Monday, 1 September 2014

Iterations of I written by John Dorney and directed by Ken Bentley

What's it about: The house on Fleming's Island had been left to rot. Ever since a strange and unexplained death soon after it was built, and plagued with troubling rumours about what lurked there, it remained empty and ignored for decades until the Cult moved in. As twenty people filled its many rooms, the eerie building seemed to be getting a new lease of life. But now it is empty again. The cult found something in its corridors... and then vanished. Trapped on the island one dark night, the Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric look into the building's mysteries, its stories of madness and death. Their only chance is to understand what terrible thing has been disturbed here... before it consumes them utterly.
An English Gentleman: He finds it is always better to adopt a positive approach to life...or a delusional one! The Doctor is quietly very smug when his companions cannot do a better job than him in landing the ship where they want to go. It's not as easy as it looks. Paradoxically he doesn't like to speculate but he does like to hear the local superstitions. You only have to be wrong once when the ghosts come out to play. The fifth Doctor is beautifully written throughout this story, giving lie to the fact that he has become a biege blur on audio in the past couple of years (there is an argument to be made for that, but this is a very good counter-argument). He's incisive, witty, self-deprecating, insulting, resourceful and very intelligent and Peter Davison responds to the stirring material, giving one of his best ever performances. The Doctor defeats the monster of the week with a calculator - just wonderful.

Maths Nerd: Adric refuses to acknowledge that he has piloted the TARDIS incorrectly because equations never let people down. It always disturbs me when Adric and I agree on something and his mis-pronunciation of Sinead is one such instance (I also have trouble with Siobhan and Aoife). The Doctor wishes for once the little git would just do as he's told.

Mouth on Legs: Tegan's experiences in steering the TARDIS towards Castrovalva have taught her not to tinker around with the console anymore. This story must be set after Black Orchid where Tegan has decided that she would like to stay with the crew for a while. That's nice because it means this box set offers two alternative versions of the character from season nineteen, the grumpy one who has just had her life turned upside down and the calmer one who has adjusted to her life aboard the TARDIS. For Tegan to suggest that somebody else is being negative is quite a statement. She finds the sea air quite invigorating. She's the sort of woman who would risk saying that a day cannot possibly get any worse...and suffer the consequences. I really enjoyed Tegan in this story, she has a fair amount of attitude but for the most part she is intelligent, observant and understands that she needs to do what she is told in a crisis. She admits that she has her own problems with the Doctor but listening to him is usually the safest option. The Doctor is touched by that, and by her decision to stay with him when she could scarper away from this horror and back to her old life. Tegan smartly reasons that ever creature has its weaknesses, you just have to ration out what it is. The I will go for the loudest and most obvious target...can you imagine who that might be? Her capacity to find things to complain about never ceases to amaze the Doctor.

Alien Orphan: It's nice that Nyssa is a party to Adric's subterfuge to fly the TARDIS whilst the Doctor is distracted by Cranleigh's book. It feels like there are a pair of naughty school kids attempting to take the controls whilst Dad is busy with his head in a book. Like her collapse in Four to Doomsday, Nyssa is still susceptible to psychic attacks. Adric thinks that concentrating on light electronic engineering is exactly what Nyssa needs to take her mind of things. Surely she cannot be that square? The sooner Tegan introduces her to trashy soap operas the better. When the Master killed her father it destroyed her, ripped out her heart but she had to get on with her life. You never forget the pain.

Standout Performance: Bizarrely I found Waterhouse's delivery a little more difficult to get a handle on in this story, he really seems to be stressing the 'Adric of peace and light' voice that is supposed to be as authentic a representation of his voice in the 1980s as possible. I'm not sure I would have bothered with the affectation because he sounds far more like he did back then in the special features when he is just talking normally. Interestingly, it is during the scenes where Adric is called upon to react to things suddenly where the ethereal whispering drops and he slips comfortably back into being a teenager again. It's great to hear some Irish accents in Doctor Who, it is a brogue that we don't hear often enough outside the latest eighth Doctor series.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'I? Why I?' 'I didn't know you were from Newcastle...'
'Like a scream without a insanity walking.'
'I wasn't aware I had tuned into The Open University.'
'It wont come out with the most sophisticated language in the world' 'Well that's aright, we understand Tegan. '

Great Ideas: I like the fact that there is a fair amount of set up before we catch up with the regulars in this story, setting up the narrative before allowing them to join. Before the Doctor, Adric, Tegan and Nyssa even set foot on the island it is given an appropriate amount of ominous build up. After that set up, the first episode is almost left exclusively to the regulars, proof if it was ever needed that these four characters could hold up a story on their own if the setting and the narrative were strong enough to highlight them at their best. This deserted home on the island with whispering voices and eerie psychic energy wafting about is potent enough to generate a tense atmosphere (even the Doctor states that lights are definitely a priority). There was always something very season one about Davison's first season, trying to recapture the idea of the Doctor kidnapping somebody and trying to take them home unsuccessfully and having the stories form one long narrative with recaps at the beginning of each adventure. So it feels very authentic for Iterations of I to separate the Doctor's party from the TARDIS to allow the adventure to roll on, the ultimate season one feature. Fleming bought the whole island as a wedding gift for his wife but she died during a party held at the house. After Sinead O'Connor's death it was impossible to sell the house on until the cult approached the owner, looking for somewhere cheap and secluded to set up shop. A cult that worships numbers? Again I can imagine Bidmead getting the ultimate hard on about that. The imagination is one of the greatest tools we have, says the Doctor and I couldn't agree with him more. A cult trying to break down the base code of the universe, what an incredibly dangerous thing to even hypothesise. Imagine what damage you could do if you reduced the entire universe to a malleable equation? Diary extracts (be they written, audio or visual) is something that I have seen used ad nauseum in fiction (it is particularly favoured by Justin Richards in his novels) to explain away the outcome of a traumatic event that the Doctor and company have stumbled upon. You can generate some real tension by slowly revealing what has happened before shining a light on the fact that the horror you are witnessing in the document is still present.  People breaking down into numbers - Dorney has a real talent for producing some stunning imagery. If something is trying to kill people it doesn't need to do so in a different way each time. Iteration is a process of trying to achieve a result and making various attempts at different methods until you get it right. It is isn't trying to hurt people it is trying to talk them but it is so different from mammalian life that it doesn't realise it is killing them with each attempt. A life form so different that just saying hello in various ways causes mass murder...that's terrifying. A sentient number. How has Doctor Who not covered this before? Such a simple concept and yet highly imaginative when applied in such a way. When it found itself caged it latched onto I, the most impossible number of them all. It is the square root of minus one, not irrational, just imaginary. Numbers only exist in relation to other things, you can't reach down and pick up a two, only two of something. Enslaved, the I could change and affect all numbers. You could use it to manipulate any computer systems you wanted. You could go beyond computers too, change the reality of the world. If a peaceful numeric creature can evolve then why not a predator. I could imagine the I attacks being realised in much the same way as the Keller Machine in The Mind of Evil, that grainy negative effect.

Audio Landscape: The sound design really struck me as being very strong in the first episode, Fool Circle convincing me completely that I was listening to a lost soundtrack rather than something that had been assembled long after this era was first transmitted. I also found the sound trickery when people were affected by the I to be quite disturbing to listen to, a genuinely chilling audio experience. Kudos to Fool Circle for their distinctive work on this story. Computer print outs, white noise, seagulls, a cliff face crumbling, waves crashing, a storm brewing and breaking, rattling a door handle, the generator coming to life and the lights coming on, rain running from a roof, a scream, whispering voices, computer equations tinkling away, Aiofe's dying screams, helicopter blades, shooting, a helicopter crash.

