Friday, 16 July 2010

Neverland written by Alan Barnes and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about? The Web of Time is stretched to breaking. History is leaking like a sieve. In the Citadel of Gallifrey, the Time Lords fear the end of everything that is, everything that was... everything that will be. The Doctor holds the Time Lords' only hope - but exactly what what lengths will the Celestial Intervention Agency go to in their efforts to retrieve something important from within his TARDIS? What has caused Imperiatrix Romanadvoratrelundar to declare war on the rest of creation? And can an old nursey rhyme about a monster called Zagreus really be coming true? The answers can only be found outside the bounds of the universe itself, in a place that history forgot. In the wastegrounds of eternity. In the Neverland.

Breathless Romantic: If there was going to be a story that you pointed at to prove just how wonderful Paul McGann is as the Doctor Neverland would certainly be one of the best. It’s a story that manages to achieve a great deal but first a foremost it gives McGann’s eighth Doctor the sort of stunning season finale his succesors have enjoyed and brings his relationship with Charley into tight focus and exposes their chemistry at its finest. McGann gets to play some very strong scenes, from his coy attempts to hide Charley away at the beginning of the story to his touching admission that he loves her at the end; this is a firm indicator that the 8th Doctor and Charley are a winning combination. When he agonises over the choice between the murdering his best friend or saving the whole of time and space you come to realise just how strong his feelings are for her. As brilliant as all this stuff is nothing could have prepared for the final scene that leaves both the series and the Doctor on a shock cliff hanger that promises great things for the future.

The Doctor hasn’t been around the Acteon Galaxy since he was an old man and finds it terribly tedious. He knows the Time Lords are going to come after him for rescuing Charley and it is a testament to his optimism that he hopes just not yet. In a very sweet analogy he reminds Charley of Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up. He’s sweet, kind, caring and too good to be true. In a hilarious scene he does a terrible cockney accent and enjoys ripping the piss out of ‘nosebone’ Vansell. In a moment that mirrors his second incarnation standing trial he admits that he stands by his mistakes and if the Time Lords want to kill Charley he will not let them do it with a clean conscience. The Doctor wasn’t sure at first but he is warming to Romana’s boorish style of government. In a scene that reveals the very difference between the Doctor and the Time Lord’s approach to life he informs them that Anti Time cannot be recorded, it has to be experienced. His one abiding characteristic is his sense of what is right, which isn’t always the right opinion. He wont ever let Charley down as she is one of his best every friends. You get whisked right back to the Graeme Williams era when the Doctor and Romana attempt to whisper a plan whilst loud wittering on about Ganymede drivers and Mergenuts…these scenes reveal a sparky chemistry between Paul McGann and Lalla Ward that promises great things for Shada. He loves charley and he can’t shoot her no matter what is at stake. In one of those moments that makes you want to burst in on the story and kiss the Doctor he admits charmingly that he has had a good life and if he has to die to save his friends then so be it. Romana reveals that the Doctor has saved Time itself and that she thinks he is absolutely magnificent.

Edwardian Adventuress: How far has Charley come in these six incredible stories? What a great season for her character which has offered hints and clues about her survival causing all sorts of problems with the Web of Time and everything coalesces beautifully in this story that sees Charley stepping forward to take centre stage and defend her right to survive. We have seen her get closer to the Doctor throughout these last ten adventures and now we are seeing the sort of chemistry that made 4/Sarah and 10/Donna such a joy. Charley is the ultimate companion of the 8th Doctor, and would remain so for quite some time yet.

