Friday, 17 September 2010

Excelis Rising written by David A. McIntee and directed by Ed Salt

What’s it about: A thousand years after his first visit to the planet Artaris, the Sixth Doctor returns. As the city of Excelis spreads her Empire throughout the globe, death follows a mysterious Relic through the halls of the Imperial Museum. As the Doctor helps the Curator and the local authorities with this mystery, he finds himself crossing paths with a familiar face from Excelis' history - but no-one lives for a thousand years, do they?

Softer Six: After listening to Omega and Excelis Dawns which examined what made the fifth Doctor tick, Master which delved into the seventh and than Zagreus which explored aspects of 5, 6. 7 & 8 it is nice to listen to a story which is not trying to alter our perceptions of the Doctor but just tell a bloody good story with him in it. The sixth Doctor bursts from the TARDIS in this story and rushes into action and he proves to be intelligent and foolish, witty and verbose. It is an underrated virtue to just enjoy a Doctor Who story that is not trying to say something about the main man. He’s travelling alone and there is no talk of companions so this could be post Trial, pre Evelyn. Like a giddy child, he loves dinosaurs! He hates to brag (hmm) but considers himself an expert in the field of crime. He is pretty hard to forget in his get up (although most people do try) and he goes where he pleases. Typically he only reads the cartoons and does the crosswords in newspapers. He is frequently falsely accused of serious crimes and has an aptitude for confession. His age is a shade over 900. Interfering in people’s affairs has gotten him into quite a lot of trouble lately (you could put this story safely after The Wormery and before The Marian Conspiracy).

Great Ideas: My favourite idea in this story is the very simple way Maupassant assumes that because the Doctor is wearing a different body than his last encounter with him he has somehow possessed another body. Same mind, different body. It’s a lovely little conceit that has never been posed before. The cover is clearly photo shopped but it is pleasingly evocative all the same. The Relic is now being held in a secret room in a museum in the Empire of Excelis. It is described as the afterlife in your hands and has granted Grayvorn a thousand years of life with the Mother Superior invading his mind. Excelis is awash with spiritualism; séances are used to contact the dead for evidence in crimes. Structural phonograph experiences are buildings that store the personalities of those that undergo intense personal experiences with the walls. McIntee used the idea again in his novel, The Eleventh Tiger, and its was just as enchanting there. The séance is rigged to point the finger at the Doctor but it was Grayvorn who hired Solomon to let the thief steal the Relic. It is the gateway to heaven or hell through which all souls must pass through and Grayvorn wants dominion over them all. He hasn’t slept in over ten centuries and has hallucinations, waking dreams, which manifest in periods of madness. You can’t speak in two voices at the same time, Grayvorn makes a terrible mistake killing the thief and the curator, he can only manipulate one voice during the séance. He wants to use the Relic to transfer his mind into another body, away from the Mother Superior and hopes to use the Minister’s corpse to pour his essence into. Maupassant is trapped in the fabric of the building whilst Mother Superior tumbles into the afterlife.

Standout Performance: I always adore Charles Kay; he is one of my favourite actors. Anthony Stewart Head sounds far more comfortable in this story, and makes much more of an impact as the silky voiced Reeve. I really couldn’t tell that the actors weren’t genuinely interacting.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Someone will die here someday, and when they do, even if it’s a hundred years from now, I shall be waiting…waiting…waiting…’

Audio Landscape: David Darlington ensures this pre industrial setting really comes alive and whilst a lot of the sound effects are simple there was something very crisp and satisfying about the production of this story. There is a fabulous church bell alarm and it dies away suddenly leaving a ringing in the ears. The location is beautifully brought to life in a quick scene, which has no bearing on the plot and contains no dialogue but takes us out into the streets of the Excelis Empire which steam trains, town criers and bicycle bells all creating a vivid backdrop. Grayvorn’s nightmares are of battle, clashing steel, war cries and explosions. The blades of a helicopter cut through an exterior scene. The séance is nicely underplayed and all the creepier for it, a strong beating heart and lifeless voices. The dying screams of the Mother Superior and Grayvorn mix to make an ear piercingly dramatic climax.

Musical Cues: Much, much better than Excelis Dawns, Darlington provides a wonderfully relaxing piano score to open the story that’s far more pleasing than the repetitive quest soundtrack for the last story. There are some dramatic electric guitar stings. There is a wonderfully atmospheric piece of background music in the séance scenes, a modulated church bell. Dramatic church organ music greets the thief’s death.

Result: At only 70 minutes long wand with 70 minutes worth of material this was a refreshingly natural piece of storytelling, which has a far more charming backdrop than the opening story. With Charles Kay, Colin Baker and Anthony Head on board you have a strong cast that make the most of their time and keep the plot ticking along nicely. The direction by newcomer to the Doctor Who range Ed Salt is very good indeed, gone is the flashy trickery employed by Russell and Briggs, Salt brings the actors to the fore and provides some pleasingly subtle atmospherics. I don’t really have much to say about Excelis Rising, it isn’t the strongest story I have ever heard but it really doesn’t do anything wrong and I really enjoyed listening to it. The overarching plotline still doesn’t set my world on fire but some of the elements introduced in Dawns were at least handled quite effectively here. Solid: 7/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @

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