Isn't it Odd: A shame that the end of episode should lack any tension whatsoever after such an incredible establishing instalment. Tegan presses a button a keyboard, an act that is given an astonishing amount of importance given we have no idea what it will do. In places this story did remind me of ...ish but where that was a more intellectual exercise this has a unique sense of horror all of its own. You could perhaps argue that the climax descending into action after three episodes of intelligent discussion is a little easy but I thoroughly enjoyed the quicker pace of the final fifteen minutes (especially Adric proving himself physically and the crash).

Standout Scene: It is strange how something so ordinary, the repeated use of the letter I, can be made to sound so spine tingling when placed in a different context. It is a great motif because it comes with a sense of creeping horror, informing the audience that something is very bad is about to happen.

Result: 'I think our number might very well be up...' What a cracking first episode, atmospheric and haunting and landing this TARDIS crew in a chilling horror movie setting of the sort that the series lacked during its nineteenth year. This is another skilfully structured piece assembled by John Dorney with plenty of clues scattered about in the first two episodes for the careful listener to slot together to build up a picture of what happened on the island the summer previously. However even the most intelligent of listeners couldn't have foreseen precisely where this twisting storyline was going and once the cat is out of the bag about the nature of the threat I was both horrified and dazzled by the potential and complexity of the foe. Whilst Adric and Nyssa are served well, it was the handling of the fifth Doctor and Tegan that really impressed me. The dialogue is sharp and appealing and both Peter Davison and Janet Fielding respond to it by giving a pair of fantastic performances. I truly wish they had been this engaging on screen together but it is wonderful that the potential of this pairing is finally being realised. Where Psychodrome had a point to make by establishing the season nineteen team as a unit that can generate decent stories, Iterations of I is simply a cracking good story in its own right and would be regardless of the which regulars had landed here. Beautifully paced, packed with clever ideas and twists and with an atmosphere of dread that is hard to stop listening to, this is very good indeed. It's been a long time since I have given two back to back scores this high but this fifth Doctor box set has raised the quality of the year exponentially and the stories have been specifically tailored for my tastes. Between them they have been smart, funny, surprising, characterful, atmospheric and challenging: 10/10

Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Homecoming written by Ira Steven Behr and directed by Winrich Kolbe

What’s it about: Kira and O’Brien go on a dangerous mission to rescue a Bajoran prisoner of war…

Single Father: Sisko bounces along the Promenade enjoying sparkling conversation with his son and dining at the Replimat and there is a strong feeling that he is starting to feel at home here. Clearly Ben is not ready to have a conversation about girls with Jake. With the Bajoran political system falling into chaos, Sisko can see everything they have worked for in the past year starting to unravel. It pains him to see the situation on Bajor spilling out and affecting even his son. He is clearly a Commander who is willing to think outside the box because I couldn't imagine any of the other Trek series' leads agreeing to let a subordinate head off on a mission that could ultimately kick start a war. He clearly likes a risk. 

Tasty Terrorist: An altogether less abrasive and more serene person than she was in the first year, we visit Kira’s quarters for the first time and see her praying before her mandala. However it is not all hymns and spreading peace for the Major who still threatens to break Quark’s arm at the merest hint of inappropriate advances. Protocol be damned, even though she is practically declaring war on Cardassia Kira is determined to rescue Li Nalas from Cardassia Four. It’s that sort of conviction and defiance of the rules that I really admire the characters on this show for. The cliffhanger is a very important moment for the show because it shows how much Kira has become a part of the DNA of this show and makes the audience realise how much they will miss her. After everything they went through together last year Kira and Sisko look shocked and appalled at this news. Rewind back to Past Prologue and they probably would have been celebrating. That's real development folks. 

Community Leader: Quark has incredible fun winding up Odo with the 76th Rule of Acquisition: ‘Every once and a while, declare peace. It confuses the hell out of your enemies’ (and look at Rom framed by Quark and Odo looking deeply confused by the the whole thing). When Quark is branded with the Circle symbol you could almost call it justice for his ‘one for you and six for me’ payday policy with Rom. What a greedy bastard. 

Young Sisko: Jake is asking out girls now and so watching ships going through the wormhole is boring in comparison. He wants to take Leyra to their quarters or to the holosuite but both are vetoed by his father who clearly has entertained a girl or two in this style in the past and knows exactly where it leads.

Nine Lives: This is where Dax’s role became much less of a scientist and much more about being a good friend to Sisko, a role that suits her far more agreeably.

Everyday Engineer: Given his hatred of Cardassians it makes perfect sense to take the technically savvy O’Brien along to rescue Li Nalas and the quiet exchange between him and Kira where he understands that they might not be coming back shows his strength of character. Quietly, he is the bravest character in Star Trek. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What if I told I knew someone who could bring stability to Bajor. Someone who could unite the factions and give us a chance to do our job?’ ‘I’d say give Kira the runabout.’ 
‘What you did today Major was declare war on Cardassia. Thankfully they declined the invitation.’
‘This morning I was a slave and tonight I’m a hero.’
‘I’ll never forget the look on his face when he died. He was so…embarrassed.’
‘Bajor doesn’t need a man. It needs a symbol.’

Ch-ch-changes: Aside from the Station feeling generally bright and less claustrophobic than the first season the only cosmetic difference to the show is that they now have the budget to build the upper level of the Promenade (including an upper entrance to Quark’s). And do you know why this is the only major change? Because they pretty much got it spot on in the first season.

The Good: Prepare for your eyes to water as the director chooses to shoot a scene through the leather clad legs of the Boslik Captain. Graffiti being sprayed on the walls of the station is a subtle but effective way of showing how Bajor’s problems are spreading away from the planet. The labour camp sequences are gloriously shot on location and the best indication that the show is lighter, brighter and more expensive than ever. The mining camp is expensively brought to life with tons of extras in a magnificently sunny quarry (I love the water falling in the background of some shots). Star Trek has rarely looked as cinematic (outside of being a movie of course). O’Brien proves very handy with a phaser and manages to gun down several Cardassians on rocky outcrops. Li Nalas is rescued dirty, scarred and wounded – it’s another unpleasant reminder of Cardassian hospitality. Imagine coming home to find that your planet has been at peace for the last year whilst you have toiled under the misapprehension that it was still at war. The sense of relief must be overwhelming. Frank Langella’s Minister Jaro is a powerful, frightening presence of a man – his very existence adds gravity and tension to a scene. I love his quiet admission to Li Nalas that you cannot expect a politician to give up an opportunity such as his homecoming to score some points with the people. He makes no apology for what he is. Richard Beymer gives a similarly impressive performance as the quiet and subdued Li who has lived a lie for too many years for his people and refuses to be a figurehead for them anymore. I love the moment when he declares that he is happy to simply have a moment’s peace whilst sniffing a flower as though it is the most potent smell he has experienced. Li’s story of defeating Gul Viral is one of many stories that emerges in DS9 over the years that comes to life without any images necessary. The dialogue does a lot of the work and your imagination does the rest. 

Moment to Watch Out For: Kira posing as a Bajoran hooker with O’Brien as her pimp is a wonderful sequence that is mined for all the comedy gold it is worth. Kira flirtatiously opens her blouse to give the Cardassian guard a good look before punching his lights out. It is female emancipation in all its glory. Quark’s branding is another memorable moment – I simply cannot imagine Guinan or Neelix suffering this kind of indignity in their place of work. 

Only DS9: ‘No sample of the merchandise until the sale is complete, okay?’ That is how O'Brien describes Kira. Try hard as I might I can’t imagine Riker saying this about Troi or Chakotay about B’Elanna.

Myth Building: The Bajoran Provisional Government is full of political opportunists too busy fighting amongst themselves to give a damn what is happening on the planet. Factional fighting and religious riots are spreading. The Circle are an extremist group on Bajor who believe in Bajor for the Bajorans.

Foreboding: This is the first Star Trek three parter and the narratives spills expertly into the next two episodes. What’s interesting is how much that was set up in In The Hands of the Prophets that impacts here, the mixture of religion and politics which would continue to fuel the series throughout the rest of its run.