Sometimes the Doctor gets right on her wick…especially when he ignores her! She estimates that she has been travelling with him for six months now. Rather sweetly the Doctor tries to tuck Charley away discreetly whilst he heads off to deal with the Times Lords and dresses it up as wanting to celebrate her birthday which they must have missed at some point because she is the best assistant in the universe and deserves to go to the best party. Charley knows him better than that and sees through him in an instant. Her speech (quoted below) is Charley’s coming of age moment where she realises she cannot hide away from the truth of her death any longer and has to face the judgement of the Time Lords. She knows that the break in the Web of Time is being caused by her and that the Time Lords will consider the easiest course of action to shove her back on the R-101. Completing the analogy she is Wendy Darling enjoying adventures with the boy who never grew up. Charley’s adventures with the Doctor have been better than her wildest dreams but it is time to stop dreaming and time to grow up. As far as the Time Lords are concerned she is a fascinating anomaly, turning up at various points in the future after her death. In one of several cold moments from Vansell he describes Charley as nothing special as far as Time is concerned, nobody of significance. Charley hasn’t felt this scared since she was six and she hid away from Nanny in the woods and as it got darker and darker she realised she was lost in the dark and alone. She admits that she is living on stolen time. In a moment of icy shock we realise that as long as Charley is alive the Anti Time creatures can use her as a breach in space time and invade Gallifrey and our reality. Charley recognises this and begs the Doctor to shoot her. Unlike the Anti Time creatures she is grateful for every second she has been given and declares herself for the last time as Charlotte Pollard, Edwardian Adventuress. She’s terrified of dying but still faces the moment bravely.

Aristocratic Adventurer: Romana is disappointed that in all of the billions of people in universe that could have been responsible for the breach in space/time, the Doctor is responsible. In the Anti Time alternative timeline she is a vicious, violent Imperiatrix intent on ensuring the Time Lords supremacy at the cost of all other species. In a touching scene she reveals that she trusts the Doctor absolutely and always has. Charley calls her Madame Icy Draws for giving her such a cold reception. Vansell accuses her of being too scared to use her powers as President of Gallifrey to turn the universe into a force for good. Will she let the Daleks out of the Doctor’s time loop from the previous story…of course she will. She is deposed by Vansell who considers her spineless. When Romana was a child of 60 she used to holiday on the shores of Lake Abidos and she used to swim with the singing fish. She doesn’t remember her friends Taris and Rorvan who were blasted from existence by the CIA. Romana will never forget the Doctor who gave his life to save time. Rassilon gives Romana his blessing from within the Matrix as a Daughter of Time and President of Gallifrey.

Great Ideas: Where do you start with a story as complex and involved as this one? I have to say there are a number of Doctor Who stories which I whilst I enjoy on an emotional level, I enjoy even more on an intellectual level simply because of the wealth of clever and brain bursting ideas they feature. Christmas on a Rational Planet and The Last Resort are two very good examples and Neverland joins their ranks. What I find especially clever about this story is that it manages to squeeze in all manner of clever ideas without ever become incomprehensible or losing its entertainment value. Instead it drives these bold concepts to a dazzling climax and closes the story on the best idea of all!

