Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Charlotte Pollard: The Fall of House Pollard written by Matt Fitton and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What's it about: Charlotte Pollard’s adventures are over. She escaped death aboard the R101 and travelled in time and space - but now in the service of the monolithic, unknowable Viyrans, their unending mission is stifling her. An encounter with would-be adventurer Robert Buchan, near the mysterious Ever-and-Ever-Prolixity, provides the opportunity Charley needs for escape… So, the adventuress is abroad once more: meeting a lost expedition in uncharted forests, solving enigmas, and hoping beyond hope to see the people she misses most: her family. But Charley cannot run forever. The Viyrans know the power of the ‘Lamentation Cipher’ and they have a solution… for everything.

Edwardian Adventuress: Trapped in the swirling mass of the Prolixity, Charley is properly scared and that makes her the most alive she has been in years. She has no regrets about escaping the Viyrans because she was slowly dying day by day. There was a time when she thought that a hundred lives wouldn't be enough to do all the things she wanted to do, meet all the people, visit all the places...but the way she has been living with the Viyrans is stifling. Living on somebody else's terms is not living. Charley is so used to having her guard up these days that she wilts like a flower denied light when she achieves the impossible...finding her parents again. Louisa can barely believe it is her daughter until she looks into her eyes and then slaps her hard around the face for all the pain and misery that she has caused. Probably not the reaction that Charley was expecting but an understandable moment of anger from her mother given the misery that has followed in the wake of her disappearance and suspected death. Clearly Charley was always a dreamer, always talking about running off and having thrilling adventures. Louisa genuinely wonders if Charley has only returned home from her travels because she has run out of money. She never wanted her time with the Doctor (either Doctor) to end but it did. Charley is still under the impression that the last time she saw him that the eighth Doctor died - there is a finality to their parting. Charley is a little blaze about her attitude when she was eighteen, young, headstrong and wanting to see the world. Whilst there is nothing wrong with that it might have been a little less catastrophic had she taken a look over her shoulder from time to time to think about those she was leaving behind. Charley knows the Viyrans and their methods and so agrees to go with them as long they leave her parents alone. She asks them to tell her they are proud of her before she goes, knowing that they will have their minds wiped.


The Parents Left Behind: We have caught up with Louisa Pollard in the past but this the first time we have been able to see what kind of man brought Charley up. Richard Pollard is a shell of his old self, having lost one daughter to politics and another to and with no news to suggest that his youngest didn't die on the R-101. Richard's financial decisions are a farrago of bad decisions and downright lotteries and like so many men he finds it easier to bury his head in the sand (or rather in his studies) rather than face up to his responsibilities. Louisa has finally had enough of his evasiveness and makes him face the responsibility of their financial ruin. She tells him in no uncertain terms that he is not the only one who misses their daughters but she has had to pull herself together and try keep their estate in one piece whilst he loses himself in academia. People are advising Louisa to leave Richard but she feels it her duty to stay behind and look after him. She made a commitment when she married him and that is just the sort of woman she is. She's even considering sending Richard to a sanatorium, somewhere where he can be made to eat and have some respite from his dusty old books (just not somewhere in England where he might be recognised). It is heartbreaking to hear Louisa admit that she failed as a mother, not indulging Charley in her romantic fantasies so she headed off to revel in them as soon as she could. After the news of the crash of the airship there were interminable evenings where Richard would stare at Louisa in an accusatory fashion. Charley dismisses her mothers self criticism, she genuinely believes that Louisa gave her children everything they needed to leave and find their own way in life. She made them strong enough to set off. It is glorious to watch Richard throw off his fugue of despair once he is reunited with Charley and to thank Louisa for being such a rock for him. We leave Richard and Louisa in a much better place, the former having found his place in the world and lust for life again and the latter basking in their new good fortune.

Standout Performance: Terrance Hardiman and Anneke Wills are perfectly cast as Charley's parents, one is gravel voiced and stubborn the other gentle, understanding but with a layer of steel that is admirable for a woman of the age when little was expected of them. As well as two imperial performances from the heads of the House of Pollard, this story also features two excellent turns from Charlie Norfolk and David Dobson as Violet Warren and Michael Dee. I would very much have liked Michael to have stayed on as Charley's companion if that could have been arranged somehow, he's cheeky and likeable and would make an excellent foil.


