Sunday, 10 October 2010

Arrangements for War written by Paul Sutton and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: Onboard the TARDIS, nerves are strained. After escaping the Forge and the murderous clutches of Nimrod, the Doctor and Evelyn have things to talk about. The Doctor's attitude towards death is a subject that these days is too close to Evelyn's heart, and eventually she demands to be set down somewhere where she can be free of him for a while. And so they come to Világ, where the Doctor's meddling lands him in the middle of a truly dangerous liaison and Evelyn meets a man who wants to change the course of her life forever. Love is everywhere. But then war is too. Is it time for Evelyn to leave the Doctor? Or is the choice about to be taken out of her hands? And who is to say what is the beginning and what is the end of love?

Softer Six: Pretty much as soft as the sixth Doctor ever gets, or any other Doctor come to think of it. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to remind myself of how lucky we are to have the Big Finish audios and to remember that this is the same actor who beat up and abused Peri in The Twin Dilemma. If you would have told me then what that this brash, arrogant and prickly Doctor would go on to become cuddlier than Troughton, cuter than McCoy and yet still as quirky as Baker 1 and verbose as Hartnell and Pertwee I would have laughed in your face. Colin Baker is such a fine actor he deserved better than his short tenure on the telly and as a great Doctor Who author said to me recently he has had a far more satisfying and enjoyable tenure on audio now way above and beyond anything he did in his two short seasons. The characterisation of the sixth Doctor in this story is fantastic and if it weren’t for one brief moment in episodes four (it goes something like ‘Nooooooooo!’ which is horrendously overplayed) it would be flawless.

Repeating his statement from the end of Project: Lazarus, he doesn’t always win, he is often the catalyst to terrible events and he can’t go back and change them. When he has needed to rest in the past he has gone to the Eye of Orion and walked and contemplated. Watch how gentle and delicate he is with the wounded Evelyn in the first few scenes; he really cares what she thinks about him. He still enjoys fishing and rock skimming competitions. You have to be able to live with the consequences of your actions and Evelyn can’t live with his. As we all know he is al expert at making speeches and we get to here a political announcement of his in the background that goes on for an age. He wishes he could talk with Evelyn but she is avoiding him, ignoring his calls. He misses her. The Doctor shares a paternal connection with Krista that we haven’t seen since his relationship with Susan, it is extremely affectionate and loving. He never stops to grieve but that is just the man he is. I love the scenes that see him squirming with discomfort as Markus and Krista flirt outrageously. His ridiculous gangster accent (‘Get in the car, doll!’) is hilarious. A Time Lord’s TARDIS is his castle. The Doctor’s reaction when he thinks Krista is dead is one of a parent losing his child, like his world has come tumbling down. His fury and when she is murdered by Pokol is unrivalled throughout his lives, near hysterical, insane, unthinking and perfectly willing to shatter the laws of time to put things right again. It takes Evelyn to remind him why they can’t play God with peoples lives and thus completely her therapy to the same idea. He sits and watches Markus and Krista for a while, two young people in love that he brought back together. Having met him in the future h doubts he will wear his heart on his sleeve. He has been fond of all of his companions and each has been special to him, unique. He’s travelled with his intellectual equals and his emotional betters but no one other than Evelyn has been the whole kit and caboodle. The TARDIS is the second most important woman in his life, after Evelyn.

Learned Lecturer: Evelyn’s story has been meticulously played out over the past four stories to give her the sort of development that some Doctor’s never even achieved. It has been a roller coaster ride of emotions and not always entirely enjoyable because she has become much more than a companion but a good friend and to see her so distressed has made for uncomfortable listening, but utterly gripping all the same. We have been fortunate indeed to have had the unmatchable Maggie Stables on hand to play Evelyn, surely one of the strongest actresses to play such a role and some of the best material as well. Thank goodness her horrors are over for the time being and we can get on with some good old-fashioned adventuring but Arrangements for War is one of the most important stepping-stones in Evelyn’s evolution and its events would return and help her to make a very important decision in her life.

