Saturday, 20 March 2010
The Mutant Phase written and directed by Nicholas Briggs
What’s it about? In the 22nd century, the Daleks have occupied planet Earth. By the 43rd century, only a handful of humans survive. Still further into the distant future, a Thal scientist must choose whether to betray his heritage, or see the universe destroyed. When the Doctor and Nyssa find themselves trapped in this deadly chain of events, they must decide who their real enemies are. What is certain, however, is that no matter where the Doctor turns… his arch enemies, the Daleks, will be waiting for him. What could possibly be worse than that? The Mutant Phase...
English Gentleman: Peter Davison has really hit his stride now and is delivering the sort of performances I wished we had seen on television outside of Frontios and Androzani. This is the darker, older no nonsense fifth Doctor he should have been the second he walked away from Castrovalva. There is no sense of a trouble youth here but a man burdened with the responsibility of his travels although very different from the seventh Doctor who practically revelled in that sort of responsibility. Here the fifth Doctor does not even want to talk with his companion about the dangers of time paradoxes and the web of time in case she spreads that knowledge once he has left her. Nyssa described as patronising at the beginning of the story but that is hardly the case. His reputation precedes him and he is known for being resourceful and cunning. When he realises they have landed in the time of the Dalek invasion he suddenly becomes Tegan and decides it is time to leave. His anger at the Daleks’ relentless slaughter of others is palpable here. One of the defining moments of the fifth Doctor takes place in this story where he realises the Daleks want him to go back in time and break the first law to change established history and wipe out a race of being even more deadly than the Daleks. To commit genocide and ensure the Dalek menace survives. Now that is some responsibility! He faces down the Emperor without breaking into a sweat. In a moment of utter devastation the Doctor watches Skaro be destroyed and feels such remorse for the Daleks even though he knows that he shouldn’t. If only he knew that he would be responsible for that act one day. The last episode sees him struggling to handle paradoxes and multiple timelines and his final defeat over time sees him as its true Lord. The way he shrugs off the inconsistencies pointed out by Nyssa is hilarious.
Child of Traken: Both the Doctor and Nyssa are re-imagined in this story into something far more interesting than we normally see. Here Nyssa is a quick to react scientist who handles the immense pressures of this story well. She is still a little prickly but she is not stupid enough to not accept help when it is needed. She packs quite a punch too, giving Albert a good smack when he tries to accost her. She cannot believe how bloodthirsty the Daleks are but soon learns to be very scared of them. In a truly excellent scene she questions why the Doctor can go back in time save the Daleks from extinction and yet he flatly refused to go back and rescue Adric. Sarah Sutton is spot on in this story giving an engaging and pacy performance. This is the Nyssa Peter Davison was talking about that he wanted to travel around solo with and looking ahead (Primeval, Spare Parts, Circular Time, the Stockbridge trilogy) she would only get better and better.
Great Ideas: Nick Briggs was full of really clever ideas in The Sirens of Time but wasn’t quite used to pulling them all together into a solid narrative but what we have here is a far superior script. The trouble is you need to listen to the whole story to fully appreciate the effort that has gone into the plotting and the first two episodes come across as a little superfluous and yet once you reach episode three the ideas blossom and you realise the first half was setting up some great moments in the second half. The story opens with a fulsome image, no planets left supporting life. Something has destroyed everything and suddenly the ship is interrupted by a swarm of 100 billion mutations bigger than a planet. Its swarm so immense in carries the ship away and practically destroys it. There is a Dalek infection called the mutant phase which sees the Dalek mutant mutate into a vicious larvae and burst free of its casing with no higher brain functions and slaughter everything in its path. They travel through space in their billions. The Daleks on Skaro are besieged by the very creatures they are turning into. Against the Daleks the people of the universe have a fighting chance but this creatures are without the ability to plan or plot or feel anything. They just kill as aggressively as possible. The Daleks want the Doctor to go back in time and stop the mutant phase from spreading. In a groundbreaking moment that threatens to change Dalek continuity for ever we witness the Emperor being submerged and slaughtered by the wasp mutants and Skaro utterly devastated. The Doctor and Nyssa materialise the TARDIS over the original TARDIS from the beginning of the story when they return to the same time period and watch themselves on the scanner doing what they did at the beginning of the story! Before they walk back into the TARDIS and meet themselves the HADS materialise the later TARDIS. As the story we suddenly realise that the Dalek Invasion of Earth almost caused their extinction – and all because of a wasp sting. The crops have been genetically modified to secrete a chemical which induce the wasps aggression and gets them in the killing mood to murder the caterpillars that are killing the crops. One Dalek is stung by a wasp which causes the mutant phase – a terrifying hybrid of a Dalek that has been bred to kill and a wasp that has been genetically modified to kill. Nyssa realises that the answer is the chemical GK50 – created by the government to kill the wasps that had become too aggressive and started attacking towns. Ganatus is revealed as being the Emperor himself as the Daleks never trusted a Thal scientist working towards their salvation. There is gloriously silly moment where the Emperor tries to explain the plot of Dalek Invasion of Earth and the mechanics of Doctor Who to a bunch of Daleks several centuries his junior!
