I think the combination of the 7th Doctor, Ace and Hex has a lot of potential and they were off to a good start in The Harvest, but Dreamtime wasn’t the place to go next! “You scared the sh… well, you scared something out of me.” Hex is a very modern companion, but the series should be careful not to lose sight of the family audience. That’s not actually the real problem with Dreamtime; it’s the setting and the action. The action has a lot happening and maybe I was sleepy or something during the two days I listened to it, but I had a hard time understanding what was going on in many of the scenes. I mean, I understood that the Doctor was turned to stone in episode one, but… how? What happened? Out of the blue, there was a battle, and the Doctor was turned to stone. Next episode, he’s talking to another person who was turned to stone too, and he leaves her to go find out more about what’s going on. She begs him not to leave. But I’m confused! Are they in stone? The Doctor mentions that they might not have physical bodies anymore, so how can he leave and she can’t? Is this something to do with aboriginal myth?
And that’s the other issue I took with the story. I am not personally up on my Aussie myth or geography. The revelation that they are in Uluru (or as McCoy says it, OO-la-rrrrrroo) meant very little to me. I recall reading about Uluru a very long time ago indeed, but to say I knew more about it, or what a bunyip is, would be a lie and it felt like that knowledge would have improved my enjoyment of the story exponentially. Sure, it did make me go look it all up, which is a good thing, but I listen when driving to and from work and don’t have that ability on the fly!
At least the series brought back the Galyari from The Sandman. I love the sound of that name and, I don’t know about you, but I also love continuity. So when the Galyari mention that there is a “Doctor” from their legends, they are telling us that they know who he is, yet they never actually learn that this is the same Doctor. It feels like a weak reason to have them in the story. It’s good that they realize that there might be more than one person with that name in the universe, a fact many writers overlook with their storytelling, but that’s about it. Well, that and allowing for a moment where a kookaburra (another creature native to Australia) appears and gives them pause for thought due to their shared avian ancestry… it all seems like very weak connections indeed.
On the other hand, I can totally forgive all of that when you do things right and there are some excellent speeches in this story. The Doctor gives a solid one about forgiveness at the start of the second disc and I was very impressed with the writing, but that’s not uncommon for Doctor Who. What I respected far more was the discussion about cultural respect. Ace remonstrates with the Galyari leader about showing some respect to another culture; but he counters that she calls his race “lizards”. Ace is forced to acknowledge that she was wrong for it, and apologizes, recognizing the validity of his words. This is an easily overlooked thing in Science fiction; we see no issues with mocking that “green blooded Vulcan” because we’re not dealing with a real species, but it’s symptomatic of a bigger problem. Our shows are vehicles that we can use to tell a story and teach lessons; not the in-your-face variety of Orphan 55, but the smart, subtle demonstrations of wisdom, knowledge, and goodness that we see in moments like this, when Ace is called out for being wrong and acknowledges her mistake. Say what you will about the wrongs of Dreamtime, this moment was a slam dunk and utterly memorable!
I was put off by some aspects of this story, but still appreciated more than I disliked it. I think the combination of characters worked well but given a very geographic specific story is perhaps a mistake; as I tell my kids all the time: know your audience. But if it makes us look up these things, I guess I can forgive it. (I wonder how many people would take the time; especially if they listen while driving.) But the real victory is down to a reminder that just because a race does not look like us, does not mean they are worthy of mockery. A good reminder for us all. I want to be ready for the meeting with aliens and not have them run away, feeling ridiculed for being different. ML