Result: It feels like the DS9 universe is opening out in a very positive way with political machinations and intense character work taking place of daft science fiction plots. The Homecoming is the third dazzling episode of this show in a row and another piece that continues to unpeel fascinating layers of the situation on Bajor. Everything feels a little brighter and more expensive with the new season and amazingly between seasons none of the characters have been altered in the slightest because they were already coming together so strongly at the end of the first year. Kira gets some more great moments but this is an ensemble piece and there are plenty of great scenes to go around. Strong character work, expert world building and only the barest glimmer of technobabble; DS9 is discovering its own unique brand of Star Trek: 9/10

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Into the Dalek written by Phil Ford & Steven Moffat and directed by Ben Wheatley

This story in a nutshell: The Invisible Enemy meets Resurrection of the Daleks meets Daleks meets Let's Kill Hitler...

Indefinable: Have we ever had a Doctor who is so willing to self-analyse so early in his tenure. The norm is that the Doctor regenerates, spends his first story getting used to his new body and from his second story onwards he strides off into the universe to new adventures. The New Series has been obsessed with tackling the Time Lord's psychological issues but with the ninth Doctor it was a case of slowly unpeeling the character over thirteen episodes, the tenth started out fairly happy go lucky and began to self-reflect as time went on and the eleventh Doctor tended to try and forget his past the more his time went on (pointed out in The Day of the Doctor where it all came back to him with a vengeance). The twelfth Doctor is so ready to find some kind of resolution about his character he practically sniffs out a situation where that will be determined. He's so prepared to look into his soul that you have to wonder if he will wind up a poet. Wonderfully however by the end of Into the Dalek he still manages to lack practically any definition with very few characteristics that you grab hold of and say are instinctively his. Despite muddying the waters about his morality, he is still a bit of a mystery. I like that a lot. And I especially like the opening scene where once again he refuses to make allowances for visitors to the TARDIS and make them feel at home. Like the first Doctor, he treats people like intruders and he tells them things precisely how they are rather than sugar coating it. This TARDIS scene was the highlight as far as the Doctor is concerned, a genuinely sinister moment in a noisy, busy episode. The music is wonderful, capturing the ominous tone of Stannis Boratheon's scenes in Game of Thrones. He is pondering the question of whether he is a good man, a riddle that troubles him because he has never been in any doubt before. Bathed in the blue glow of the Dalek cell, the Doctor looks as cold as ice and twice as deadly. Wonderfully the Doctor gets into a real strop when Journey hurts the Dalek from inside. I never thought he would be an advocate for protecting these creatures and I'm pleased he can still surprise me like that. If the Doctor recognises what has addled this particular Dalek's mind, isn't he a bit idiotic to correct the problem and then stand there going 'No! No! No!' afterwards? It reminds me of Peri pushing the Doctor down the hill in The Mark of the Rani and then looking highly perturbed when he trundles away into danger. What did he think would happen? Understandably the Doctor has a natural hatred for these creatures given their disturbing history and so once the Rusty looks into his mind it is consumed by his dark thoughts about his most implacable foes. Turning a Dalek into a merciless killer because of his sheer revulsion of their race, this is one dark Doctor indeed. The fact that he was convinced that he was going to hand the Dalek a soul and instead he exacerbated its homicidal nature was as much of a shock to him as it was to us. More please. Is he a good man? He tries to be that is probably the point.

Mysterious Girl: After flirting with being a real person for the entirety of Deep Breath (one of the strongest aspects of a frankly underwhelming debut story for the new era), Clara is back to being irritatingly self assured. Her insecurity was fun while it lasted. She shows no anxiety about being shrunk to the size of a grain of rice and being placed inside one of the most evil creatures that has ever lived. Clara acts like that is as natural a going down the shops for some milk. It is entirely my problem but what is the deal with constantly dropping the companions off at the end of each adventure these days? Not so much a trip of a lifetime but short sneezes of adventure before picking up their old lives. It feels as if no companions want to commit to a life with the Doctor any more. Bizarrely the only time Clara really works is when she is pondering the new Doctor's persona, existing vicariously through the troubled Time Lord rather than possessing a personality in her own right. I don't understand why it is okay for Clara to slap the Doctor around the face...frankly I think he is perfectly within his rights to slap her back (and don't get me started on this it's okay for a woman to do it to a man but not a man to a woman, sexism is sexism whatever way you approach it). The Doctor's companions are astonishingly critical of him these days but without much explanation to make the disapproval valid. I wish he had turned around and told her he didn't give a damn what she thought, I would have respected that far more than him conceding to her disapproval.

Ex-Soldier: An interesting prospect, this because Danny Pink is presented as an instantly damaged character. Immediately he is more engaging than Clara because he has a lot of injury that is going on beneath the surface and that can boil up with provocation. Much more fascinating than goody two shoes, take everything in my stride Clara and frankly he would have been much more useful a character to explore in the physical conflict that this episode flaunts. He's an ex-soldier, he has done terrible things and he hasn't quite come terms with that yet. Okay so as presented here he is practically John Watson from the revived Sherlock in that respect but points for trying something completely different with a male companion. I don't think we have explored a vulnerable, broken male companion since Steven Taylor back in the shows first three years. Samuel Anderson makes an instant impression but his scenes are rather hampered by the fact that his chemistry with Clara lacks sparkle. They are saying all the right things but there is little between them that gets me excited. If the idea is to recapture the Ian/Barbara relationship then there is a long way to go yet. Something tells me that had these scenes been scripted under Russell T. Davies' tutelage it would have bounced off the page into the actors mouths. Like much of this episode, it was functional but lacked heart. I would respect Moffat far more if he would have let Clara be a good friend to Danny, to help him through his trauma without any kind of sexual connotation but he simply cannot write Doctor Who without a stirring in his trousers.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'I'm his carer' 'Yeah, my carer. She cares so I don't have to.'
'Are you out of your mind?' 'No I'm inside a Dalek!'
'Victory would have been a good Dalek.'

The Good:

* The Daleks are back to being complete bastards again. After being castrated in Victory of the Daleks, calcified in The Big Bang and had their insecurities aired in Asylum of the Daleks you could almost believe that the Doctor's most frightening opponent had suffered limp plunger syndrome. Fortunately Into the Dalek features the most Dalek action (them dashing about and murdering for sheer pleasure) since The Stolen Earth. I like my Daleks as mean badasses and that is exactly what I got here.
* This story opens in a dogfight in space. We haven't seen one of those before on Doctor Who and it was certainly an attention grabbing way of kick starting the show. The space battle itself looks wonderful, Doctor Who commands some wonderful effects these days.
* The whole good Dalek angle has barely been covered in the past is certainly worthy of examination. I'm not sure reducing it to a quirk of radiation does it justice but I appreciated the willingness to try something completely new with the creatures for a change. Ultimately the episode decides that a good Dalek is genuinely possible, a massive decision for the series to take and one that might have profound consequences for the show down the line. It sure did in Evil of the Daleks. Let's see what they do with it.
* If you are going to tell an episode where the Doctor and his assistant are shrunken down to the size of a pea then I can't think of anything much more quirky than shoving them inside a Dalek. Whoever came up with this idea, I can see why they snapped it up.

