It’s not the most enviable of tasks. Try and follow the fantastic Protect and Survive but it’s a job that falls to Matt Fitton whose previous credits included contributing a story to Recorded Time and Other Stories last year. The story not only picks up from the previous month’s release but it also sees the return of Lysandra Aristedes who appeared in the 2009 release Project: Destiny and Sally who appeared in The House of Blue Fire. I think that unlike Protect and Survive there is a certain amount of pre-listening that is required as there are references to past stories littered throughout the story and no prior knowledge would be a big disadvantage. As there is a certain amount of confusion as to how Lysandra and Sally have found themselves in the TARDIS. It’s nice that the flashbacks were included to help.
The first episode spends a lot of time dealing with the fallout of the last stories cliffhanger and it’s a great opening episode. The second episode resumes with the Doctor talking to his new TARDIS which is acting like a baby. It’s a very strange scene though we learn that it’s after the events of Lurkers at Sunlights Edge so it helps put some continuity into things. This begins the Black and White TARDIS confusion and at times it was confusing at times but thankfully there wasn’t time really to get confused.
They continue with the Hex being annoyed with the Doctor. He’s quick to try and put the record straight where the Doctor is concerned to Sally Morgan. Though they didn’t over do it because there is a sense that he is willing to be rational. However Hex has an uneasy feeling about Death and how it seems to get closer which I thought was nicely played by Olivier. The contrast between the frosty relationship of Ace and Lysandra and the blossoming relationship between Hex and Sally was fun. The Ace/Lysandra was one of the things that I really liked about this story because even when it looked like things had thawed out then it goes back to Ace not fully trusting Lysandra.
The cliffhangers in this story ranged from ok to very good. The first Cliffhanger was quite a nice one because it seemingly comes out of left field and does feel like there is no clear way of how its going to be resolved. The second one was ok because there was a nice set up for the announcement that the Doctor’s Sonic screwdriver was on the wall. But for me the third one was the best one of the story. We have a lovely scene with Hex and Sally where Hex is talking about Death and then they see something and it’s heading towards them. A strong ending.
Sylvester McCoy’s involvement in this story is like Protect and Survive and that is minimal. We get a nice scene at the beginning of part two but it’s part three before we get our first most significant McCoy scene. So it’s up to Philip Olivier and Sophie Aldred to carry the story however due to the involvement of Sally and Lysandra, it meant that they didn’t have to carry as much of it. Whereas Protect and Survive had a very small cast, Black and White was very much a traditional story in that there were several cast members. I don’t know whether it was me but it seems that the writing for Hex has stepped up a lot in these two stories. Even though they aren’t technically companions (ducks for cover!), I thought that Amy Pemberton and Maggie O’Neill were very good and I look forward to their Companion Chronicle. I liked their characters because it was good cop/bad cop and it’s hard for me to choose who I found more enjoyable.
Stuart Milligan plays a very camp Garundel. Mulligan previously appeared in the 2006 story The Reaping where he was definelty not a camp person, he also played US President Nixon in The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon. I found the character to be a tad bit annoying to begin with but as his involvement in the story got bigger and bigger I found myself like Milligan’s performance.
Being the middle story of the series, it’s difficult to fully rate this story. I always thought that it was going to be difficult to beat Protect and Survive so I gave up any hope that we were going to get a better story. It was a wise thing to do as this is another good story in its own right. I wasn’t totally wild about the Beowulf stuff but it was interesting enough to keep me involved in the story. It would have been very easy for this story to be just padding and counting down the minutes before we gets Gods and Monsters but we get an enjoyable if at times flawed story. The final story has a lot an awful lot to live up to and that story has the return of a classic series monster.