Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Square One written by Stephen Cole and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: In a climate of unease and mistrust, the great time-travelling powers of the universe are holding an historic temporal summit. The meeting will take place on a planetoid impervious to outside attack or internal subversion in any way. But while President Romana walks a knife-sharp political tightrope into dangerous territory, Leela and K9 find themselves attending the summit in unexpected roles. They are hunting for evidence of Free Time activity, but find instead terrors of a different kind time and time again. What impossibilty stalks the planetoid? Who is manipulating time? Can Leela and Romana discover the truth or will they find themselves sent back to square one for all eternity?

Presidential Babe: In the second half of this story it is great for Romana to finally step out of the shadows and take control of the situation. I was starting to wonder if each story would be sending Leela off world and Romana would stay at home and pontificate. Her reaction to the lack of a welcoming party is hilarious; she would have at least expected a few balloons! The fact the Romana did not strike Gryben in the first story even under provocation is taken by the Temporal Powers that Romana’s aims are peaceful. I love the idea that Romana has pre recorded six scathing monologues to be played to the delegates at the Temporal Summit if they begin to squabble! She hates Presidential TARDISes because they have no personality and are so buy-the-book. She expects civility when she is addressed. In the aftermath of this story she steps up to Narvin beautifully declaring in no uncertain terms that she will never sanction genocide. Their political relationship is razor sharp, he questions are impotence and she questions his morality. She’s not as a bad as Leela paints her, and she respects Leela a great deal.

Noble Savage: Again Leela steals the show with some exceptional characterisation. She finds the words of lawmakers exhausting and is only allowed to be a warrior when it suits Romana. She is blissfully unaware that as an exotic dancer she is going to have parade her naked body to lecherous men but K.9 rather wonderfully sums her up as strikingly unusual, colourful, exciting and unfamiliar. Baano questions her innocence wondering if it is part of her act when in reality it is all part of her charm. Leela doesn’t like being trapped inside and objects to being called stupid. Her presence and lifestyle on Gallifrey suggests there might be more to the planet than its xenophobic face. I loved how Leela was the only character (aside from those orchestrating events) to have the instincts to tell that time is being replayed. The Fire Dance of the Sevateem is an exotic delight that I only wish we could have seen! She describes diplomacy as sweeping things under the matting and talking about things until they go away! Leela wonders about how time was so casually wiped over several times, when words and actions are wiped away like footprints in sand surely they mean nothing. Romana sensitively says they mean something to her, and that is what is important. Only Leela cares about what never happened and see meaning in it.

Great Ideas: Even more fascinating and ingenious ideas are summoned into existence and with time being manipulated they have a pleasing air of ambiguous verisimilitude about them (something about the language of this show brings out the lexicographer in me!). Since the catastrophic events that disrupted the Temporal Peace Conference on Archetryx (The Apocalypse Element) the potential Axis powers have been wary of attending a further Summit. Heads of State will only be present as holograms and the official statements will be broadcast. The Temporal Summit is a juicy prospect for any terrorist organisation. I loved the quick mention of the sterile nature of the Time Lords, they don’t like getting their hands dirty in the sexual sense and only watch the exotic dancers. The story of the Monan Host world is a mind-bending concept, created, as it was through a temporal disaster in the distant past. A hyperspatial agglomeration of planet mass was created, the same world caught in multiple stages of its own evolution, all occupying the same co-ordinates. Just think about that for a second, imagine the surface of the Earth broken up into different segments of its own evolution? The most advanced Monan’s on the planet stabilised the world and conquered and rehabilitated their ancestors, repatriating them as one single Monan Host. The random time distortion that ravages their system is the source of their power. Time runs backwards and Leela finds herself arriving on the planet all over again. In the new timeline events have changed and only she can sense it. I loved the idea of the anomalous photograph, its physical evidence of a timeline that survived chronic reversal. There is a small mention of a Beryllium chip (The TV Movie) which I thought was a nice touch. Baano is exposed as the terrorist, a member of Free Time working with an offshoot of the Monan Host and dressed as a servitor to kill Unvoss and drive a wedge between Gallifrey and the other Temporal Powers. V’rell planned to sabotage the Summit for the Monan because when Gallifrey helped them to recover from the ordeal on Archetryx they inserted destructive equations into the foundations of the Host World. They could be activated, unravel and cause entropy, the entire race held to ransom by the Time Lords. However compounding this deceit it is revealed that Hossak was responsible for rewinding time, every time one of the delegates cheated she replayed the record to ensure peace. Romana trumps them all by revealing that the Summit they have been attending has been a fake, one to draw out the enemies of the Temporal Powers and very successful at doing that. That is the reason the Heads of State aren’t attending in person, they are in reality at the real Summit. The planetoid is frozen in time and the time field grips the planet. Norvin is appalled that he has been treated as a puppet (haha) but with Gallifrey’s spin Doctors adjusting the truth the facts are twisted to turn him into a hero, sent to the baloney Summit to flush out reactionaries. Turns out Gallifrey didn’t seed the Monan Host World with extinction equations, they merely had them believe so and the threat of it might have been all that was stopping them attacking the time faring worlds.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We may have mastery over Time but Time will ever judge us.’
‘Gallifrey will fall, it is inevitable now.’
‘It is too late! Time is coming for us!’
‘I will have peace in the universe!’ – Hossack, the ultimate diplomat, rewriting peoples decisions to ensure peace. The only dictator in the universe to destroy free will for benevolent reasons! Love it!

Audio Landscape: The TARDIS cradle hum from The War Games is apparent in the early scenes – I love that sort of attention to detail. The servitors have groaning mechanical limbs and gorgeous voices. Bells ring to signal the start of the Summit. Showers trickle as Leela discovers Baano’s body. Leela’s exotic dance gets quite a rapturous audience! I really liked how Leela’s voice was stretched beyond reason as Time threw her back into the past.

Musical Cues: David Darlington continues to impress, turning off the music when the dialogue is important and grinding away with fantastic organ music as things spiral out of control. There’s a real techno feel to some of the incidental music, the sort of think Keff McCulloch assaulted our ears with but done well!

Standout Moment: I loved the gripping race against time climax that saw Romana and Leela trying to stop time rewinding and all the revelations they have exposed buried.

Result: A thoroughly enjoyable second instalment, one which establishes time as a dangerous and malleable force. Steve Cole is an extremely undervalued author and his best work (Ten Little Aliens, Plague Herds of Excelis, Timeless) has proven to be thoroughly entertaining. Square One is one of his best scripts, taking Gallifrey’s role in the universe and suggesting there are far more secrets in the planets history that we haven’t yet discovered and that perhaps even Gallifrey itself has been privy to a little temporal nip and tuck. One thing Cole always captures well is dialogue so he is perfectly suited to the audio format and his handling of Leela is especially strong, the noble savage developing a very welcome presence in the series. The plotting is rock solid and dazzles with some clever twists and once again we are left with the impression that these stories will have consequences: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/12-Gallifrey-Square-One

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