The Bad:

* The condensed time that this episode has to tell its story in means that we have to take an awful lot for granted. We have to accept a good Dalek in record time, recognise that we need to get inside its head and that there is precisely the means to do that at their disposal within about ten minutes. Two plot elements that dovetail so beautifully (the Dalek and the technology) is a massive co-incidence that you simply have to swallow to allow the episode to work.
* Once again Ben Wheatley's direction was lacking, I found. Don't get me wrong the effects were frequently wonderful, the lighting often striking and performances top notch but the way Wheatley shot the scenes meant that the story was curiously lacking in any real tension. When you compare to the previous Phil Ford/showrunner collaboration (The Waters of Mars directed by Graeme Harper at his most dynamic) and the differences in how the two directors bring a story to life are definable and not in Wheatley's favour. The Dalek in the cell, the miniaturisation process, the antibody attack...none of these moments provoked even a seconds anxiety. Maybe it is because none of the characters are reacting to any of it in a fearful way. He shoots the Daleks really well (they love the camera) so it is shame that we spend so much of the episode inside of one.
* The Moffat era lacks real heart. There I said it. His characters can talk about emotions all they want but we rarely see them experiencing them, embracing them, learning from them. More often than not his characters are plot functions first and real people second, something to trial his dazzling ideas and set pieces on. There were no definable characters in Into the Dalek, only ciphers to push the plot onwards. The soldier that lost her brother was no more distinct than Bree in Victory of the Daleks, the wartime worker who lost her husband in two brief scenes that barely thought to explore the human cost to the Second World War. The fact that Journey has lost her brother is all that is tangible about this character, she has no real personality beyond that which is a shame because Zawe Ashton gives a terrific performance. This could have been a hard hitting examination of loss when it comes to fighting the Daleks but her one character trait is skipped over in a few throwaway scenes. The characters in Phil Ford's previous Doctor Who script were instantly vivid and multi-faceted, one of the most memorable casts in the shows history and put through the physical and emotional wringer. In comparison this bunch were just Dalek fodder. Like my point about inconsistencies in continuity in my review of Deep Breath, weak characterisation is another fault of Moffat's that has to be accepted if you are to move on and continue looking for the gold in the era. It's not how I like my Who (favouring ideas over people) but it is certainly a unique approach. The downside is that you waste terrific actors like Michael Smiley.
* Why didn't the Doctor comment that 'there is something very familiar about all this?' like he did in Deep Breath. A thematic sequel to The Girl in the Fireplace followed by a thematic sequel to Dalek? They don't even try and pretend that this is anything else in the pre-titles sequence, aesthetically copying the moment when Eccleston walked into the cell and met the lone Dalek (except Joe Ahearne captured it with far more drama and atmosphere). When the Dalek comes to life and escapes its cell, attacking the base personnel it is shot in a very similar way too. Visual self plagiarism? Miniaturisation was handled far more imaginatively in The Invisible Enemy (a story, despite the giant prawn, that I admire for its ambition and pace) and the scenes inside the Dalek are visually stolen straight from Let's Kill Hitler and the Tesselecta (especially the antibodies). Down a chute into gunk is lifted from The Beast Below.
* Like most of this era you wont be able to pull Into the Dalek off the shelf and watch it as a story in its own right. It is saddled with arc material that has absolutely no relevance to the story at hand, including a five minute sequence introducing Danny Pink that hampers the overall story because that extra time was urgently needed to flesh the central narrative out.
* When is this story set? Isn't that important anymore?
* Rusty turning round twice to drive its point home before leaving. Hilariously bad. He's practically saying 'I'll be back...'

The Shallow Bit: Samuel Anderson is very easy on the eye. Clara looks like she is wearing her pyjamas throughout.

Result: Given the last collaboration between showrunner and Phil Ford produced the superlative The Waters of Mars (still my idea of the perfect Doctor Who story) I was expecting great things of Into the Dalek. It was certainly a step in the right direction after Deep Breath but unfortunately still riddled with flaws that kept it from being just above average for me. Into the Dalek wants to be a mad Fantastic Voyage style adventure, a gripping Dalek massacre and a psychological examination of both the Doctor and the Dalek and simply doesn't have the time to do justice to all three and so much of the material is rushed. It performs all three adequately (visually it works a treat) but I would say that The Invisible Enemy, The Parting of the Ways and Dalek tackle these three individual elements in a much more effective way because they have the time to explore them. Squishing them all together means there is barely a moment to breathe and in some cases the genres are fighting each other (Honey I Shrunk the Kids style running about inside a Dalek and a psychological face off between the Doctor and the Daleks are hardly the most complimentary of concepts). This so desperately wants to be Capaldi's Dalek but it isn't as hard-hitting or as intimate and he simply isn't scared enough of the creatures for it to have the same impact. Dalek was so raw it was practically bleeding, this discusses emotions and feelings but it doesn't show the characters experiencing them and there is a massive difference between the two approaches. Whilst it doesn't engage me psychologically, I have long awaited the time when the Daleks were behaving like total bastards again after being slowly castrated throughout the Moffat era and here they get to do what they do best, kill indiscriminately. The scenes of them storming the base and massacring the crew are a highlight. I found this entertaining, occasionally quite profound but this desperately needed an extra 15 minutes to add extra depth to the characters, detail to the setting and to allow the plot some time to breathe. Into the Dalek is packaged in such a mechanical way that it pretty much guts the story of any real tension. Kudos for the action content though and I can't wait to see a lighter side of Capaldi next week: 6/10

Psychodrome written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Ken Bentley

What's it about: Shortly after surviving the perils of Logopolis, Castrovalva and the machinations of the Master, the new Doctor and his new crew could be forgiven for wanting to take a breather from their tour of the galaxy. But when the TARDIS lands in a strange and unsettling environment, the urge to explore is irresistible... and trouble is only a few steps away. The world they have found themselves in is populated by a wide variety of the strangest people imaginable - a crashed spacecraft here, a monastery there, even a regal court. And not everyone they meet has their best interests at heart. With the TARDIS stolen, and the very environment itself out to get them, the travellers face an extremely personal threat. They'll have to work as a team if they want to get out alive... but can you really trust someone you barely know?

An English Gentleman: He's not surprised that Tegan wants to leave but he is a little offended. The Doctor finds the idea that they could be anywhere in time and space rather exhilarating, a far cry from the sombre fourth Doctor from the previous season. There is a fresh sense of out with the old and in with the new. Adric finds the Doctor's attitude towards the Monks facetious and I couldn't help but wonder if he was going to have to face the first in a long line of betrayals by the lad. The Doctor admits that he is afraid of Daleks, Cybermen and dentists. Sounds like a pretty comprehensive list to me. What I was thought was smartest aspect of a very smartly characterised audio was how it addressed that the Doctor's companions do not trust him or have any kind of faith in him. This bunch is always absurdly critical of him and I really appreciated the chance to address that and explore why. Morris goes one step further and has those insecurities made flesh. All of the Doctor's regret, self recrimination and shame actualised in a person. Rather like the Dream Lord. The Doctor is a little bit delicate at being compared to his previous self since he hasn't quite come to terms with who his new self is now. His greatest fear is letting his companions down and introducing death and chaos into their lives. Bravely he decides to face that fear head on rather than try and shy away from it. He's in for a world of pain come the end of the season.

Maths Nerd: 'Where the Doctor goes death inevitably follows. How long before it is your turn?' I have been eagerly anticipating the return of Adric to Doctor Who ever since it was announced that he would be starring in this box set. It surprised me to see Matthew Waterhouse returning to a role that had brought him so much notoriety and I was curious to see whether the character could be given a fresh lick of paint in the same way that so many of the eighties companions have on audio. It says something about the regulars of the period that the idea of the characters were clearly strong enough to work, it was simply the realisation of them went awry. The fifth Doctor (capturing the older man in the younger mans body), Tegan (toning down her aggressive tendencies), Nyssa (simply giving her some air time), Turlough (actually exploring his devious nature), the sixth Doctor (a complete revision), Peri (making her resourceful and humorous) and Mel (toning down the Perils of Pauline act and bringing her intelligence to the fore) have all been given a new lease of life on audio...could they work that same magic on the most loathed of all companions?

