Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Next Life written by Alan Barnes & Gary Russell and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: "All things must die." Washed up on the sandy shores of a paradise island, a wild-eyed shipwreck survivor is rescued by the wife of Daqar Keep, the richest man in the galaxy. Her name's Perfection. He's the Doctor. Together, they face a journey into the dark heart of this mysterious island, to discover the deepest secrets of this timeless cosmos. That's if the giant crabs, killer crocodiles and murderous natives don't get them first. Meanwhile, fellow travellers Charley and C'rizz have their own ordeal to endure, in the grip of the Doctor's most dangerous rival. And in a universe that's facing extinction, even the best of friends may soon become enemies... This life is almost over. And not everyone will make it to the next...

Breathless Romantic: It has to be said that whereas the Barnes/Russell team got the regulars characters so totally and utterly wrong in Zagreus they more than make up for it in The Next Life. In fact aside from a few juicy fates of the villains in the final few scenes I would probably say the characterisation is the strongest thing about this story. The Doctor is probably the weakest of the three but he’s still very well done and this is easily the loosest we have seen this incarnation (and Paul McGann) since way back in Invaders of Mars. Its almost as if the Doctor has had enough of his grumps and the daft suggestions of menace in this universe and has just decided to have a wail of a time taking on giant crabs and rescuing damsels in distress! McGann really seems to appreciate the more romantic material and he plays the character with more conviction than we have seen in ages. Very well done.

The Doctor is really, really, really happy to have the TARDIS back. Ecstatically, verbosely, excitedly happy! Described as having pale skin and shaggy hair. He seems to enjoy flirting with Perfection, offering a saucy comment here and there. Rassilon tries to paint two very different pictures of the Doctor – one whose fault it was that L’da died and one who has been lying about the infection of Zagreus energies (ha! That would mean he slapped Charley about in Scherzo for kicks!) and both of which could have a touch of truth about them. Apparently now he is almost free to jump back into his own universe he wants to dump Charley and C’rizz…if only that were true! Suggests he was brought up in the Gallifreyan gutter. He thinks women’s intuition is seriously underrated. The Doctor has known plenty of women in his time but none like that. I loved the scene where he decries that the world is going to be destroyed and he doesn’t care! Doesn’t he ever tire of being so good? He promises the Kro’ka the TARDIS and means it. The Zagreus energy thinks that it is good for the Doctor. He wants to go back to his own universe more than either Charley or C’rizz but their friendship means more to him and so he lays down the law, they are all friends or they aint going home. Whilst I could think of better times to have it out than their rapidly shrinking window of escape it is so nice to see him finally force them to air their grievances and reconcile. It’s about time somebody bashed the three of their heads together!

Edwardian Adventuress (Yadda Yadda Yadda!): Wow. I was extremely impressed with how the great Barnes/Russell writing machine dealt with Charley here. After their poisonous characterisation of her in Zagreus (I know its pointless to say it again but just because it always gets a laugh… ‘You’re dumping me!’) I was cringing at the thought of another epic that charley would play a large role in but rather than take her down further routes of horror they take the opportunity for her to reflect on her adventures with the Doctor and see how she has changed. This is very healthy for Charley who has already starred in double the amount of stories most companions are privileged to. Not only that but she shows some real balls here; she’s feisty, independent and pretty frightening in places! Me likes this gutsy, outspoken Charley who speaks her mind and never once mentions her feelings about the Doctor! It reminds of the fabulous Charley who later travels with Sixie!

Charley is the expert at saying ‘What’s happening, Doctor?’ melodramatically! Her Uncle Jacques lived in Cairns and when she visited him every summer he taught her French and to eat frogs’ legs. I love Charley’s diplomacy with the TARDIS, ‘Listen here you dizzy cow of a TARDIS!’ She is been around with the Doctor far too long to be surprised and seeing her mother in a universe where she couldn’t possibly exist doesn’t faze her in the slightest. God and the afterlife don’t feature highly in her list of priorities anymore.
In a thoughtful moment she ruminates on what it must be like to have a long and healthy life only to be cut short by a horrible death. I loved her admission that she has become desensitised to death, that she doesn’t care anymore. She can’t remember Rathbone’s name (Storm Warning) but she will never forget his face when he died. There is no next life, there’s only one and she plans on making it count. Charley feels she has lived a full life already. A spoilt little rich girl flirting with some rough stuff – Charley and Merchford? ¤¤¤¤ me, when Charley calls the Kro’ka a ‘malicious piece of excrement in need of a damn good hiding!’ I flinched! Throughout the story she becomes unsure as to where the Doctor’s priorities lie and since he never wanted her in this universe in the first place she wonders if her would turn on them to get home. Charley has been to Crystal Palace. She was never involved in fox hunting back home; she loved the jacket and the horses but couldn’t handle the killing of an innocent animal. Sissy was different, she came home covered in blood and loving it and that was the day that she changed, and Charley too. She has the English Rose tint to her skin. She thinks on her feet too and convinces that a catapult is a ‘Gallifreyan death hurler’ with which ‘the gobstoppers will have your eyes out!’ Hmm…panicking and screaming in the jungle has more than a whiff of Gillian McKeith about it. Perfection makes disparaging remarks about her weight, which is the start of a beautiful relationship. If she weren’t such a well brought up young lady she would recognise Perfection for the sort of woman she is (and I howled when someone calls Perfection a whore and Charley casually chips in ‘if the cap fits…’). I love it where she goes in for a trademark moan and sighs and says ‘you know what? I haven’t got the energy.’ She loves spooky old caves and tunnels. Her seal impression (‘arf arf arf!’) is hilarious! Imagine a whole season of Charley and Perfection and their bitchy banter (‘You cold heartless cow!’). C’rizz gets in on the bitchy act and ask Charley ‘haven’t you got any bunnies to boil?’ Hahahaha! Charley admits that she doesn’t want to share the Doctor and that she has always thought he needed her when it has always been the other way round.

