Sunday, 19 September 2010

Excelis Decays written by Craig Hinton and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: When the Doctor last visited the city of Excelis, its citizens were about to enter an age of enlightenment and reason. But some centuries later, he discovers a vicious totalitarian regime at war with the rest of Artaris, living off the efforts of a drugged and broken underclass. Who is the mysterious Lord Sutton, and what hold does he have over the ruling classes? What are the Meat Puppets, and what role do they play in the eternal war? And why is the Doctor's arrival the final piece in a plan that has been centuries in the making? Throughout his lives, the Doctor has fought legends. But some legends refuse to die.

The Real McCoy: Craig Hinton was such an avid Doctor Who fan and he simply adored filling gaps in continuity. Here he accomplishes something rather wonderful by revealing the moment the seventh Doctor gave the TARDIS an overhaul towards the end of his life and we get to hear the very first purrs of what would become the McGann console. In a delightful moment of intimacy between the two of them he gives the TARDIS autonomous control and is willing to go wherever she wants to take him. He growls that he doesn’t like dictatorships (although to be frank Doc I think few people do, except the dictators themselves). He is a believer in justice and thought that after his last visit to Excelis he had left it in safe hands. He finds deliberate restrictions of intellect diabolical. The Doctor admits that he’s done enough travelling back and rewriting in his time. There’s not much in the way of Excelis security that he can’t bypass. He loves delving into old books and studying history, he seems to get a genuine thrill for it in this story. Some might find his comments that the collapse of an Empire is a small price to pay for freedom a little callous and thoughtless but I found that it suited the post-New Adventures Doctor perfectly. It almost mirrors his actions (and reactions) in Jim Mortimore’s Eternity Weeps perfectly. As soon as he arrives chaos and rebellion spread like a virus. It was the Doctor’s soul that drew him back to Excelis, when he first touched the Relic a little part of him was absorbed into it. Sutton is privy to his thoughts and desires, his knowledge of other worlds and his enemies, their armaments and weaknesses. After the devastating concluding events he wants the TARDIS to understand that he had no other choice. It seems that without a companion to justify himself to he turns to his closest friend. He even questions whether he deserves to go to heaven or hell. Some of this characterisation is melodramatic but I found it mostly effective, the seventh Doctor in his twilight days questioning whether he has done any good.

Great Ideas: People who refuse to fight in wartime, ethically challenged or deserters? The postindustrial Excelis is a world of factories belching smoke, creating machines of war, a totalitarian dictatorship where to question the party means death. Philosophers were hanged and churches were burnt. Treasure is being added to the water, the food and the wine, it is a drug that is used in the munitions factories to keep people mellow and prevent any thoughts of revolution. Books are forbidden and nobody is taught to read these days so nobody really misses them. Grayvorn used to be a barbarian but society has had such a civilising effect of the years. Souls on Arteris are immortal, born again and again and can be harvested. The Meat Puppets are lumps of biomass that with implanted souls. One soul can animate hundreds of the Elite. The Elite are next evolutionary step for the people of Excelis. Wartime is described as the Age of Reason. The Arteris Convention was drawn up to bring the war to a conclusion but peace is always a difficult concept to those steeped in war. At the end of Excelis Rising, Maupassant was imprinted into the building as a psychic matrix and he learnt, over time, to influence and possess visitors to the museum. With one unfortunate his possession became permanent and he could displace the mans soul and change his appearance. Grayvorn (or Maupassant or Sutton whatever you want to call him!) wants the TARDIS and with it, the Relic and the Meat Puppet technology he will take his war out into the universe. He will use the Doctor’s knowledge of Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans and all will fall before his army. The Doctor describes the Relic as a celestial aberration that Grayvorn has spent a millennia exploiting. The Doctor frees the souls inside the Relic but Grayvorn manages to unleash thousands of nuclear warheads on Excelis, leaving it a blasted wasteland.

Standout Performance: Aside from some dodgy characterisation at the end once again Anthony Stewart Head revels in his villainy, playing Lord Sutton as an unhinged, slightly hysterical tyrant.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Your crime is your very existence!’
‘Sometimes what’s left out of the history books is more important than what’s left in.’
‘I will see the universe aflame!’
‘Madness and genius are qualities that are often confused.’
‘It ends here! It ends now!’

Audio Landscape: The overall sensory experience was somewhat lacking in this story, the sound effects weren’t especially apparent and besides you are assaulted with so much exposition you don’t really concentrate on the atmospherics. However I did like the bleak, Blake 7ish ending complete with a similar sounding alarm and the assault of nuclear warheads detonating.

Musical Cues: The music is extraordinary, it bangs and clashes like machinery and really suggests we have entered an industrial age for Excelis. A world of war. Kudos. It is the best score for the quadrilogy.

Isn’t it Odd: After presenting us with a powerful warrior and a thoughtful law enforcer it is quite sad to see Grayvorn reduced to another insane despot that wants to take over the universe. And in true Zagreus/Rassilon style our lasting impression of the character is his pathetic mewling and begging for the Doctor to take him with him before the planet explodes. His characterisation in this story is pretty strong until the last ten minutes where suddenly ‘I will set the universe aflame!’ and ‘If I can’t have Excelis, no-one can!’ It’s an undignified end to a character who was just starting to intrigue.
I can’t imagine fan boys getting that excited by the return of Yee Jee Tso to Doctor Who and clearly audio work is not his forte, as he displays none of the charm he did during the TV Movie. His performance is extremely plastic.

Result: Another oddity, unfairly maligned but with a heap of problems all the same. Dawns had a jolly old time setting up the location, Rising enjoyed an atmospheric continuation of the story but only Decays bothers to use the setting to tell a story of its own, a world of politics, warfare and diabolical experiments. It’s not as funny as Dawns, or as enjoyable as Rising but even though it revels in clichés it has more substance than either of them. However a lot of the gritty backdrop is revealed through exposition and hackneyed dialogue. I’m still not certain where the Excelis storyline is leading or indeed after this conclusion it has anywhere else to go. On the plus side the score is excellent, McCoy once again scores a hit with his post NA Doctor and the ending is gripping. Shame that Anthony Head should work so hard to make the empty character of Grayvorn/Maupassant/Sutton interesting only to have the character take a complete turn into stereotypical villainy: 6/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @

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