Not really, but I question whether this a character that deserves any kind of renaissance. The Big Finish versions of Sixie and Tegan are just about believable given their gentler moments but Adric was behaving like spoilt little brat from the moment he first skipped into the TARDIS until the moment he was blown up by the freighter. Paul Magrs managed to offer an alternative interpretation (in the much maligned but actually rather good The Boy That Time Forgot) which went for the sympathetic (and occasionally just pathetic) angle. What Jonny Morris has done here is offer up a completely authentic Adric from season nineteen and allows you to make your own judgement of him. A society build around rational scientific calculations sounds positively idyllic to Adric. How can you identify with somebody as square as this? The Doctor seems to think that Adric is capable of many things but not coercion but one of the first things he does when talking to Perditia is introduce her to the idea of rebellion against her strict educational lifestyle. In a very telling moment Adric has a right paddy because he thinks that his superior brain will let him down and he wont be able to solve the equations that will help them. He says that if his intelligence lets him down then he doesn't have anything, revealing that he knows he is something of a social leper. It's very clever foreshadowing when you think of the way that he ultimately leaves the show. His greatest fear is a mathematical puzzle that he cannot solve, letting everybody down. He wanted to see a whole new universe with the Doctor...and he did. Adric thinks it is a great opportunity. He thought the fourth Doctor was unpredictable and brilliant but cannot get a handle on this new fella.

Mouth on Legs: Tegan's tenure on the show has always been a point of contention in the show to me. I find her one of the most inconsistently written and acted of all the companions and that Janet Fielding herself was spot on when she commented that she was planning a set of characteristics rather than a character. Bolshie, hot tempered, irrational and rude - these are unpleasant traits that make up her character but without a visible softer side, a well explored back story and any real context for her constant moodiness she is simply a mouth on legs rather than a person in her own right. What is irritating is that there are glimpse of a warmer character with a sense of humour but in her three year tenure they rarely made themselves apparent. Frankly it makes the Doctor a little stupid to put up with her attitude for as long as he does, accepting her constant criticism. However at this point in her run her attitude is believable because she has been wrenched violently from the life that she knew. Season nineteen was the only year where the character made any kind of sense. She wanted to get home, she had a job to return to and she was frustrated that the Doctor seemed to constantly be making promises that he wasn't able to keep. Her abrasive attitude wasn't any more appealing but at least there was a reason for it. It was when she chose to return to the TARDIS in season twenty that her constant whinging made little sense. Tegan has undergone a massive transformation during her latter period (when she was paired with Turlough) in her Big Finish stories, she still has the temper but it is balanced with a sense of humanity, of warmth and good humour. She is a far more likeable and interesting character as a result. Jonathan Morris has married the two approaches perfectly here, there is enough of her bite for this to be authentically Tegan of the period but she is tempered by some of the more approachable characteristics of her Big Finish interpretation. Like Sixie and Peri, Tegan has undergone a massive renaissance on audio and it is a fine thing to behold.

Tegan isn't planning on sticking around in the TARDIS, despite being given a room. She has a flight to catch. She finds Adric insufferable and patronising but then she finds practically everybody insufferable and patronising so it is hardly a blinding revelation...the only difference being that this time she is right. When she was small they lived on a cattle station, which is about as far from civilisation as you can get. For Tegan to observe that anybody else is quick to leap to judgement is the ultimate pot calling the kettle black observation. She has a real phobia of aborigine dance and culture because of a particularly scary exhibition that her mum took her to see once. Ever since then she has had nightmares about strange white figures coming out of the dark (Morris is setting up her nightmares in Kinda perfectly).  The Doctor says 'brave heart, Tegan' for the first time and she really doesn't like it and asks him not to say it again. Oh dear. There's a very useful, gentle moment between Adric and Tegan where they share their experiences of how they met the Doctor. Scenes like this would have been vital had Saward bothered to include them. I guess it is so much easier writing tension rather than people getting along because you really have to work at making the latter entertaining whereas he former you can tap out at a moments notice. All Tegan ever wanted was a quiet life and what she got was fresh madness. Tegan admits that she needs time for the dust to settle. She holds an unconscious grudge because of the point the Doctor chose to come to Earth coincided with the death of her favourite Aunt. One directly caused the other. Tegan genuinely thinks there is nothing irrational about being realistic.

Alien Orphan: I have always been a bit miffed that we have never been able to experience a story where Nyssa properly comes to terms with the death of her father and her world and confronts the Master. She had a back story that was ripe for exploiting dramatically and neither the TV series nor Big Finish have gone anywhere near the subject beyond skimming her surface emotions about the trauma. Given the return of the season nineteen team, now is the perfect time to get to it. There is a ripe old psychological thriller to be had, where she goes sets a trap and goes after the man who stole her fathers body and wiped out half of the known universe. Nyssa has nowhere to return to now, travelling with the Doctor is her life now. Her guilt at not being about to save her home from the spread of entropy manifests itself in death and blame. How can she ever move on from what she has lost? How can she possibly honour their memory?

Standout Performance: Whilst it takes a little getting used to, Matthew Waterhouse's airy fairy accent for Adric is an actor trying his absolute best to try and recapture the sound of his teenage voice several decades after the event. Whilst it does sound like an affectation, he is putting in the effort to sound younger and that should be commended. Even if it does sound like he had been taken over by the angel of light at times.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'We are all the players of your dreams, your nightmares.'

Great Ideas: It is very Christopher H. Bidmead for the TARDIS crew to visit a monastery that is populated by scientists. In it's quietly majestic way that is exactly what Logopolis was. I can imagine Bidmead nodding in that wonderfully sage and arrogant way of his and declaring that this is the perfect setting for a Doctor Who adventure. Deliberation, evaluation and meditation...sounds like a gripping place to settle down for Adric. And only Adric. The planet is bathed in the glow of a red giant, an astronomical source of energy right on the doorstep. An invisible shield stops them from being boiled away to nothing. The whole place is a vast space station that has been engineered. A machine that takes the contents of your mind and turns them into reality, a three dimensional printer. Everybody that they have met are versions of the four of them that have been created from their minds - that is a bloody clever twist that I never saw coming at all. And yet looking back it makes perfect sense. With this kind of technology comes not just the ability to create their greatest strengths but to also draw upon their greatest fears and actualise those too (thus the Marsh spiders for Adric). As soon as this story plays its trump card things start to get very interesting with the different versions of this world and its populace turning on each other, realising that ultimately only one of them can survive. A form of cellular collapse ravaging through entropy, just like the horror that took away Nyssa's father and home. It would feel authentically season nineteen unless the Master showed up in one form or another and he is conjured up out of Nyssa's mind  her fears. Such a wonderful metaphor for the battling personalities of the TARDIS crew, the various fragments of their personalities genuinely battling it out for supremacy. It has been a while since a story has gone down the psychological route like this and applied it in such a creative way.

Audio Landscape: Tinkering at the console, echoing dialogue, a rockfall, dust falling, chanting, automatic doors, waving a flaming torch about, skittering spiders, crackling flames, the citadel collapsing.

Musical Cues: The music feels instantly, authentically Paddy Kingsland. Bravo to Fool Circle for so effortlessly capturing that sense of freshness and renewal that the music was undergoing with its newfound freedom within the radiophonic workshop. And did you hear the wonderful little tribute to the music at the end of Logopolis/the beginning of Castrovalva when the 'Doctor' dies at the end of the story? 

Isn't it Odd: Didn't Morris deal with giant spiders in Cobwebs? It is supposed to be a steal of an old idea so let's let that one slide. And wasn't there creatures that fashioned themselves from the walls a feature of The Brood of Eyrs earlier in the year? Evil versions of the Doctor and his companions...I felt a whiff of The Eternal Summer about this at points and with the examination of characteristics and insubstantial versions of people coming alive I also caught a glimpse of The Forth Wall. But it is very different to any of those stories.

Standout Scene: The wonderful moment when you realise that this planet has literally been constructed out of the characteristics of each other regulars home planets and the places they have visited. Partly the Starliner partly Traken, partly Gallifrey, partly Logopolis, partly from the twisted realms of Tegan's mind.

