“That’s how the place felt, haunted and empty”
When a teleportation experiment goes badly wrong, Nyssa finds herself stranded on the freezing slopes of the Swiss Alps in 1963. But is it mere coincidence that she finds shelter in a snowbound school haunted by a malevolent poltergeist?
When the Doctor arrives, Nyssa and the other inhabitants of the school soon discover that the ghost is merely part of a darker, deeper and more deadly game involving rogue psi talents and something else…
Something not of this Earth.
Yes, I would listen to it again. It’s a good story but it does have some flaws which are more than a little off-putting.
Like The Land of the Dead before it, this story is about a small group of people in an isolated environment; in this case, a haunted finishing school in the Swiss Alps during a snowstorm at Christmas. It’s a great setting and leads to quite an atmospheric little story. I particularly liked the way it started; the opening and closing narrations by an older Alison are done well and are good ways to bookend the story. The piano playing in the background (the tune will have greater significance later on) is a great addition and adds to the atmosphere enormously. Switching to the younger Alison reading from her diary over the initial scene is a nice touch and from then on it settles into the usual style.
Throughout the story the atmosphere inside the deserted school is well realised although you never really get a feel for how big the school is as all the action takes place in the kitchen, the attic and the chapel. The poltergeist activity gives us some nicely creepy moments (and a fantastic entrance for the Doctor) which are then rather let down by a poltergeist that’s far too posh and polite. Russell Stone does a good job with the music, much better than his previous efforts on Red Dawn and the piano theme is very effective in the haunting scenes.
The characters then; the Doctor, Alison and Mlle Maupassant are perfectly fine, no real problems there. The headmistress, Miss Tremayne is a great character, wonderfully played by Sally Faulkner. She is very eccentric with strong religious beliefs and disapproving of everyone. There is a suggestion that religion is a refuge from some traumatic event in her past but no more is made of that. Her extreme reliance on those beliefs is ultimately her undoing though, because the poltergeist activity (which has clearly been happening for some time) obviously eats away at her until she loses the plot completely and tries to kill everyone for being sinners, using a very big knife.
India Fisher is absolutely marvellous as Peril Bellamy, the rebellious 19 year old who wants to elope with a policeman old enough to be her father. She plays the part brilliantly, adventurous, mischievous and a bit ‘jolly hocky sticks’; not a million miles away from the character she will eventually play alongside the Eighth Doctor. And there’s a nice moment of vulnerability when the Doctor confronts her about her powers.
So with a story, atmosphere, cast and music that impress, this story has some very good things going for it. Where’s the ‘but’ I hear you ask?
The way I see it there are three main problems with this story, the first is with characters, namely Peter and Nyssa. As Peter Sandoz, Peter Jurasik is a huge disappointment. I’m a big fan of his character on Babylon 5, where he goes from funny to dramatic to completely over the top and back again, and while I know that he’s playing a much more subtle role here, he’s so flat. There is absolutely nothing in his performance that would explain why Peril is in love with him and no emotion whatsoever, it sounds like he’s just reading it! It’s not until late in Part Three that he starts to get interesting and that’s mostly when he’s arguing with the Doctor.
Nyssa is also not well served by this story; Sarah Sutton has definitely drawn the short straw. The Doctor doesn’t turn up until the end of Part One so Nyssa is the main focus and that’s fine, she does well. But as soon as the Doctor arrives any character development is dumped in a snowdrift somewhere and she gets relegated to handing him his gadgets and spouting pointless, badly written dialogue. She’s irrelevant to the story until the last five minutes and even that just feels like “well, we’d better give her something to do at the end”. I’ve never been a Nyssa fan but after the great opportunity of The Land of the Dead, this is a massive step backwards.
Problem number two is the dialogue. There are more than a few absolutely shocking moments where characters (mainly Nyssa and Alison) are given dialogue that treats the listeners like idiots. We understand that this is audio and we can’t see what’s happening but we have brains and imagination and all we need is one well written line and maybe a sound effect to let us know what’s going on. But no, we get things spelled out to us unnecessarily in a way that destroys the tension and has you shouting at the CD box in frustration (one example is the cliffhanger to Part Two “look, those ski poles are moving on their own” “Look, they’re floating in the air” “Look, they’re pointing directly at us” “they’re shooting towards us” “Listen, the theme tune’s just started” and so on. Arrgghh!
Of course, it is possible to overlook bad acting and bad writing. The real problem with this story though, is the aliens. They’re just rubbish. Not only is their name rubbish – The Spillagers (because they spill out of wormholes!? They were originally to be called Spillers but that just makes them sound like clumsy waiters) – but their voices aren’t as menacing as they’re supposed to be and they are actually just useless in themselves. When Mlle Maupassant is revealed to be an alien (I’m NOT going to refer to them by name again because it’s ridiculous) all she does is taunt the girls about their homework before she’s squashed by a table. What a formidable opponent. The next character to be revealed as an alien is a bit more menacing but still just as useless. At the very end we get a glimpse of the approaching invasion fleet, which gets dispatched in seconds and that’s it, game over.
Quite frankly, Winter for the Adept didn’t need any aliens in it. Instead of having two aliens disguised as humans just make them humans, it would have made some scenes far more emotional and dramatic. What with telepathy, telekinesis, a poltergeist, a mad Scotswoman and a creepy, atmospheric setting, you’ve got a cracking adventure right there. Throw aliens into the mix and it’s just too much.
Overall, a good story that is enjoyable despite some frustrating creative decisions only to be let down in the last episode by an unnecessary alien invasion, without which the whole story could have been a much more subtle, spookier affair. More care taken on the dialogue and a better performance from the main guest star would have helped as well.
The Doctor: Peter Davison | Nyssa: Sarah Sutton
With: Andy Coleman (Commodore); Hannah Dickinson (Mlle Maupassant); Sally Faulkner (Miss Tremayne); India Fisher (Peril Bellamy); Nicky Goldie (Empress); Peter Jurasik (Lieutenant Peter Sandoz); Liz Sutherland (Alison Speers); Chris Webber (Harding Wellman).
Writer: Andrew Cartmel | Director: Gary Russell | Music: Russell Stone | Release Date: July 2000 | Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes | Number of Episodes: 4
Set Between: The Land of the Dead and Arc of Infinity