In the opening scenes she is cold, clinical and frosty and her attitude is painful to listen to, the love affair is finally over. Evelyn cannot just switch her emotions off when a n adventure ends and she has been thinking about the Doctor’s ability to do this and it shocks her. She still hasn’t told the Doctor the truth about her heart but confesses she wants to do things with the time she has left, to sample a culture without actively getting involved. She needs time on her own having had enough of his pedantry and avoidance. You might think she is rather hard on him in the first episode but she is trying to handle some very strong emotions. Plenty of things are reminding her of her age these days. Evelyn admits she was coming to the end of her tenure at the university and regardless she is finding travelling a far more stimulating environment but she does miss the communication of ideas (but not the politics). She becomes a Special Envoy in an advisory role. Evelyn’s scenes with Rossiter are a delight; there is a real feeling of warmth and affection between them. I love it when they throw aside their political notes and run off down the beach for a paddle! She feels alive again in a political role, it seems that all she has thought about lately is death and this has been the perfect antidote. Something has been lifted. There is a very telling moment where she accuses the Doctor of letting Cassie and Jem die, falters, and changes her mind – they both let them die. Evelyn makes Rossiter feel as if he can do anything and in an impulsive moment he asks her to stay with him. She tries to convince him to form a coalition to save his people but he needs to know why. As a political prisoner Evelyn is extradited. Her hysteria as she is dragged away is expertly played by Maggie Stables; you could well believe her heart is about to give out there and then. Never handcuff a woman with small wrists and Avon hand cream in her bag. She’s a driven, intelligent woman and leaps off the train to get back to Rossiter and warn him. Evelyn’s confession that she is dying is heartbreaking and her tears will break the heart of even the most hardened fan. When she first met the Doctor he was so strange and exciting she didn’t dwell on her heart problems anymore. She has started to remember her husband’s good points and thinks in his own way he was a truly wonderful man. Her mum used to call her a bookworm and her sister was always the favourite. Rossiter tells her she needs people around her who love her like he does. Watching the Doctor experience what she has been through with Cassie and Jem, she realises that you cannot change what has happened and changes the time co-ordinates to prevent the Doctor from doing so. She comforts him, tells him she doesn’t want him to change because she likes him just the way he is. Now they understand each other better she wants to put this all behind them. Evelyn is going to miss Rossiter.

Wow, that is some stunning development. Again to compare the delicate and shattering characterisation with that of her peers – Charley and C’rizz – the strength of this material shines all the brighter.

Great Ideas: This is a story about character rather than incident but there are some lovely touches. Krista talks of growing up and facing responsibilities, a very potent theme that pervades throughout. Suskind suggests there is dignity in war that is lacking in the sham marriage between Krista and Victor. The states have been locked in tragic and violent disputes and the marriage will unite them. I love a story with a ticking time bomb and the revelation of the Killoran invasion in a months time gives this story and added layer of frisson. The Doctor convinces Markus to declare his love for Krista not understanding what is at stake if he does so. Pokol shoots and slits the throats of his own guards to frame the Doctor. Suskind admitting he was wrong and protecting Krista is a great moment. Markus is killed as the Killoran’s attack the palace and Krista is gunned down by Pokol but because of the Doctor’s interference they died together.

Standout Performance: A superb cast, one of the best. It was going to take a high calibre of actor to win Maggie Stables heart convincingly and Gabriel Woolf does a great job as Rossiter, an extremely incisive and gentle man. Philip Bretherton plays Suskind with just the right level of underhandedness that keeps him interesting and thoughtful at the same time. The star-crossed lovers are perfectly matched; Katarina Olsson and Lewis Rae share some blinding chemistry and acquit themselves well. The lonely weak link is Kraig Thornber’s Pokol who frankly comes across as a comedy character rather than a threatening one (every time he turns up with his gun the Doctor declares ‘Pokol!’ in a wearying voice).

