Thursday, 23 September 2010

Gallifrey: A Blind Eye written by Alan Barnes and directed by Gary Russell


What’s it about: Earth, September 1939. With Europe sliding into war, a young Englishwoman, her loyalties torn, comes to a terrible decision. But what does the intergalactic secrets broker Mephistopheles Arkadian want with the fascist sympathiser Cecilia 'Sissy' Pollard on the last day of her life? Still searching for the facts about the Gryben debacle, President Romana makes a deal with the devil. So begins a chain of consequence that can only end in tragedy for the passengers aboard the Vienna to Calais Transcontinental Express, the woman called Leela included. By journey's end, the truth will out but at what cost to Romana and Leela? To Gallifrey's empire, even?

Presidential Babe: So this is where the shit really hits the fan and Romana really comes into her own, taking control of the situation in her fabulously haughty and terrifying fashion! I love her continuing relationship with Arcadian, a criminal that she wouldn’t usually bother with by full of useful information and contacts. He breezes through the story offering her scraps and at the end I was uncertain if he was ally or enemy. Travelling a million miles to meet him for lunch on a train hurtling through the French countryside is lovely and they way he leaves her to pay the bill is gorgeous. She has better things to do than deal with minor interventions and passes on the dull stuff to the CIA. She claims that she never lies and yet she denies the existence of the Anti Time creatures (Neverland). She has become more improvident with each passing story but this where she finally had enough of all the hints and threats and materialises her TARDIS on the train tracks before the speeding train and demands answers. If they impact everybody will die. Then she heads into her best ever admonishing tirade, one my favourite Romana moments ever when she declares her fellow politicians and backstabbers ‘Silly boys the lot of you!’ Love it! This is laying down the law, she is not having it anymore and Time will not be played about with like a toy. She is accused of turning a blind eye when the Doctor broke the laws of time to save Charley despite the consequences because he was her friend. She admits the Charlotte Pollard is important to her. Lalla Ward gives an astonishing performance in this story and woe betide anybody that gets on Romana’s bad side after this.

Noble Savage: I have been hugely impressed with how Leela has been handled in this first series of Gallifrey. Whilst the characters often patronise her, the writers never do and she has managed to shine by holding onto her integrity when surrounded by lies and deceit. Louise Jameson has rocked on in every chapter but again this is her zenith, dealing with the shock that Andred is not dead, that he has been lying to her for so long with painful pathos. When she walks away from him holding back the tears I had shivers, that’s how good Jameson is. Leela is described as a vagabond Queen of a gypsy horde. She does not think that Sissy carries the dignity of Charley. In the early stages of this story she behaves like Romana’s lapdog, obeying her instructions without question. I adored her way of avoiding the awkward situation of facing the ticket conductor without a ticket: tie him up and throw him off the train! Blood must have blood, it is the Sevateem way and Leela must avenge Andred’s death. You just know as the story progresses she is heading for a world of hurt. She realises now that the Sevateem and the Tesh were alike and it was only their blindness that stopped them from seeing it. Leftennant Loincloth? Andred’s creature? Nobody has a very high opinion of her! Brilliantly Leela figures that if she murders Torvald in the past he cannot kill her husband in the future. Equally brilliantly she puts a fire axe through Miss Joy’s skull. When faced with both Torvald’s she begins strangling the older of the two, wanting the former to see the moment of his death (gosh I love how this series can play about with crazy ideas like that). She is astonished to learn that Torvald, the man she loathes, is Andred in disguise. He watched her suffer and grieve. She declares her heart cold because her husband is dead. Andred begs her forgiveness. Woe betide anyone who stresses Leela out too.

Great Ideas: Alan Barnes is not afraid to wield some pretty hefty ideas about and with this story he manages to twist them into something emotional, shocking and satisfying – the antithesis of his earlier Zagreus. The fact that this story deals with another member of the illustrious Pollard clan is the icing on the cake. Sissy Pollard is abhorrent, a racist, classist Nazi sympathiser who chose the wrong side – her tirade about preserving beautiful things and keeping people apart was very delicately scripted to revolt. She shot herself in the head to convince England and Germany about the futility of the war, that’s what history says. However she is on the train and very much alive, Arcadian sent her a telegram in Charley’s hand years after her disappearance. The story casually throws out ideas like embargoed time zones, portable mind wipes and parallel timelines. This latter proves very important, a ghost of the train running alongside them on the same space-time co-ordinates. The two timelines refuse to disengage because Leela has moved to the dominant one. Erich is revealed as Arcadian’s ally gone rogue, conning the conman. In reality Erich is Torvald of the CIA who is yet to regenerate into our Torvald. In reality Arcadian approached Narvin to expose Torvald for the traitor that he is. Miss Joy is in reality a metamorph, Arcadian’s client, a trader in memorabilia of the great dictators. Sissy, Hitler’s English lapdog is worth planets to collectors. With a Type 70 TARDIS you can pause the materialisation. Now Charley’s paradox has been resolved, Torvald set up this elaborate scenario to ensure Sissy survived and brought with her the curse of Anti Time. He wants to expose Romana’s hand in the Neverland scenario, to airbrush her from Time and make her the President that never was. Andred learnt of this isolationist agenda and was involved in a shoot out with Torvald whilst trying to uncover facts. Torvald’s wounds were fatal and Andred, once regenerated, took his chance to take his place and infiltrate the CIA and discover more. The earlier Torvald, knowing that Andred would kill him, smugly informs Romana that she will have to keep him alive to preserve that timeline. Everything returns to normal and Sissy commits suicide writing a farewell letter to her sister.

Standout Performance: India Fisher. Sissy is just vile.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What a hideous mess this is all becoming!’ – oh Alan you must stop giving people ammunition!
‘You turned a blind eye. That’s why they called you a Nazi.’
‘She’s my wife!’ – I nearly spat out my coffee at that one!

Audio Landscape: I love the steam train location; the screaming whistle, the clackety-clack of the tracks, the roaring countryside and the hissing steam. The two trains collide very dramatically. The slavering metamorph came out of nowhere! We take a trip into the French landscape; birds call out to each other, storm clouds grumble and the rain breaks. The scribbling writing and gunshot of the last scene.

Standout Moment: The last scene is shocking and yet it feels right.

Result: How could Alan Barnes and Gary Russell be responsible for perhaps the greatest travesty in the Doctor Who canon (yeah you know I’m talking about) and then follow it up with something as intelligent, clever, twisted and heartbreakingly climatic as this? It beggars belief! A Blind Eye ends a nourishing first year of Gallifrey on a real high dishing out brilliant twists that prove how intricately this season has been plotted. What’s more it gives Lalla Ward, Louise Jameson and India Fisher the chance to really impress with some top dramatic material. I’ve always thought there was a great story waiting to be told in the Doctor Who universe set on a moving train and it proves to be as atmospheric as I imagined. I loved the spoilt bitch fascist Sissy Pollard. I loved the timey wimey madness with the two Torvald’s. I loved Romana’s bossy, angry tirade. And I really loved the truth about Andred. I was gripped from the first moment to the last: 10/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/14-Gallifrey-A-Blind-Eye

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