Standout Performance: Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton do the best work in this story, a story that puts them right at the centre of the action throughout. The dramatic thrust of the story – the time paradox – gives them plenty to argue about and both actors acquit themselves beautifully.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You better hope you are never surplus to requirements, Professor.’
‘Victory for the mutant creatures will mean the end of history!’
‘The Time Paradox?’ ‘Yes there are good and bad places to have them. This is a bad place. Just bad luck in the game of universal dice really. If we don’t do something everything could unravel.’ ‘Everything?’ ‘Everything. Almost too large a concept to have any meaning isn’t it? Can you imagine the chaos of every particle of matter accelerating to the point of destruction? And even destruction is too small a word. Terror. Agony. They don’t come even close.’
‘I am the Emperor of the Daleks! Destined to be ruler of the Universe!’
‘That doesn’t make sense.’ – a great Nyssa line at the end of the story.
Audio Landscape: The story opens to a scene of a spaceship caught in the swarm of 100 billion mutant creatures so its nice to see Nick Briggs hasn’t lost his flair for the ambitious! There is a protracted TARDIS materialisation that really sells the gorgeous sounds created by the BBC way back when and fully brought up to date by Big Finish. We have buzzing wasps (a small early detail but very important to the plot) , crickets and gunfire and grenades in the distance. There is an American Roboman with his dialogue ever so slightly enhanced to sound wrong. The Daleks suffering from the mutant phase sound truly disturbing with horrible squealing and gurgling – you feel the mutant oozing through the casing and finally exploding! The Chase Dalek time ship returns and gives me goosebumps. Some nice subtle echoed cave scenes. There are scenes of chaos on Skaro as the mutant creatures burst into the main control room match the drama of the climax of Evil of the Daleks. The time paradox repairing itself is an audio tour de force with some great sound FX, Davison and Sutton’s voice distorted and Dalek voices burbling in the background.
Musical Cues: The Dalek sting and piano heartbeat is back and now proves to be a nice foreboding piece, making us anticipate the Daleks arrival. Nick Briggs’ music has improved in leaps and bounds and much of this stories wall to wall music enhances the atmosphere tenfold. There is a synthy 80’s beat during some of the action sequences that sounds just like the music in Remembrance when the Doctor and Ace are Dalek hunting. Very nice.
Isn’t that Odd? Albert and Delores are a really odd pair. Whilst I love the idea of only having 25 survivors on planet Earth I would have thought to have realised that would have left you hysterical, on edge. Both of these characters act as though they have walked from the Eastenders set. However Briggs soon despatches them so as Dalek fodder they do keep us on our toes.
I’m not sure if the final solution to the story is quite as audacious as its build up but that is so often the case with these things.
Result: I used to hate The Mutant Phase and never got past episode two. Oh what a fool I am. This is an expertly crafted tale that takes its time giving you the answers you want and uses its early episodes to set up some great revelations in the latter ones. The very nature of the story – what makes the Daleks scared – is worth the admission price alone but if you can work your way through the low incident level of episodes one and two you are suddenly treated to some innovative and remarkable concepts. The Doctor and Nyssa discuss the intricacies of time travel, the Dalek Emperor is murdered, Skaro is destroyed and the Doctor goes back in time to save their metal hides. The script gives Davison and Sutton some great moments and as a result their give their best performances to date, especially Davison who has never seemed more commanding. The ending is a little abrupt but this is an exciting and complicated tale that will please the high concept fans who enjoy their Doctor Who loaded with clever ideas: 8/10
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/15-Doctor-Who-The-Mutant-Phase