Thursday, 17 July 2014

Second Chances written by John Dorney and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What's it about: From time to time, everybody makes mistakes. Everybody has things from their past they'd like to undo, but nobody gets a second chance. What's done is done and we can't change that. Zoe's mistakes have led her to imprisonment at the hands of the Company. But when news reports trigger memories of the Doctor, Jamie and an appalling threat, she begins to sense a way out. An opportunity for redemption opens up to anyone willing to take it. Nobody can alter what's been done. Nobody gets a second chance. Or do they?

Brains'n'Beauty: Zoe is haunted by the events that happened on Artemis because she feels as though she failed the people who died, that her skills weren't good enough to stop the virus that was ripping through both metal and flesh. It was a valuable lesson for her to learn, to realise that sometimes she wasn't smart enough to make a difference. It punctured her ego and left a scar. Now in the present she has a chance to make amends for those deaths, to prevent the same thing from happening again. How could she possibly refuse? Being able to look at the Doctor and Jamie in the flesh again is an experience that cements her belief that she had more adventures with them than the one true memory of them that she can trust (their adventure on the Wheel with the Cybermen).

Who's the Yahoos: Jamie wants to know why the TARDIS never takes them back to Scotland and the Doctor cheekily suggests that the Ship might scared that he will leave if it does, to become a Laird.

Oh My Giddy Aunt: The Doctor can lose the TARDIS key in an instant because he keeps a lot of things in his pockets. He has brooding dark eyes with scan the room as he fidgets uncomfortably.

Standout Performance: Wendy Padbury has always been critical of her interpretation of Patrick Troughton's second Doctor but she has nothing to worry about. She has perfected it to a fine art by this point, to a point where I would say she rivals even Frazer Hines' authentic portrayal. She's got both the subtle consideration and menace of the character and the panicked apologies to perfection. She also tackles two versions of Zoe (taking her voice up several registers when she is playing the younger version) and does a passable Scots accent too. Where I have had some issues with the storytelling in some of the Wendy Padbury narrated stories in the past I have never had a problem with the delivery itself. Padbury is a marvellous actress and this showcases her skills to a very high standard.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Let's skip the capture and escape stuff. We don't need that. Let's not pad it out.'
'I don't remember. What a brilliant abdication of responsibility.'
'She gets to live, gets to dream of a second chance...'

Great Ideas: It has been a while since I have recoiled in horror at a Big Finish cover like this for a long while. The Wheel billowing with explosions, the second Doctor and Zoe looking remarkably perturbed and a man centre stage screaming in horror as his face is eaten away by...something. It suggests that the very last companion chronicle (for the time being) is going to be a dramatic affair. You cannot go back and change events in your life, no matter how much you might want to. Every event in your life makes you who you are. Does your life flash before your eyes when you die to give you a final sense of peace as it all falls into place? How wonderful that a story aping a quaint 60s science fiction show can ask such profound questions that make you examine your own life with its prompts. Anything can die...space stations, computers, dreams. Kym wants Zoe to focus on the negative emotions of this particular memory and I agree that it might be the best way to lucidly actualise them in her mind, it is often the most anxious moments of your life that you can most vividly recall. Kym is looking older than when Zoe first met her because the Company withholds your Spectrox allowance when you go off payroll. I like how this story worms its way into the memories of Kym as well as Zoe's, giving a new spin on the theme of remembrance and how it can cheat. Space Station Apollo broke up two days ago for no readily apparent reason and it looks like Artemis Station that the Doctor and company have arrived on is about to go the same way. Sync-Ops is humans plugging themselves into computers and interacting with them giving them a tactical advantage in warfare. A computer virus that crosses from code to actual bacteria? The internet is riddled with diseases that if they became a possibility it might mean the end of the human race. That would teach those who put the damn things out there for profit or pleasure a lesson. A fatal one. The code that is causing all of the problems on Artemis is designed to eradicate the targeting systems of their weapons. When it completes its work it is automatically linked to the nearest network, as a means of wiping out an entire enemy. Apollo released it accidentally, destroying them and submitting itself to Artemis. We're made aware of the artificial tension that is generated by somebody narrating a story, when it is told from one persons point of view we are denied the bigger picture and you can suggest that people are in real danger through lack of information that tells you otherwise. Zoe recalls that she thought the Doctor and Jamie are dead because that was her overriding emotion at the time...but Kym points out that that was clearly not the case. Much of the companion chronicles (and Big Finish adventures that feature TV companions) are built around such falsehoods...we know nothing terminal will happen to these characters because we have already seen how they depart the series. We allow ourselves to be tricked into thinking otherwise for our own entertainment. In a desperate moment of panic it becomes clear that Earth is going to leave Artemis Station to its fate to prevent the risk of the infection spreading. The people on board are collateral damage, an unfortunate consequence of isolation. Given that the Doctor has the ability to travel in time there was always going to come a time when they visited the point where Zoe ends up in the future in incarceration. This allows Dorney to play some lovely games, having the older Zoe reflecting on these past events and able to make differences if she wants to. Would she go as far as re-writing her own history to prevent her falling into the hands of the Company? Zoe soon realises that this mission isn't one of mercy but an attempt to capture and contain the virus, something that Kym can take to the Company to get back in their good books. What an insanely dangerous scheme. One that could have terminal possibilities for this time. She also comes to see that their presence her was ordained, that they must have been there all along in order for the events to take place as she remembers them. Nobody gets a second chance in life. For a moment I thought John Dorney was going to take the remarkable step of killing off the future Zoe that Big Finish have created, putting the character to rest. It seems as though the story is heading that way with Zoe having an opportunity to save her younger self by sacrificing her own life. I'm in two minds as to how I would have felt. It's an unforgettable notion and would have brought this range to a shocking conclusion. On the other hand this is well realised period now and Zoe is a massive part of the that and I can only hope for more stories (from The Early Years perhaps) that continue to exploit what has been set up here. Instead Zoe uses that remarkable brain of hers to remember the entire sequence of the code that makes up the virus and bends it to her will. She's going to use it to destroy the Company and only the Company, the cancer at the heart of the Earth in this time period. The people who incarcerated her and mistreated her terribly. What a formidable presence she is when she has harnessed a powerful weapon and righteous anger directing her actions.