Result: A palpable hit that somehow manages to package the season nineteen crew as something fresh and compelling. I've made the observation myself that having three companions is too many to be able to tell a decent story and give everybody a fair share of the action. Jonathan Morris takes that criticism as a challenge and manages to make the over crowded TARDIS of season nineteen a huge strength in the story that he is telling and the first episodes, whilst setting up an intriguing scenario, almost solely concerns itself with establishing the four unique personalities that are currently fronting the series. At their worst, this is the most obscenely mismatched bunch of characters that can literally drag a story into the mud (Four to Doomsday) but at their best they gel together rather well and provide some nice banter and relief in the stronger stories (Castrovalva, Black Orchid, Earthshock). Psychodrome paints an authentic picture of the crew, albeit with some of their more extreme characteristics toned down so they are much more approachable. Imagine if this had come after Castrovalva instead of Four to Doomsday? It would have been exactly what the season needed, a story that gelled this team into an effective family, that explored their characters and explained why they stay together. Four to Doomsday had an impressive budget and there is nothing in this story that couldn't have been realised on that. Consider it the highest compliment that the next time I do a TV marathon of Doctor Who I may have to slip this in between Castrovalva and Kinda and forget that the other story existed altogether. When it comes to characterisation, Psychodrome is the strongest audio in a long, long time. The final episode is literally weighted down with quality character scenes and examination. In what has to be one of the most satisfying conclusions of any Big Finish productions, the most fractious of TARDIS teams show their faith in each other and combat their insecurities. What a marvellous idea for a story, how beautifully placed: 10/10

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Things only Doctor Who could get away with...

I love Doctor Who. Hardly an shocking statement but it’s true. There are so many reasons to love the show; the fantastic cast of characters, the vast engine of diverse storytelling, the multitude of locations, the great monsters, the performances, the music…so many reasons. But I think the reason why Doctor Who inches out my other favourites (Star Trek DS9, The West Wing, any number of BBC comedies) is its sheer balls. It’s ability to go one step further than any other show, to take an absurd idea and make it work or to take an absurd idea and make it flop in spectacular style. Doctor Who has more brio, more confidence than any other show on television and here are just a number of reasons why…

Hartnell’s stuff is where it all begins so this is where the ground rules are set and yet this is one of the most diverse and experimental periods in the shows history. Look at the basic ideas driving the series – a police box that travels through time and space – what other show would dare take something so profoundly absurd and make it work this well? The Web Planet pits a race of giant ants against a race of giant moths. The Daleks’ Masterplan is a 12 part epic that mixes alien planets, Earth in the future, Z Cars, a cricket match, a confrontation with Peter Butterworth, lots of Daleks and the death of two companions…there was no end to the ambition. Who else would attempt a studio bound western (The Gunfighters) and make it a hilariously funny singalong comedy? It doesn’t get any less mad with Troughton. Daleks glide through a Victorian house (Evil of the Daleks), Yetis menace the London Underground (The Web of Fear) and the Doctor leaps into a world of fiction, a world of giant toy soldiers, Gulliver and Rapunzel (The Mind Robber). Not only do these three stories pull off these blatantly insane concepts but they produce some stunning drama in the bargain. Go figure.

Who else but Doctor Who would take such a malleable concept and suddenly change the entire direction of their show and exile their main character to one planet?  Or spend four episodes indulging in Star Trek style Mirror Mirror fascist duplicates of the regular characters and flesh them out into likeable creations and then blow their world up and show their horrific deaths (Inferno?). Making the ultimate evil a representative of God (The Daemons)? Show the destruction of Atlantis just four years after it had already been depicted, somehow making it even more goofy than the first attempt (The Time Monster). Who else would dare to poke fun at themselves so hilariously than Carnival of Monsters with great lines such as ‘They’re great favourites with the children!’ when talking about the monsters. No other show would build an entire story around evacuating London due to a plague of dinosaurs popping into existence and fudge the special effects so spectacularly (Invasion of the Dinosaurs).

Doctor Who indulged in arcs long before it ever became famous to do so, seasons twelve and sixteen sees a 24 and 26 episode epic respectively. The Key to Time season brilliantly flaunts its premise in the first story and spends the next four stories quietly pretending to forget its quest story and wrapping up its contribution in a couple of minutes at the beginning (Androids of Tara) or end (The Stones of Blood) of each story. Who else but Doctor Who would spend three seasons so shamelessly pillaging from the horror genre, telling a pastiche of everything from Frankenstein (The Brain of Morbius) to Day of the Triffids (The Seeds of Doom) with a touch of The Manchurian Candidate (The Deadly Assassin) and Asimov (The Robots of Death) and somehow pulling them off more entertainingly than the originals. Only Doctor Who would spend two hours setting up the main plot of a story, the Sonatarans storming Gallifrey at the end of episode four of The Invasion of Time. Or have an alien being push the creation of the human race on so he can have several Mona Lisa’s painted and make a fortune selling them secretly so he can make time travel equipment and head back in time and save his race and wipe out the human race in the bargain (City of Death)! No other show would have the audacity to write out a team as glorious as the fourth Doctor, Romana and K.9 and replace them with Peter Davison, Adric, Tegan and Nyssa…and increase its audience figures.

Imagine facing the daunting task of having to kill off the most annoying companion of all time…only Doctor Who would have him trapped on a cyber-enhanced spaceship heading towards prehistoric Earth and have him wipe out the dinosaurs (Earthshock). Imagine attempting to visualise a Concorde landing in prehistoric Earth on the budget of a soap opera (Time-Flight)! Constantly innovating, season 20 introduced a homicidal companion, always trying to murder the Doctor as soon as his back is turned. What other show would wipe out its entire guest cast in a massacre that makes Reservoir Dogs look coy in comparison (Resurrection of the Daleks). What about the horror moments in season 22, the acid bath scene, Lytton having his hands crushed, the Doctor being pursued by a slavering cannibal through the Seville countryside, Davros having his hand shot off. No other show in such creative and reputable strive would produce Trial of a Timelord, confused mess of a story that somehow, somehow manages to be utterly wonderful at the same time.

What other show could schedule something as deliriously embarrassing as Time and the Rani and not lose all of its audience? Who else would proudly display the Kandyman during its biggest audience crisis? Which other show could pull such a surprising rabbit out of their hat and produce such a wonderful last season, full of genuine character development and delicious horror? What about sending Paul McGann to the US get him to snog a woman and wander about looking for a plot for over an hour and somehow not make it suck (The TV Movie)?

Who else could humanise the ultimate villain and win over a whole new audience (Dalek)? Captain Jack Harkness was introduced as the first openly gay character in the show, somehow beating Star Trek to the idea despite that shows liberal pretension (The Empty Child). What about having an entire episode where your regulars only make a cameo (Love and Monsters). Or taking hold of a novel and committing it to celluloid (Human Nature) with such passion? Telling a story with the twisted humour and scale of Utopia-Last of the Time Lords. Taking one of Britain’s most famous comedy actresses and getting her to emote heartbreakingly in the destruction of Pompeii. Producing the ultimate fanwank (The Stolen Earth) and making it the most exciting thing to ever hit our screens.

What other show would dare to have the central character kill off his wife before he has even met her for the first time? Or play a four year arc that is ultimately leading to a few scant explanations around a table? What other show would stage the death of its central character and shrug its shoulders when it comes to offering a decent explanation. Or to give a spaceship, 50 years old in conception, a whole new lease of life when it becomes a woman for a day? What other show would bring to together all thirteen protagonists in one spectacular experience? Is there any other show that has had episodes aired in cinemas? 

What other show has such a rich and varied number of spin offs of such quality? The Big Finish range manages to produce authentic classic Doctor Who stories without images to an astonishing quality. How about taking the reviled 6th Doctor, teaming him up cuddly academic Evelyn Smythe and making him the most wonderful, colourful, charming Doctor ever. Letting Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford rip the piss out of their characters in the gloriously funny The One Doctor. The range produced The Chimes of Midnight which shows what a well written Paul McGann could have achieved and manages to be perhaps the most perfect Doctor Who story in the bargain. The series performs the quantum leap of having companion Charley Pollard abandoned by the 8th Doctor and rescued by the 6th, a truly naff concept pulled off with real verve and style. Big Finish gave us the Bernice Summerfield range, now in its umpteenth season with a wealth of fantastic stories to be proud of.

