect. “Classic” Who story Kinda is also evoked (another tale featuring a nightmarish man invading the minds of others) when we see Luke, alone and trapped in nothingness.
Lidster peppers the drama with a couple of mentions of The Doctor, some lovely expressions such as “dream switch” and “the eternal sleep of nightmares”, amusing bickering between K9 and Mr Smith and the awkwardness male friendship – “You don’t want a hug or anything?” asks Clyde as he and Luke make amends. Parents be warned though, the word “bum” is used. Tsk~tsk, won’t someone purlease think of the children???
5.15pm, Oct 11 & 12 on CBBC
4.30pm, Oct 13 & 14 on BBC Two
Thanks to the BBC