Reviewed By: Eiphel
Review Date: 3/22/12 1:25 am
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Whilst this is one of Jago and Litefoot's weaker outings, it's a testament to the range that it's still a solidly enjoyable tale. Matthew Sweet's writing seems to me to be characterised by a focus on mood and feeling foremost, with the mechanics of plot coming second. This is no criticism! The Man at the End of the Garden was my runaway favourite story of series three, and in the Who main range, the Magic Mousetrap is equally compelling. However I think those stories lent themselves more fully to the poetic, atmospheric style of Sweet's writing than does the Lonely Clock. If I were to draw a tortured metaphor, I might suggest that much like a clock, this story felt like it was composed of elaborate mechanical plot elements, like timeloops, non-linear timelines and paradox, and these cogs needed a tighter mechanism driving them. The magical moody style was a little too fuzzy to suit the story being told, to my mind.
That said, the mood and magic still has merits. Spooky underground train journeys, deathly women and mysterious glass clocks serve to trap plenty of ghostly atmosphere in the tale. The train setting being something of a staple, it immediately called to mind Jago and Litefoot's own Necropolis Express, as well as Sapphire and Steel's The Passenger. By supporting a second concurrent tale amid the streets of London, though, the Lonely Clock manages to keep itself distinct - and also gives Leela and Ellie a good chunk of screentime. As the two plotlines tick along, heading towards convergence, everything feels quite gripping. Mysteries and questions abound in both plot threads, and each thread seems to hint at the answers of the other. It's only as the two stories draw together that the pleasing ghostly romp starts to unwind, because it's here that matters hew out of the paranormal and toward science-fiction, and Sweet's narrative voice isn't quite suited to the gear change. The resolution is not by any means nonsensical, but it's a little hard to fully grasp, and some elements feel to be left a little loose. This was no flaw in the Man at the End of the Garden, which maintained such an atmosphere that hard and fast solutions weren't fitting anyway. Here though, the culmination of Clock's workings feel like they belong to a slightly harder sci-fi story than Sweet has been writing. By no means does it kill the tale, but it does feel derailed slightly - not assisted by a lengthy section of the climax falling prey to 'describing the action'.
There were a couple of other slight falters in voice that I pikced up on. Early in the story the same homage to Sherlock Holmes is basically made twice, sticking out awkwardly the second time. I also found Ellie and Winnie to occaisionally get confused when a new scene opened, which I think was partially on the writing, and partially due to the actor's voices. In general I found the dialogue in the three women's section to be a little less polished than that on the train (which was excellent). Of particular note is Litefoot's meeting with Hardwick, which is particularly sparky, even by the already gripping standard set by the two gentlemen at law. They are turning out to be a memorable, archetypal twosome, just like our heroes.
Things having reached their head, and the tone shifted from the fantastic to the sci-fi, pieces are put in place for the final story of the series. I think because of this The Lonely Clock can't be judge entirely in a vacuum as some of that gear shifting is surely due to the handover to the finale. And it's an interesting set up. I have to say though, that I wonder if some of that set up is not delivered in a way which sacrifices in-universe sense for audience reaction. It remains to be seen just where things are going with the conclusion to this series. If it's good, series four could rival series one as my favourite of the bunch, but I am very much holding my breath...
Before that, though, my final assessment of this story is that it's an enjoyable ghost train romp which tangles itself a little in the final act as it tries to switch track from fantasy to sci-fi. 6/10