What other show could produce over 250 original novels, transcending the shows entertainment roots and producing something far more adult and wonderful. Timewyrm: Revelation takes us into the Doctor’s mind and shows how truly fucked up he is. Just War devastatingly has companion Bernice Summerfield tortured by the Nazi’s. Alien Bodies dares to kill off the Doctor and have him bury his own future corpse. With The Burning, the 8th Doctor range wiped away all the mistakes of the previous 3 years and transformed his character into something far more interesting, aggressive and hilarious. Adventuress on Henrietta Street tells its story in the style of a historical document. The Crooked World takes place in a world of cartoons and tells an astonishingly poignant coming of age story. The Tomorrow Windows pastiches Douglas Adams and manages to have more laughs per page than any Pratchett novel. Festival of Death tells its story backwards. Combat Rock nestles the 2nd Doctor into a story of blood soaked cannibals and makes him utterly authentic. The Indestructible Man steals from Gerry Anderson whilst telling a gripping war on terror story.

And how about the spin offs on the telly? Who would have ever thought hiring Elisabeth Sladen to take on alien monsters with a bunch of pre-pubescents would have been the best thing ever? Who could have foreseen the series producing something as profound and heartbreaking as Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane? What about Torchwood? After Russell T Davies’ mature and gripping Damaged Goods nobody guessed his take on adult Who would flop so spectacularly in its first year. And then in true Doctor Who style, who saw it producing such a glorious, emotion fuelled epic in Children of the Earth this year?

What else but Doctor Who could do all these things? Now tell me why this isn't the greatest TV/book/audio/comic/etc series in the world...

In the Hands of the Prophets written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe and directed by David Livingston

What’s it about: Religious fundamentalism and science battle it out in a game of politics…

Single Father: Sisko knew a conflict of human and Bajoran ideologies was inevitable and he refuses to start separating their interests. He’s not comfortable in the role of the Emissary and tries to get Winn to call him Benjamin. Anybody who wants proof of the breadth of character development compare Sisko's opinion on his role of the Emissary in this episode, in Accession and then in Behind the Lines. Astonishing progress. The scene between Sisko and Jake about the matter of interpretation is a very powerful one, I really like how he forcefully tells his son that the Bajoran spiritual faith isn’t something to scoffed at even if you don’t believe in it. This is a turning point for Sisko’s character where he gets to reaffirm his mission statement and evolve the themes that were laid down in Emissary. His speech to Winn and her followers kicks more ass than any amount of ships he can blow up with the Defiant because it shows him as a considered leader offering hope to both sides of this faction and despite Winn’s most insidious efforts he still comes out looking as though he is right. His acknowledgment that he and Kira have some damn good fights but they always come away with a better understanding of each other is terrific. The Sisko/Kira relationship has been one of the central highlights of the first season so it seems entirely apt that a scene showing how far they have come should cap of the debut series. 

Tasty Terrorist: Interesting to see Kira showing her support for Winn in this episode. It wont last long. Her assertion that teaching pure science without a spiritual context being another kind of philosophy is a potent view, it isn't one that I share but it does make you think. Kira awkwardly tries to excuse the absence of several Bajoran crewmen and continues to be a firm presence in Ops as the situation is crumbling around them. The last scene of the episode where Kira admits that Sisko’s speech struck a chord in her and that she is happy working with him ends the season on a positive note. 

The O’Briens: With a cheeky grin Keiko teases O’Brien about his amazing new young female engineering crewmember. ‘Just keeping you on your toes, O’Brien.’ It's great to finally see Keiko at work in the school and she does seem like quite a natural teacher and I am pleased that she doesn’t let a Bajoran spiritual leader waltz in and dictate what can and cannot be taught in her classroom. Whilst she might be a little too forceful in her defiance of spiritual teachings this is the healthiest development Keiko has had since she first appeared on TNG. I love O’Brien because he is such a fantastically flawed character with too many vices from swearing too much, being a little too friendly with his Bajoran engineers (perfectly innocent I might add but it is easy to interpret otherwise) and eating too many sweet things. He's you and I in the 24th Century. We have heard O’Brien say some casually racist things about Cardassians this season (and he would do so again) and it is interesting to see that he doesn’t like it when Bajorans give him the same treatment. Neela likes O’Brien because he doesn’t put on any airs and I couldn’t put it better myself. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘My philosophy is that there is room for all philosophies on this station!’ 
‘Some fear you as a symbol of the Federation that they view as Godless. Some fear you as the Emissary who walked with the Prophets. And some fear you because Vedek Winntold them to.’
‘The Prophets teach us patience’ ‘It appears they also teach you politics.’
‘The Prophets spoke! I answered their call!’
‘Maybe we have made some progress after all.’ 

The Good: Over its seven years DS9 would continually add to its arsenal of acting talent and each addition would turn out to benefit the show. Louise Fletcher is an superb actress and the role of Winn is a perfect match for her talent and both the character and the actress bring the best out in each other. Winn is insidious, a political mastermind who craves power and is adept at smiling at you whilst plunging a knife into your back. Some of the best ever DS9 scenes belong to this character. Look at the way she whips up the parents into a religious frenzy and hilariously appears to be offering an olive branch to Keiko. She’s so deviously polite you have to admire her ability to lie through her teeth. It's great to finally visit the Bajoran temple on the Promenade, an exquisitely designed and lit set. Whilst there is far too much technobabble flowing I really enjoyed the murder mystery subplot that rumbles through this episode and how it beautifully ties into the main story. The thing about Star Trek is it doesn’t venture out on location very often (a point that has driven me insane in the TNG episodes with a new planet each week that borrows the same interior planetary landscape each time albeit with a different coloured backdrop) but when they do the result is some of the most gorgeous photography you will ever see outside of a movie. Since this is our first visit to the Bajoran capital since Emissary it is nice to see that the rebuilding is complete since the Cardassians left and the planet looks as serenely and stunning as ever. The monastery gardens scenes in Prophets are stunning; the sun is shining through the tall trees, the birds singing and the water flowing gently down river. It's somewhere I would love to visit myself for a moment of calm. There’s another brilliant Odo/Quark moment (‘Those spiritual types love those Dabo girls!’).The fire that rages from the school bombing is an outstanding physical effect and it takes the episode to the next level dramatically. The school is left in ruins afterwards and is as potent an image of religious extremism as I have ever seen. I love that the revelation about Neela isn’t packaged as a massively melodramatic moment but revealed as a silenced look between her and Winn after Sisko’s speech. Winn is such a wonderful bitch that she is not only willing to let Neela sacrifice her life in order to further her political career but she also packages it as a religious decree. Look at the last shot of this episode, a stunning ariel view of Ops. 

Moment to Watch Out For: Aside from the wonderfully funny moment when Sisko leaps through the air I cannot think of a better staged sequence in Star Trek than Neela attempting to assassinate Bariel. Brilliantly captured in slow motion and precisely lit and performed, it still takes my breath away today after seeing it more times than is probably healthy even for a fan of this series. The way Neela slips effortlessly from the crowd into shot with her gun and the look on Bariel’s face as the shot goes wide and explodes behind his head are both very powerful moments. 

Only DS9: We have never seen political manoeuvring in Star Trek on this level before and it's quite gripping.

Fashion Statement: Vedek Bariel is one of the hottest religious leaders I have ever clapped my eyes on.

Orchestra: Wonderfully subtle music during the assassination sequence.

Foreboding: This episode is superbly structured – Neela is seen realigning the isolinear co-processor in the first scene after the titles which looks like a throwaway moment but proves to be the lynchpin of the entire episode.