Stories Mentioned: Since there is so much to catch her parents up on much of The Fall of House Pollard turns out to be a love letter to Charley's travels with the Doctor. If you are a fan of that period (and let's be honest you would have hardly picked this set up otherwise unless you are subject to whims) then this is will be a real treat.
'Edith, that was her name' 'I believe so, sir. A spinster, wasn't she? When she did what she did' 'Such a waste. Louisa found her, you know. As if that winter weren't bad enough for Lotty...' - The Chimes of Midnight
'Said a chap in Singapore swore blind he danced with Charlotte on New Year's Eve at the Raffles hotel. Grayle...' - Seasons of Fear
'The boy came to you himself in the end, didn't he? What was his name...Medford?' 'Merchford.' - Storm Warning
'I know the name of every person on that manifest. From Lord Tamworth to the lowliest cabin boy.'
'We haven't heard from Sissy. Not in a long while. She's fallen in with rather a rum lot.' - Gallifrey: A Blind Eye
'You've had Agents looking for me?' 'Everywhere you may have arrived. Everywhere the Prolixity touched. Viyrans with the time virus could be placed at the appropriate junctures' 'Where?' 'London. Malebolgia. Karachi. Singapore. Endrara. Simerian System. Gallifrey.'

Sparkling Dialogue: 'The way things stand I can't even pay for this telephone call!'
'I was on the airship but I was saved before it went down. Whisked away by an unbelievable, impossible, marvellous man.'
'We all thought Lotty was lost but I never realised I was too.'
'Thank heaven there were only the two of them. Whatever would we have done with three!' 

Great Ideas: The money has run dry at House Pollard and there is a reasonable offer on the table for the estate. It would appear that Richard spent a great deal of money looking for Charley after the airship crashed into France, any clue that might suggest that she didn't make it on board was followed up. Time was Christmas used to be such a noisy affair at the House of Pollard, the girls giggling and laughing and running around but now the House is a deserted, cold draughty place that will be taken up with academic study come the Yuletide season. Richard and Louisa have been taken in by all manner of cheats and false spiritualists who claim to be able to get in touch with Charley from the great beyond, which caused the haemorrhage of another incredible sum of money. There was a time when Richard Pollard associated with the top brass in politics, Louisa genuinely believes that he could have tackled Wallis Simpson in his heyday. Since the crash Richard sold off his gold stocks unwisely, had an awful run with the currency markets, gave some bad advice to some unsavoury types and had to pay a considerable settlement to avoid being dragged through the courts, not to mention the Doctors bills and Detectives. Charley cheekily informs her father of what the next big things might be to improve his financial situation. I'm not sure the Doctor would approve but it is the least she can do given her flight was the catalyst for his financial ruin. Apparently motor cars are the way to go...


Audio Landscape: Going through books, the rumbling, screaming Prolixity, scrubbing vegetables, running water, horses clip-clopping in the background, wind, scattering papers, Viyrans expunging knowledge (how do you make a sound effect of that?), hydraulics, memory adjustment screams, Viyrans stomping into view.

Musical Cues: Delicate, subtle, barely registering at times because the drama that is unfolding does not require any bombast.

Isn't it Odd: Mrs Warren turns out to be nothing more than a pleasant, accommodating maid servant but there is something about how she is written for/portrayed in the early scenes that made me think that she was trying to seduce Richard Pollard: 'I did it how you liked it last time.' I was convinced she was up to no good when nothing could be further than the truth.

Standout Scene: Richard remembering that he got the tip about investing in motor cars but not having a clue where from. Heartbreaking.

Result: Character drama of the highest order and satisfyingly tying up threads from Charley's time with the Doctor, The Fall of House Pollard is by a small margin the most accomplished story of the set. The soundscape is minimalist because the action is scaled right back and this story is given over to a great deal of talking, conversations that are long overdue between Charley and her mother and father. The first half of the tale reveals just how badly things have fallen for Charley's family in her absence and delays the reunion that I was foaming at the mouth for. At one point I wondered if we were only going to be exploring the ramifications of her failure to return to her parents and tell them that she is alive without them ever meeting but Matt Fitton is simply make you wait for the really good stuff until you are well into the second half. There are questions to be answered, truths to be faced and bridges to mend and I would say that the long dialogue scenes between the family justify the existence of this set alone. There is a great deal more to recommend but this serves as a poignant coda to Charley's adventures with the Doctor. India Fisher, Anneke Wills and Terrance Hardiman excel and I truly believed that this was a genuine (if dysfunctional) family unit. If the ending seems unjust after all the therapy that has paid off then that is further testimony to how well these three characters work together and that it would have been nice to spent some more time with Richard and Louisa. I hope the injustice of the Viyrans interference is rectified one day, I would like to see Charley back home with her parents and settled eventually. The extra ten minutes are justified and very welcome. I didn't expect anything as rewarding as this in the set: 9/10


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