There is a fantastically surreal teaser where the Matrix has a paddy because it cannot remember the events of the Web of Time because they are being distorted by Charley. It turns out that the Daleks cannot be removed from Time because too many historical events pivot on their grandiose schemes. Battle TARDISes surround our TARDIS in an escort formation and attack with time torpedoes and if they were hit they’ll be frozen in a micro second of space time for several centuries, long enough for the Time Lords to override the entrance protocols and get at them. As an example of how imaginative this story is, the Jovian Fold is thrown in as a throwaway idea (in later years it would be enough to drive a whole story!) – the Millennium Mardi Gras! The Jovians decided to celebrate the billionth lifespan of their species by throwing a 1000 year party inside a discrete space time fold that the Time Lords no nothing about (rotten killjoys!) and the Doctor has a one year exclusive invite. Anti Time – the Eye of Harmony was created in a universe of finite, positive time and just as matter has its opposite in anti matter so Time by all the immutable laws of the universe the Web of Time must have its shadow. A destructive force to causality; no past, present or future – no beginning or end…just chaos. History is leaking like a sieve and the Celestial Intervention Agency no longer have enough agents to ensure Time’s continuity. There is a virus spreading with Charley as Patient Zero and she has caused a whole in the timeline, a gateway that has allowed Anti Time through. She is a living conduit to a dimension that should never have met ours. Ramsey became unmanageable because he could sense what Charley was. In a brutally dramatic sequence we get to experience what Gallifrey would be like if Anti Time was allowed to take hold; its forests cracked, a charnel house, the people hardened to ice, the Panopticon adorned with heads on spikes and Imperiatrix Romana overseeing everything and banishing the Daleks to a life of eternal darkness in the Vortex. The Time Lords want to cross over into the realm of Anti Time and destroy it using Charley as a bridge. They can see the universe through Charley as she screams her way into the realm of Anti Time. Destination monitors go round and round – there is no space or time; it is an anathema to our science. In a scene of devastating beauty we witness a comet eating its own tail, two nebulae locked together in an accelerated dance, a star swallowing a star swallowing a star…the life, death and life of a universe. The only fixed point in Anti Time is a storm lashed planetoid with a forest of metal spikes. In a breathtaking moment we realise the Anti Time creatures are all the people who never lived or died in our universe, the potentials who never quite made it. They can drain energy from time vehicles and they want to gorge themselves on the Time Lords who are filled with Time energy. Upon exploring the planetoid they discover a chamber that is much bigger than the planetoid could ever be…this blasted lump of space flotsam is a TARDIS, its dimensions ripped asunder, turned apart. What a truly fantastic idea that is. The first disc ends on a terrific cliffhanger as realise just who the TARDIS belongs to…Rassilon! He locked all of space time into place with the Eye of Harmony and Anti Time could destroy everything he set out to achieve so he went in search of his nemesis and discovered the Anti time reality, the realm of Zagreus, Trapped in the Antiverse, he locked himself into a zero cabinet. The truth behind Vansell’s visit to the Antiverse becomes clear, he always knew Rassilon was here and he has been planning to overthrow Romana in a blood coup for some time. It transpires that Vansell has been authorising the use of the Oubliette of Eternity, a dispersal chamber for those found guilty of treason which erases your entire timeline from existence. The Anti Time creatures are those very Time Lords, dispersed by the CIA and as they never existed they could only exist here. Sentris, head of the CIA, sentenced himself to dispersal when he couldn’t come to terms with what he had done to his people and was surrounded by his victims in Neverland. Vansell has been infected by Anti Time and working as their puppet. The story turns again as we realise Rassilon had never come to the Antiverse and this has all been an elaborate trap to ensnare Vansell so he would take back a cabinet of Anti Time to our universe believing it was Rassilon. They want to detonate the casket on Gallifrey and it would be as if the Time lords had never existed, history would be a blank canvas and a churning chaos of unregulated Time – the Empire of Zagreus. Vansell sacrifices himself to kill one of the Anti Time creatures and allow Romana and the Doctor to put their plan into effect. Romana implores the voices of the Matrix to get a message to the High Council. In a brilliant and bold move that will have serious repercussions the Doctor materialises the TARDIS around the time station and it explodes not on Gallifrey but inside the TARDIS. The paradox of Charley’s survival is resolved – if history’s web was saved by the very fact of her existence then the fact of her existence cannot have imperilled it! Another paradox…but one the Time Lords can live with. In a final shocking twist we realise that all that remains of Anti Time is locked inside the Doctor, the undying anger of an unreal race. He has become…Zagreus!

Standout Performance: It is impossible to choose one performer who excels as this is one of the strongest ensemble casts yet. Paul McGann gives his best performance to date in a script that allows him to emote beautifully and yet be playful and intelligent too. India Fisher has never been better and plays her important moments with uncharacteristic restraint which makes them all the more powerful, certainly her speech about Peter Pan and her climatic moment begging the Doctor to murder her are some of the most touching moments Big Finish have provided. And her turn as the Anti Time creature deserves a lot of praise, she gives one of the most understated and yet menacing villains to life with real zest. Lalla Ward is always good value for money and nobody bosses people around like her…but her chemistry with McGann is surprisingly wonderful too. Bonus points for Anthony Keetch who plays Vansell just on the right side of pantomime and has some great moments of betrayal and redemption.

Great Lines: ‘Happy birthday Charley! Only it isn’t my birthday, is it? It isn’t my birthday because I’m not supposed to have any more birthdays. No more cake, no more candles, no more presents, not now, not ever, no more birthdays since I died! That’s right, isn’t it Doctor? No more birthdays because I’m supposed to be dead. Dead and burned in the wreck of an airship. Born on the day the Titanic sank, died in the R-101. Poor tragic little Charlotte Pollard, her life snuffed out before it had even begun.’