Chameleonic Rogue: What’s this now? A story which stretches to over three hours where C’rizz doesn’t suck? Where he is treated some detailed and extraordinary backstory and allows Conrad Westmaas to emote without me wanting to scratch his eyeballs out? A story where C’rizz turns his back on the Doctor and still manages to be achingly cool? Either I have been at the Merlot or Russell and Barnes have really got their act together.

He is the Utermizen with the every changing epidermis, C’rizz the colourful chameleon! My God he’s even having fun, changing colours for a laugh (although blue and yellow polka dots are a bit beyond him!). C’rizz drank as though it was his last day alive the day before his wedding and his father gave him the Moonstone. 20 minutes into their marriage the Kromon attacked. Now that’s what I call timing! His ‘next life’ was supposed to be as a husband. We learn that L’da was not the first person that C’rizz killed, that he had a penchant for bringing peoples life to an end and allowing them to find peace, to get them into the next life. When L’da found him he was very disturbed and she brought him back to sanity. With L’da gone are those feelings brewing up in him again? Rassilon threatens to tell Charley about all the people he has murdered, to let her hear the voices of the dead in his head, all his victims. He likes the Doctor but he has never stopped to questions his motives. I laughed my head off when he took the Michael out of Charley’s love for Time Lords! Meeting up with his father again, Guidance attempts to purge him of the unruly alien thoughts the Doctor and Charley have put in his head. It was C’rizz that guided the TARDIS here. Does he genuinely think that all things must die? Rassilon promised him L’da and everything back how it was before the Kromon which is a promise the Time Lord can keep. The universe repeats itself and everybody who has ever lived is reborn. However he would have to relive losing her again and the pain that came with that. He is chameleonic socially and mentally. I would have loved to have seen more of a series of Rassilon and C’rizz together – I think they would have made a great pair with the Kro’ka around to bug them! He doesn’t know who he is or what he is capable of but he wants to be with the Doctor and Charley and see how he changes in their universe.

Standout Performance: Don Warrington has a fabulous silky voice that I could listen to all day. Whilst I would probably be able to see through Rassilon’s manipulation, Warrington’s soft conviction really sells his insidiousness. Paul Darrow has a similar velvety voice, which is gorgeous to experience; his portrayal of Guidance is a world away from melodramatic Tekker or camp icon Avon. Its nice to see Daphne Ashbrook back in Doctor Who but it’s a real shame she couldn’t be playing Grace because that would have been very interesting – she seems to really relish the full flirtatious Perfection and until she has to ham it up as Zagreus she was great fun to be around. However my money goes on Conrad Westmaas who gets to really bare his teeth in this story, have some fun and share some terrific bitchy scenes with India Fisher.

