Saturday, 6 November 2010

Faith Stealer written by Graham Duff and directed by (yep, you guessed it!) Gary Russell

What’s it about: When the Doctor, Charley and C'rizz find their journey through the Interzone interrupted by a nightmarish vision, they are surprised to find the Kro'ka offering the perfect solution. The Multihaven ¤ a vast array of religions and faiths housed in one harmonious community ¤ appears to offer the perfect sanctuary in which to convalesce. But under the guidance of the charismatic Laan Carder, one religion seems to be gathering disciples at an alarming rate. With the Doctor and Charley catching glimpses of an old friend and C'rizz on the receiving end of some unorthodox religious practices, their belief, hope and faith are about to be tested to the limit. It's time to see the light.

(Considering my allergic reaction to the last season you can imagine my delight in heading back to the Divergent Universe. However…new season, clean slate and I am going to try my damdest to forget what has been and concentrate on what is, to look at these stories in a new light and judge them on their individual merits…)

Breathless Romantic: The Doctor actually gets to have some fun in the Divergent Universe (‘C’rizz be praised!’). Upon entering the Multihaven he is forced to invent his own religion, the Tourists, who start each day with a ritual cup of tea. He keeps seeing the TARDIS and her engines grind away as though she is crying out for help. Unfortunately all the good work to make him witty and fun to be around again is jettisoned when he stops Charley from being brutally murdered. There is no mention of his hunt for Rassilon, which was excitedly whispered at the close of the last story in the Universe. He hasn’t used Venusian Aikido in ages and his hands hurt when he tries. The Doctor has come to believe that C’rizz did the right thing by killing L’da for mercy and is trying to heal his soul on their adventures. He witnesses his worst nightmare, the TARDIS bursting into a million shards and thus is trapped on this planet with no escape. Oddly he can iron over the Bordinan’s death with ‘a sorry loss.’ Never ask him if he has a plan if you are looking to have your confidence boosted. He thinks it is time he came out of the closet, which is about damn time. There are no stunning revelations about the Doctor, no deep insights but Faith Stealer features the most responsible take on his character since Neverland and for that I am grateful.

Edwardian Adventuress: Charley on the other hand makes it abundantly clear that she has nothing of importance to add to the eighth Doctor adventures, especially compared to new boy C’rizz whose background is starting to bubble over nicely. Unfortunately it would take the shocking advent of Charley being dumped by one Doctor and picked up by another who hasn’t met her yet to make her interesting again (and boy does that conceit work). Until then she is mostly useless, a bubbly bit of fluff who comments on the action but rarely connects with it which seems a waste of India Fisher’s talents to me (although there would be some nice stuff for her in The Last and Other Lives). She has been feeling low of late and she thinks the Multihaven debases the very notion of spirituality. When C’rizz began to strangle her I thought she might finally be put out of her misery and rarely have I been so excited to listen to the next disc.
I find it hard to believe that if somebody were choked close to death they would not then row that same person across a lake saying ‘If we can’t laugh at things like this…’ The one moment I felt I had my old Charley back was when she enthusiastically asks the Doctor to try and pilot the fake TARDIS away from the Multihaven just to see what happens!

Chameleonic Creature: Graeme Duff manages to use some of Creed of the Kromon’s less than compelling material to remind us of the guilt weighing C’rizz down. Compelled to kill the woman he loves and re-living it over and over again has left him with some psychic bruising. He isn’t sure if he acted out of compassion or fear and panic. He still has little sense of humour but I doubt that is going to change but he seems a bit gentler, more relaxed in the Doctor and Charley’s company now. C’rizz thinks it is not an unnatural urge to want to fit in even if it is psychically. His mind is almost bleached clean.

Standout Performance: How did the Welsh turn up in the Divergent Universe? Regardless, Chris Wallter-Evans is adorable as the sardonic Bordinan’s Assistant.

Great Ideas: The Multihaven is a city run as a religious forum with innumerable faiths having set up churches, temples and retreats. It is somewhere that you might actually want to visit in the Divergent Universe (which in itself is a great idea). One of the faiths actually worships a product of a hundred uses! Who says a religion has to have a spiritual dimension? The Bordinan actively encourages all faiths. It is rumoured that the Multihaven began when two people argued over their faith in the desert about who worshipped the real God and more people joined in the debate and the city began to form. It’s in the religious leaders best interest to maintain a healthy competition. A spiritual stock exchange? One of the market traders screams ‘Free prophecy!’ – I just love the idea of marketing religion. The Doctor knows a drinking song which is in itself the intoxicant. The TARDIS is described as a recurring miracle. Paper comes from the Paper Draw worshipped by the Paper People. Laan Carder is adept at minor miracles or as you and I might recognise them, magic tricks. The Shrine of Serendipity worships happy accidents (‘Whoops be praised!). Carder wants to turn the Multihaven into a Monohaven with Lucidity the only religion. The Bishop is practically lobotomised by Miraculite which shouldn’t be funny but is (‘Uh oh! It is to do with going back!’). Religion – domination or harmony? The DeFaith Centre run by Garfolt who is a gifted psychic masseur.
I love the idea of the Doctor and Charley shopping around for religions (‘That depends on the carrot’ he says, ‘We’ve got 3 other churches to visit this afternoon’ she says). Carder succeeds in wiping out all major religions aside from a few fringe outfits. Garfolt deletes memories, feelings and beliefs but in actuality he is mentally raping C’rizz and frankly deserves a quick blast of Miraculite. There is a literal mass exodus of religions as the Lucidians take over. Probably the most apt comment on religion comes during a comic exchange: ‘I’m through with blindly following orders. I’ll do whatever you ask of me without question.’ Miraculite picks up what is in your mind and actualises it. Carder is a fake, dreamt up by Miraculite as a bridgehead into this world. Jebdal is going to step into the role of the new Bordinan, having to juggle the reality of hundreds of beliefs just so long as she has a little faith in herself.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Are any of you carrying Gods about your person?’
‘Don’t mind your head on the way out. Whoops!’
‘They pulled a diamond out of my head!’
‘This riot’s a shambles!’
‘Belief without proof, Charley. The foundation of all faith.’
‘Renaissance is futile’ and ‘May your way be strewn with obstacles!’

Audio Landscape: There are lots of crowd scenes with church bells tinkling in the background. The Bocowen Hymn is oddly beguiling (‘Deity and ditty in one’). The TARDIS engines grind and when we go inside it is lovely to hear her gentle purring again. The smooth Miraculite voice is tempting. Water flows as Charley rows and riverside birds call out from the reeds. Gooey foreheads open up to reveal gemstones.

Musical Cues: Soft, harmless, soothing. This is nowhere near Stone’s best work but its pretty good. Quite Spare Parts-ish.

Isn’t it Odd: How awful the cover is? Faith Stealer would have really benefited the Divergent Universe arc had it taken place after Cromon last year, allowing us to get to know C’rizz and have some fun before embarking on the Orwellian horrors of The Natural History of Fear. You could snip out The Twilight Kingdom and run the stories in that order and you would have had a far stronger year.

Result: Faith Stealer is a nice rest for the Doctor, Charley and C’rizz, extended therapy in an imaginatively bizarre setting. It is perfectly entertaining throughout without ever threatening to be gripping, its precisely the sort of fun adventure the Divergent Universe desperately needed. As a discourse on religion it has some wonderfully dry and insane concepts and interesting things to say about the hypocrisy of alternative faiths. It pleasingly explores a diversity of faiths and the sense of community that religion can bring which also condemning the dangers of blind faith in a refreshingly comic fashion. This story wont change your world but its is a little ray of sunshine in this arc: 8/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @

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