‘A postcard from planet Nosebone!

‘And you Doctor, your life has been rich, your stories many, history is filled to bursting. You have lived more life than ever dreamed possible but now your time is up.’

‘It’s alright Doctor, I’m not afraid. It’s like I said in the TARDIS, my time is up. There is no alternative. Oh Doctor, you rescued my from the R-101. You gave me these last few wonderful months. The things that I’ve seen, the places I’ve been. I’ve lived more than I could ever have dreamed of and all thanks to you. And you’re the sweetest, the kindest, most wonderful man I’ve ever met and I’m sorry its come to this and I’m sorry it has to end like this but if the Web of Time is destroyed all the time I’ve had, everywhere I’ve been, all those fabulous, fantastic things we’ve done they wont ever have happened at all. Don’t let those times be taken away, don’t let it all go to waste. I know its an awful, terrible thing but I want you to do it. Oh Doctor please do it before it’s too late!’

‘I am not the Doctor! I have become he who sits inside your head, he who lives among the dead, he who sees you in your bed and eats you when you’re sleeping. I am become…Zagreus!’

Audio Landscape: Rumbling thunder, overlapping histories, stuttering voices of the Matrix and a terrifying cry of, ‘I CAN’T REMEMBER!’ open the story very dramatically. The TARDIS rides the tail of the time slippage after the time torpedoes hit. The roar of the TARDIS engines as Charley hits the fast return switch is terrifying. One of several filmic moments comes when the Time Lords cut into the TARDIS in environmental suits. The Antiverse Gallifrey is a very atmospheric landscape of ships soaring overhead, bombs falling and crowds jeering. Crossing into the Antiverse sounds desperately painful with Charley’s prolonged screams, engines grinding and voices distorting horribly. The storm lashed planetoid is inhospitable in the extreme. India Fisher’s distorted voice as the Anti Time creature is a menacing purr. You can see the ground cracking open and swallowing the TARDIS with the sound effects alone. The Time Station crashes with real drama…electrics shorting out and consoles exploding. The Anti Time creatures sucking and slurping energies from the Time Station is pretty disgusting. Acid rain falls like ice crystals and voices echo through the air. The fizzing voices of the Doctor and Vansell once infected with Anti Time breaks you out into a sweat.

Musical Cues: Nicholas Briggs’ finest score to date. It is hard to categorise his music but I was aware of it throughout without it ever being intrusive and moments such as Charley’s Peter Pan speech were beautifully underscored.

Isn’t it Odd: That all the fantastic work done in Neverland would be blown on the next 8th Doctor story? But that’s for another time…

Standout Moment: The whole story really but plaudits go to the frankly terrifying cliffhanger to Neverland that kept me guessing for nearly a year to see how it would be resolved.

Result: What else can I say that hasn’t been said above? This is a superb climax to McGann’s second season, brilliantly dovetailing all of the hints that have been whispered throughout the year and bringing the paradox of Charley’s survival to a dramatic climax. I can’t remember a companion ever being given this much focus and India Fisher holds the story together beautifully, both as Charley and Sentris. Gary Russell has assembled a fantastic cast and each them bring something special to the story and his direction is nothing short of masterful throughout. Neverland is a story with a wealth of mind expanding ideas at its disposal but whilst it is thrilling you with its possibility it never forgets to have a heart and the touching scenes between the Doctor and Charley as they realise their partnership may be coming to an end provide the icing on the cake. Alan Barnes has written a thrilling script and it is joyously brought to life by all concerned. Triumphant: 10/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:


Willie Kaminski said...

Fortunately, this sound play doesn't exceed it's invite. Signifying a clean an hour and a half, it may have been really terrible on the off chance that it were extended any more. It figures out how to be pleasant on the exhibitions' quality, as the Eighth's group Doctor and Charley is rapidly soaring up my rundown of most loved TARDIS groups.

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Merlyn said...

Just so you know, it's "nosebung".

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David Pirtle said...

This is amazing. The Chimes of Midnight may be a better story, but McGann gives his very best performance so far in this one. His Big Finish track record leading up to this has been uneven, but Neverland proves just how terrific a Doctor he could have been in any medium. A tour de force performance.

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