Result: In the Hands of the Prophets starts out really well and just gets better and better and better. You have two equally interesting plots that run separately and blissfully come together in a powerful and dramatic climax. There is room for political manoeuvring, a murder mystery, character development, two outstanding action sequences and the introduction of two perfectly pitched and performed new guest characters in Winn and Bariel. It brings the season to a climactic end on a real high, showing the bold new direction that the show is beginning to take and leaves you with nothing but positive feelings about leaping into the second year. Star Trek has never been like this before and it is better than ever: 9/10

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Duet written by Peter Allan Fields and directed by James L. Conway

What’s it about: A Cardassian war criminal falls into Kira’s clutches…

Single Father: What’s wonderful about this episode is that all of the regulars get wonderful scenes whilst it is definitively highlighting Nana Visitor’s Kira. It's is such a beautifully simple situation where everybody wants possession of this man and Sisko is placed in the bureaucratic nightmare of trying to keep the Bajorans and the Cardassians happy whilst also sticking to Federation rules and pleasing his First Officer. We've all had days like that, when you can't please anybody. 

Tasty Terrorist: The episode that put Nana Visitor on the map. This is the last step of Kira’s phenomenal development throughout the first season (actually not quite, she still has a further realisation to make about the Federation in In the Hands of the Prophets) and the episode where her hatred for Cardassians is put under the microscope as she is forced to re-evaluate her opinion about a species that she reviles. Gene Roddenberry might have been against racist characters in Star Trek (although the cast of TNG were always making casual racist slurs) but it makes for great drama, especially as they come to realise that their stance might not be right. Always one to under react (yeah, right), Kira calls for Security as soon as she suspects Marritza is a war criminal. His assertion that she has hate in her eyes and wants to kill him might be ridiculous in any other situation but proves scarily accurate here. Kira is crafty enough to have contacted the Minister of State to ensure that Marritza is persecuted and released to Bajoran justice because she firmly believes that the Federation has no business telling them how to deal with their criminals. She promises Sisko that she will conduct herself accordingly even though she isn’t objective (clearly their conversation in Progress had an effect). Kira tries to silence the ranting Darheel by trying to pigeon hole him as insane but he refuses to let her label him that easily. Kira used to lie awake at night plotting the assassination of people like Darheel. The strongest realisation that Kira has during this season is that Marritza didn’t commit the crimes and that he was only one man…the fact that he is a Cardassian isn’t reason enough to persecute him. It’s a massive step for her and beautifully played by Visitor. Astonishing character growth for a Star Trek character in an astonishing episode. Still one of the finest character examinations in the franchise. 

Filing Clerk: A character so memorable, so brilliantly conceived, written and performed that he deserves a section of his own. He’s perfectly charming towards Sisko with a little acidic wit (‘Oh finally, the Federation to the rescue’). Marritza heads to DS9 with an agenda and he knows exactly what he is doing but its only at the climax that you realise this – throughout you are never sure who he is or what he is up to. He knows exactly how to play Kira, suggesting that it was the Bajorans that killed each other at the labour camp and the suggestion that Cardassians were responsible was made by them to provoke fear in their enemies. He even suggests that leaving Bajor was a political decision and that Bajorans achieved nothing by getting rid of them. And then once exposed as Darheel he stabs her in the gut emotionally by telling her she can kill him but it wont change anything about the murders he ordered. Marritza tries desperately to keep up his pretence, to rant and rave but he finally breaks down when his lies flood him with the same feelings of shame and guilt he felt at the time. He goes from being the most loathed character in Star Trek to the most sympathetic. 

Nine Lives: Jadzia the Champion Window Breaker, proof that Miss Goody Two Shoes isn’t quite as innocent as she seems (‘I was deadly’). 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If you’d seen the things I saw. All those Bajoran bodies, starved, brutalised. D’you know what Cardassian policy was…no I’m not even talking about murder, murder was just the end of the fun for them. First came the humiliation. Mothers raped in front of their children, husbands beaten until their wives couldn’t recognise them, old people buried alive because they couldn’t work anymore!’ Such is the ferocity of Nana Visitor’s performance with this one scene she exposes just how terrifying life under the Occupation must have been. Another hellish reminder of where she has come from. 
‘Persecuting Cardassians goes far beyond your job Major, its your passion.’
‘Kill me! Torture me! You can never undo what I’ve accomplished…the dead will still be dead!’
‘Nothing justifies genocide!’ ‘What you call genocide I call a days work’ – how James L. Conway lingers on Kira’s face after that line gives it even more power.
‘Cardassia will only survive if it stands in front of Bajor and admits the truth. My trial will force Cardassia to acknowledge its guilt. And we’re guilty all of us! My death is necessary!’ ‘What you’re asking for is another murder. Enough good people have already died. I wont help kill another.’
‘He was a Cardassian, that’s reason enough!’ ‘No…it's not.’ 

The Good: The way this story plots out its mystery storyline is beautiful, it is almost Garak-like in its Russian Doll layers of truth and deception. Marritza is a war criminal, no he isn’t, he doesn’t have Kalla-Nohra, yes he does, he is a file clerk, no he’s the butcher of Gallitep…no he is a good man trying to embody the guilt of his people. Marritza has a great point to make about making a race feel like victims and not having to lift a finger once you have achieved that. The psychological angle is often far more effective than the physical one. The sequence where they clear up an image of Gallitep and discover Marritza’s true identity is a masterpiece of scene construction – it is beautifully put together to up the tension and suspense without a single person raising their voice. Wonderful that an episode that is so focused on Cardassian atrocities ends on a Bajoran one. It seems there is still a long way to go before this race heals its wounds but with examples like Kira they are on the right path. The last shot is one of the most beautifully framed endings of any Star Trek episode. 

The Bad: The Bajoran drunk seems like a superfluous character…until the last scene where even his involvement is blissfully made necessary. 

Moment to Watch Out For: The scene where Kira finally gets Marritza to reveal his true identity is my favourite moment in Star Trek. It’s the only scene that manages to give me goosebumps and reduce me to tears in the same scene every time I watch it and the performances of Visitor and Yulin and beyond exceptional. Drama at its finest and it brings this episode to a devastating conclusion. Both characters undergo astonishing transformations in this scene and you realise this man is willing to sacrifice his dignity and his life to get his people to face up to their horrors. 

Only DS9: Duet pushes Star Trek levels into new areas of discomfort. When Tasha Yar talked about rape gangs it felt tasteless and ridiculous but when Kira talks of children witnessing their mothers being raped the very idea just fills you with horror. Maybe it’s the serious tone but the issues dealt with in this episode feel devastatingly real.

Teaser-tastic: All records show that the only you could have contracted Kalla-Nohra were at a Bajoran labour camp and their injured party is a Cardassian. Ouch.

Orchestra: Even the music is exceptional in this story – a particular feat given I cannot remember a single piece of music that has stood out in the first season to this point. This is a quietly scored episode to allow the performances to dominate but the music creeps in during some strong moments (the revelation of Marritza in the photograph, after the ‘genocide’ line, when Kira finally breaks him).

Foreboding: Neela is introduced as one of O’Brien’s engineering crew and she would take on a much greater role in the next story. It's done with all the subtlety of the Durst and Seska examples – and it came first.

Result: The most effective psychological drama in Star Trek bar none. Haris Yulin, character actor extraordinaire takes on a truly challenging part that could so easily have been nothing but a ranting villain and he embodies the role with such realism and terror you forget all about the make up and simply concentrate on the riveting drama between him and Kira. The script is a beautifully crafted thing literally stuffed with memorable dialogue (I had to carefully cherry pick my favourites above but pretty much the entire script sparkles) and featuring a mystery that will leave you desperate to know the truth by the climax. Add to this precise and subtle direction that teases the drama from the situation more exceptional work done with Kira and a conclusion that rips out your heart and stamps on it repeatedly and you have a rare thing. An episode that fires on all cylinders all the time. Exceptional in every single way whilst hardly spending a penny: 10/10