Audio Landscape: Door opening, TARDIS arriving, party music, smacking out a fire, computers beeping, Zoe typing, asteroid strikes, creaking bulkheads, heart monitor, alarms, crackling fire, screams, the airlock door ripping away and people being sucked into space, the gunshot, the station breaking up around them.

Musical Cues: Who else would be suitable to write the music for the final CC other than Lauren Yason and Richard Fox? Their soundtracks have pretty much defined the best of the range, given the personal material the emotional pitch it needed to really strike home and made many a story more fluidic and enjoyable to listen to. As for their best work? They brought much emotional sincerity to the Oliver Harper trilogy, worked magic with their bubbly songs for The Scorchies and provided The Last Post with one of the finest scores for a Doctor Who story, emphasising the ticking of the clock in a calculated and escalating fashion. As soon as this pair start tinkling at the piano the hairs on my arm seem to lift.

Isn't it Odd: I wonder if this story should have ended just a few minutes earlier and left Zoe's fate ambiguous.

Standout Scene: I literally had shivers when the shit hit the fan towards the end of episode one and the crew of Artemis Station realised that they were being left to look after themselves to prevent infection of the virus. It has attacked the system and is starting to eat away at the crew and mass panic erupts. It's gripping. I wasn't at all prepared for the twist that Kym was using the information that Zoe was giving her in the first episode to make those events happen. She is using Zoe's foreknowledge of the near future to turn it into a reality. What a fantastic twist, one which I could only imagine the timey wimey (shudder) mind of Steven Moffat could have foreseen. Devilishly clever. And Zoe turns out to be the person on the other end of the call informing Artemis Station that they are on their own. The final scene on the station between Zoe and Kym is one of the highlights of Big Finish's catalogue and had me on the edge of my seat.

Result: 'Nobody gets a second chance in life...' This is not where I thought the Companions Chronicles would park themselves for the time being, the decision to bring them to a close with a second Doctor story quite surprising. Keeping me off guard right until the end, just as they always have done. I imagined a powerhouse first Doctor story would take this slot, probably read by William Russell or Peter Purves since they have been the strongest of the range. The second Doctor entries have been far more varied in quality, the Zoe stories especially so (Fear of the Daleks and Echoes of Grey did nothing for me whilst The Memory Cheats and The Uncertainty Principle were both superb) but they have been building a mini arc of their own for some time now (in the same vein as the Sara Kingdom and Oliver Harper arcs) based around the idea of Zoe and her inconsistent memories of the Doctor and Jamie. John Dorney scores a double whammy in Second Chances with both storylines proving to be a gripping draw; the framing narrative coming to an unforgettable climax and the space station based disaster movie utilising Zoe's skills in a riveting race against time scenario. Brilliantly he finds a way to tie up the two stories, bringing the horror of Zoe's haunting memory into the present and having some intellectual playtime with the idea. The second episode reminds me pleasingly of Peri & the Piscon Paradox, the events of the first part taking on much greater meaning (both emotionally and narratively) when they are re-considered in a different context. Second Chances is clever, personal, dramatic, emotional and imaginative...all the strengths that have come to associate with the strongest range Big Finish has ever put out. What a fantastic opportunity to put them to rest on a euphoric high. This is one of John Dorney's best ever scripts and if you know anything about the standard he regularly delivers, this is high praise indeed: 10/10

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