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Oh sod it!’
‘I’m asking you to leave the Doctor.’
‘It’s a building and buildings can be rebuilt.’
‘It’s okay because this was our choice.’
‘We always remember the things that are important to us.’

Audio Landscape: Just who is this Steve Foxon fellow? What an incredible job he does with the sound design and the music, this is the most immersive audio experience for many releases. Vilag comes alive with an authenticity that we haven’t seen for a while in the Divergent Universe and before the story is over you will feel as though you have visited as well. Rossiter makes an impressive speech to a large crowd. Reed’s muffled voice in his helmet. The bomb blast is loud and nasty and traps Krista and Markus in a precarious sounding lift shaft. When Evelyn departs the TARDIS she is greeted by the sounds of children laughing, flowers humming and water trickling nearby. The rebuilding of the palace is all hammering and drilling. Evelyn’s attack is an audio triumph because we share her assault of noise, the flowers singing louder and louder and Krista’s burbled voice. Stones skim across a lake. We hear a dialling phone, walking on gravel and fluting birdsong. I love the sounds of splashing through the thermal baths and how their voices suddenly echo as they head inside. Riots, assassination attempts, gunshots and cameras clicking and flashing. Evelyn’s seaside apartment has rolling surf at the end of her terrace. Pokol’s humming electric rod sounds nasty. Delightful playing about in the sea and giggling. The opening to episode three is fantastic, a montage of a world crumbling into chaos and warfare. Snoring in the cell next to the Doctor. A motorcycle. There is a rumbling train, clunking on the tracks. Evelyn’s heart monitor. The descending Killoran ship. The invasion sounds awesome, chest thumping music, vicious animal growls and warfare. Traffic jams and honking horns. Soldiers jump into a helicopter. Cock their rifles and the craft ascends, blades whirring. Markus and Krista on the bridge in the distance, the water bubbling beneath them.

Musical Cues: Dramatic, dynamic and yet gorgeous and soothing in places as well. The music box plays a sweet tune and it bleeds into the score effortlessly. Some lovely piano work. Episode three opens to attention grabbing drum music. Definitely a top five score.

Isn’t it Odd: Pokol is such an annoying twerp, his sole purpose in this story is to get in the way and turn up at the end and kill Krista. Shame he’s such a comedy stooge because he does some really nasty things.

Standout Moment: Evelyn talking about her mother and ex husband. I was weeping with her.

Result: Romance and warfare combine to make a gripping, heartfelt adventure with the best characterisation for ages and a dedicated cast. This is Evelyn’s story through and through and it is her apotheosis, where she leaps from a great character to my favourite companion. This quadrilogy of stories – Jubilee, Pirates, Lazarus and Arrangements for War - has seen her emotionally crushed and battle scarred and as a result she is a much more vulnerable, lovable character. My only gripe with this story would be that it pushes too hard at the end, I understand the point of the Doctor having to experience loss like this but its portrayal tips the story over into melodrama for a minute or two and the last scene is a little too self congratulatory. However I don’t want to complain about a story which got me this involved, that has a rousing battle in the last episode, some gripping politics and is directed and scored with this much talent. Stables and Baker have become the Big Finish team now and have yet still not been toppled. Arrangements for War is not the Mills and Boon soap that some people represent it as, it has enough action and romance to satisfy both parties. If you are in love with Evelyn this will break your heart, if you’re not, you don’t deserve one: 9/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @

1 comment:

Frederick Ortiz said...

As I catch up on the BF audios from start to finish in terms of the main range, I have to agree, this story was a real gem, not only an excellent follow up to Project Lazerus, but an incredible piece of work with an ending that was (one could say) nearly blatantly copied for that Waters of Mars fiasco during the 10th Doc era.

I also fully agree that the scene where Evelyn talking about her mother and ex husband was a remarkable stand out scene. If the BF Audios were 'televised' adventures, that scene would have cemented Evelyn as perhaps the most iconic companions of them all.