Great Ideas: The TARDIS is going backwards in time in a universe with no time. The Kro’ka uses the dream weaver to create versions of Lady Louisa Pollard and L’da to manipulate Charley and C’rizz. Was Rassilon infected with the time energies? Is that why he turned bad? Of course not…he snuffed out the Divergents and bottled them into a dead end universe!
A blue planet (the hand of some unknown creator or the boon of a long extinct species?) hurtled through the galaxies, destroying all life, reverting them to primordial youth or ageing them to death. Bortroysoe is the crucible world. The Divergents began experiments with Rassilon’s help. A creature was forged – Time – the true Divergent and escaped into another galaxy. Seeing how a random element would affect the development of life – the sound creature, the Kromon progeny, the alien cave, Lanskar…all of them evolving beings somehow changed by the Doctor’s arrival. Keep wants to repopulate the universe in hi image with Perfection as Eve to his Adam. Keep is revealed to be a result of the Doctor and Charley’s joining in Scherzo. Rassilon has been hiding in the TARDIS all along and promised the Kro’ka he would take him away from this universe. The insects that attacked the Doctor and Charley in Kromon was Keep keeping an eye on them after his creation. Rassilon has lived his life in this universe 84 times already trying to make his way back to his home universe. He is zapped back to year zero again with Kro’ka and they land in the circular corridor from Scherzo. Perfection is Zagreus; she took over the dead body of the real Perfection when she killed herself. The Doctor/Charley creature and the Doctor/Zagreus creature join forces to take on the Divergent Universe…look what a difference the Doctor and Charley’s visit is about to make on this universe… The Doctor walks back into our universe and slap bang into a bunch of Daleks and Davros! Give the guy a break!

Great Dialogue: ‘Can’t have you dying when there’s so much suffering to be had.’
‘So yaboo Kro’ka with knobs on!’
‘You’ve got villain stamped through you like a stick of Blackpool rock!’
‘They should find it most diverting…’
‘Just get lost, Zagreus!’ Woohoo! My sentiments exactly!
‘Ah Doctor. Welcome back. I…we have been waiting for you…’

Audio Landscape: Forest insects and wildlife, song birds, the TARDIS groans as it tries to resist landing, whipping wind, alien church bells, Kromon weaponry, heart monitor, waves crashing on a beach, snappy crabs, screeching ten foot crustations, being shot, soothing jungle noises, worms and beetles (ooh crunchy) being eaten, elephant hoots, bubbling bogs, rhinos, monkeys chittering, blood gushing from a wound, the Scherzo tunnel, the Dalek hum and screaming Dalek voices. A superb production.

Musical Cues: Reminiscent of Zagreus (which I took as a bad sign) but with a much better story to guide. Sweeping, epic and gorgeous to listen to. The bongo drums are very native.

Isn’t it Odd: It’s a Divergent Universe story…of course there are still problems no matter how much I ejaculate praise! God knows what was going on in the teaser and by the time the answers came I had forgotten all about it! I loved Charley’s line ‘The Doctor’s always trying to suppress the Zagreus energies! Actually I can’t think of the last time he mentioned it!’ Is this supposed to be a diversion from the fact that this arc really hasn’t been well thought through – why on Earth point out its faults? All the ‘call of the wild’ nonsense in the jungle is nothing but hours of endless padding. ‘Grace? There’s not Grace here…’ – groan. Given all my problems with this arc on the whole I cannot believe that after all this build up for the Divergents that we never get to see them! Russell and Barnes should have taken note from the Future War arc in the EDAs where they also build up this horrendous foe that was going to destroy the Time Lords only for them to never appear! I would have hacked away some of this mumbojumbo jungle nonsense and found a way to write them in. The way they are so casually written off as having been absorbed by Keep is pretty insulting to the faithful fan that has stuck out this arc. The explanations that pulls in all of the other stories in this arc feels really hackneyed, like Barnes and Russell had re-listened to all the stories and desperately looked for links between them to give some reasonable payoff. Whilst the payoff would be really good the reappearance of the
Daleks at the end of this story fails to work as a cliffhanger (for me at least) because it feels as though the company is really running out of original story ideas. Is Rassilon destined to live his life in this pitiful Divergent Universe over and over? What a painful end for a once great character.

Result: Far better than I was expecting but not as good as it could have been, The Next Life ends the Divergent Universe on a reasonably entertaining but ultimately unfulfilling resolution. On the one hand it is an atmospheric production with lush soundscapes, lovely music and some fantastic performances. The characterisation of the regulars genuinely rocks with the Doctor looser than he has been for ages, Charley gaining some healthy development and C’rizz finally sharing his backstory! On the other hand there is no pace to the story, the plotting is non-existent and there is a painful lack of incident. The story could happily be half the length without losing any of its developments or resolution. And yet for all my complaints even when The Next Life is indulging in ridiculous beetle eating padding it is oddly quite fun to listen to. Barnes and Russell have learnt some lesson from Zagreus, giving the material some meaning and bounce. Does it conclude this two-season arc satisfactorily? Not in the slightest, its explanations are confused and its revelations pretty bland. Does it provide a good time? On the whole yes. It’s a hard one to judge but considering I managed to race through the last four parts in one go after two weeks of avoiding them I think I’m inclined to lenient: 7/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @ http://hisi79.deviantart.com/

1 comment:

Alistair.servan said...

I really didn't care for the whole pocket universe story arc, but this story was so much fun. It was worth buying just to hear Charlie threaten the baddie with a sweet shot. Priceless.