Still, it’s obvious from his first line that we’ve caught Sylvester McCoy on a good day: he’s giving an energetic, engaged performance here, and his defence of Nocturne in response to his companions’ rather sulky and teenage dislike of the place is good fun. The rapport between our 7/Ace/Hex trio is as enjoyable as ever - see Ace’s critique that the Doctor keeps them “in the dark” so that “he looks clever and we look stupid”, all in the name of “the grand reveal”. This comes back to bite them rather well, as the Doctor confesses that he should be more forthcoming about sharing information with his friends; the tender scene between him and Ace in Part Four is probably the story’s highlight, as McCoy implores her to believe him that he only brought them to Nocturne because he thought they’d like it, that he wasn’t expecting horrors of this kind, and that he will tell them everything in future (it’ll be interesting to see if the writers follow up on this, though; the behind-the-scenes extras suggest not, sadly). Hex kissing her and assuring her he’ll be there for her potentially promises something in that direction, too.
There’s still some stuff to like: Glasst City (rather like Venice, and evidently one of the Doctor’s favourite places) is a great locale, Steve Foxon’s classical-inspired sound-scape is nicely done, the backdrop of the human-Foucoo war is interesting, and the Doctor’s dictum that war often brings forth the finest art is a strong starting point for a story. As Orson Wells says in The Third Man: “In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” But - disappointingly - this is mostly charming backdrop rather than the story’s meat and drink; it consists primarily of fun, knowing jokes about post-pigmentism or bio-harmonics, vague comments that “every sound around us is a form of art”, or characters dropping into conversation that they’re composing a new epic or painting a new masterpiece, and then getting on with fairly banal stuff about robots going haywire. The secondary characters are merely OK: Trevor Bannister is decent as elderly composer Korbin Thessenger (and it’s funny listening to the Doctor teaming up with ‘Korbin’ in 2016). Although I’m tired of her having a new doomed crush every week, Ace does get some decent scenes with Will Alloran as he takes her round Glasst City; his description of the horrors of war is one of the story’s stronger moments, and builds on No Man’s Land rather neatly.