Friday, 4 March 2016

A Thing of Guile written by Phil Mulryne and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What's it about: The Daleks are developing a secret weapon on Asteroid Theta 12. It is imperative that their plans are uncovered. Cardinal Ollistra has her hands full studying the range of ancient and mysterious armaments the universe has to offer, but she makes it a personal mission to investigate the Dalek project. On this dangerous assignment, there is one particular Time Lord she wants at her side - and he will be accompanying her whether he wants to or not.


Damaged Goods: 'You accuse me, you lock me up and you want my help?' The sad truth is that in a universe that is at war with the Daleks, the Doctor is too useful to keep squirreled away as a prisoner. He understands their psychology, their motives, their tactics and the lengths that they will go to. Dropping out of the sky isn't how he usually chooses to arrive. I rather love the idea of the Doctor being the ultimate war criminal in the most devastating conflict the universe has ever seen. It does rather give him a sense of status. Although I would say that the Time Lords have a bloody cheek banging the Doctor up and then asking for his help but then always have been a little backwards about coming forwards. He keeps dropping Terran expressions that bamboozle the Time Lords but admits that although Earth used to be his favourite planet, he's not that man anymore. He probably hasn't seen the Earth for years. To be fair it could be swallowed by this conflict in an instant. He has disowned his name but his reputation still precedes him. It's like taking a puppy out for a walk, he's kept on an Artron leash just in case he gets any ideas about trying to escape. One Dalek takes the plunge and actually tries to exterminate the Doctor. Imagine the kudos. Does he have a death wish in this incarnation or is he just more honest with his own expendability now? At the close of the story the Doctor thinks he has walked free of Olistra's leash and he's pretty damn confident about it. But we soon realise it is all a deception on her part...a part incidentally that she plays rather well.

Standout Performance: Any scene with Hurt and Pearce is an instant delight, they dance around each other beautifully. This is a pairing I could see going on for some time if the powers that be can see the same potential that I can.

Great Ideas: Nobody knows the full extent of the Omega Arsenal and what terrifying weapons are kept there - all very ominous. The Doctor makes a very good point, when does Dalek science lead to anything else apart from weapons. The latest whacko scheme is to turn a Dalek mutant back into a Kaled, a procedure with the purpose of bringing a fresh (humanoid) vision to their conflict. The one moment of clarity to emerge from this run-around comes from the mouthpiece of the unmutated Dalek: that their insistence on racial purity will always be their undoing. Hardly a blinding revelation though, we learnt that decades ago from the Nazis.

Audio Landscape: The Doctor's creaky old console, sirens, a tentacled eldritch worm, stasers, a creaking hull, a slurping Kaled mutant, Dalek laughter, rubble falling. 

Isn't it Odd: Two characters talk about how it has been an honour to serve with each other when they are about to head off into deadly danger. It highlights just how shoddy the characterisation has been in this. Without any subtext or history to this exchange they are just empty words that mean nothing to the audience. This should have been a moment that meant something rather than one that just occurred because it should have. If the Daleks want a fresh perspective on the war from a Kaled POV then why don't they just go back in time and pluck one from history? They have time travel capability and I'm sure there's plenty of time travelling going on in a Time War. Otherwise it would just be called a War.

Standout Scene: It was only when the Daleks turned up halfway through this tale that I realised how little they had actually appeared in this set so far. Despite criticising Big Finish for their overuse of the creatures to drive sales in the past I do think that this is the one range (and Dalek Empire) where their continual usage is justified. I found the sudden appearance of their grating voices quite a shock and perhaps that was a good thing. Despite talking about their evil deeds it's important to see them 'in the flesh.'

Result: What might have been nice at this juncture would have been something akin to the DS9 episode Waltz. A character examination of both the War Doctor and Ollistra, one as a prisoner and the other as the orchestrator of his fate set amidst the background of a war that they are both a vital part of. This story even starts in a very similar fashion to that particular Star Trek episode. Instead we get a traditional Doctor Who run-around with more talk of how much more deadly dangerous things are now that the Time War is in progress and how the consequences of everything have a profound impact on the universe at large. I'm starting to think it might be hyperbole. The trouble is by continually setting stories within this immense conflict it means the stories are rather constricted by it. There is no variety. Each week we're facing another terrifying super weapon or damaged civilisation. There isn't really the space for small, intimate tales or a focus on the people who are affected by the Time War. And that's a shame because without that human interest it can easily become all pomp and circumstance, sound and fury. Don't get me wrong, A Thing of Guile is a perfectly serviceable adventure and will happily pass an hour. It's brilliantly produced and is bolstered by superb performances by Hurt and Pearce. But ultimately it's not really about anything and doesn't really add much to the overall picture of the Time War, not in the way something much smaller and characterful would have.  It's time to play about inside the biggest conflict this 50 year old show has ever presented and what happens here...the Doctor fights a giant worm. Hurt wont be starring in these audios forever and it hardly feels like the best use of his time in the studio. You'll find that this is one of my more empty reviews because there was little of substance to get hold of an discuss. Head to an asteroid in search of a super weapon. Dance about with a giant worm for ten minutes. Find a Dalek experiment. Stop it. Without any character work to hang this on it has little impact. It feels like a Nick Briggs on autopilot script rather than the work of a newcomer to Big Finish. Nothing impressive: 5/10

7 comments:

Ed Azad said...

Daleks in Manhattan? Again??

This is less a War Doctor story than an Unbound story... In which Eccleston regenerated into Hurt instead of D.T.

(And took Jacqueline/Jackie as a companion. But not too fast, her ankle's going.)

Anonymous said...

You know, I have always thought that Lawrence Miles would do very.imaginative stuff with the Time War, he was who came up with this concept when the TV series were off. I don't know his motives for not working with BF (is he too mad? Has he annoyed too many people?). He would do wonders with big ideas. Nick Brings writes this as your average Dalek empire

Anonymous said...

"Hurt wont be starring in these audios forever"
How sadly true is this. He is unfortunately battling against cancer and while I sincerely hope he gains the battle, the writers should offer him better material while we have him amongst us

Ed Azad said...

"Has he annoyed too many people?"

That's putting it mildly.

Also, the similarity to Squiggy from Laverne & Shirley is uncanny.

Tango said...

To Anonymous: Just relax. Like Janet Fielding, John Hurt is winning his cancer. Even he seems more full of life and energy that Capaldi in Series 8.

Nesta said...

Geez, you would think Brings and co would do something more original with this unique incarnation. While listening to this I found myself drifting off a few times, not a good sign. When will be have a peek at all the exciting and weird stuff that scared the crap out of the Tenth Doctor in The end of Time? (degradations of skaro, nightmare child, etc)

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