Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Something of a mixed bag this one.

Returning meanie Androvax turns several characters into zombies again (spare a thought for actress Mina Awar - it's her third time portraying this) in a worthy but savage bid to save his race from extinction. Yes, it's the end of the world again too.

The ensuing story of his plotting to break into the Vault Of Secrets - not to be confused with the Black Archive - is an enjoyable runaround, and raises plenty of exciting questions that don't really get explored. Maybe in later stories?

Paramount among these is the return of the Alliance of Shades - including Mr Dread - from last year's animated Doctor Who Dreamland. Although now live action, they do look encouragingly consistent:

Although their presence in a children's show means that they can't really hurt anyone, it's exciting to watch our heroes repeatedly running away from them anyway. (their aim is about as good as the Daleks')

The Alliance's mission is to remove evidence of aliens from contemporary society, including brainwashing anyone who knows of it. This just the sort of enthralling storyline that the contemporary Doctor Who universe needs after its recent dozen or so high-profile invasions. Alas the opportunity is not mined for it, with the result that at the end of the tale, the world is still an incohesive jumble.

The Vault Of Secrets exemplifies this problem, trying as it does to squeeze two very hard-to-reconcile recent histories into the same tale, indeed often in the same scene. On the one hand Earth has been publicly invaded many times lately, for example when almost everyone on the planet lost family members in Doomsday. On the other, hardly anybody believes in the existence of aliens, so that it can paradoxically also feel as though the story is set in our own world.

It sort of seems to me that those characters who are still denying the possibility of extra terrestrial life, after everything that's happened, must be a really tiny minority, yet according to the programme-makers, the opposite is true.

Specifically, this story features a self-help group for people who believe in aliens, who are portrayed throughout as a bit strange. The relentless incidental music clumsily drops into comedy mode whenever they have anything to say. Even the group's name is BURPSS (British UFO Research and Paranormal Studies Society), a monicker which only really stupid people would call themselves without noticing.

The biggest lead weight in these scenes is the otherwise excellent continuing double act of Haresh and Gita (Ace Bhatti and Mina Anwar respectively). Alas, all their considerable comic skill still can't overcome that Gita needs to be portrayed in the story as right, not mad.

Worst of all, even Sarah and her friends nonsensically belittle the members for their beliefs throughout. In previous series Sarah has tried to open people's minds to the possibility of extra terrestrial life. I can understand her trying to protect her own privacy here, but not by being so mean.

It's a terrible example to set for children, to rubbish people who are hurting because they don't believe what you want them to. How compelling could these scenes have been if told from Ocean Waters' point of view, exploring the tragedy of her and her friends' isolation from society? In fact, shouldn't this small group of outcasts really have consisted of people who don't believe in aliens?

As is common with modern Doctor Who shows, the narrative also suffers from some awkward pacing, particularly when Rani, going out of her mind trying to prevent her mum's imminent death, suddenly forgets all that to stop and chat with Clyde about life, the universe and everything.

It must be uphill work for the actors to find motivation for this sort of thing. Even harder than performing a script in which they then turn out to have impossibly overtaken the person who they're chasing after, who themself has also forgotten where they're running to.

There were some great ideas for a good adventure here, but I thought these ingredients needed a lot more cooking to bake them into a story.

Not sure what became of Mr Smith's body either.

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