Her presence shifts the series nicely into a new gear: the entertainment value of Jago and Litefoot trying to guide Leela, who is essentially a jungle warrior, through the incricacies of Victorian life is good for a laugh, and occasional pathos. Leela’s here to search out a temporal rift which is causing all sorts of anachronistic occurences (such as, memorably, a collision with the World War 2 blitz.) It does give the whole series a much more ‘Doctor Who’ feel, as distinct from the distinctly Victorian jaunt of the first two series.
The series kicks off with Dead Men’s Tales by Justin Richards, which sees Leela, Jago & Litefoot tracking down the first breaks in time, through which a soldier drowned in the 1940s has escaped, tracked by the terrifying Wet Men. It’s a slighter mystery than usual because a good deal of the episode is tied up with establishing Leela. It doesn’t matter one jot though, because Leela’s acclimatisation is hilarious (downing a pint of ale to the amazement of an entire tavern is a highlight, as is scaring off a potential cut-throat mugger — “That’s not a knife. This is a knife!”) and the Wet Men are sufficiently creepy to make for a great opener.
Next up is The Man At The End of the Garden by Matthew Sweet, which is the standout of the series. Eleanor Naismith has written best-selling children’s stories that she narrates to her daughter, about the man at the bottom of the garden who grants wishes, but may not quite be fictional. It’s a clever and atmospheric fusion of the Jago and Litefoot set-up and those oddly threatening turn of the century fairy stories. It boasts fantastic sound design, and, to top it, a clever ending that avoids the formulaic conclusion it could have easily plumped for. Standout of the season, and after ‘Theatre of Dreams’, the best episode so far too.
The third episode, Swan Song by John Dorney is a damn good close runner for favourite too: it’s tightly plotted but in such an elegant way that it comes off instead as a beautiful ghost story in which the time streams of 1860s London is crossing with the present day, where a laboratory is conducting time experiments. It introduces (and then dispatches with) a female scientist who dreamt of being a ballet dancer only to be paralysed and wheelchair bound, and her story is heartbreaking. I would also have to give a massive thumbs up to the careful execution of a complicated plot with both the sound production and the script…
…bringing us neatly to the fourth episode, Chronoclasm by Andy Lane. I’ve said in the reviews of Series 1 and 2 that on both occasions I’ve found the finales to be quite weak. Chronoclasm doesn’t quite break the mold–it’s still the weakest of the season–but it’s streets ahead of the previous two finales, and is most assertively a strong episode in and of itself. Oddly, the villain this series feels almost missing, but the conclusion is so much better for being plot-based and intricate (rather than simply a showdown with a large hodgepodge of sound effects and combat) and although there is a few awkward moments of infodump explanation, it still comes off smoothly and excitingly.
Which means I can happily declare Season Three to be firmly the strongest of the three seasons thus far. Odd, as I expected to be disgruntled by the departure from the Victorian-gothic-mystery atmosphere that drew me to the series in the first place. Bring on Series 4!