Friday, 4 February 2011

Singularity written by James Swallow and directly by Gary Russell

What’s it about: Russia, the near future. The Somnus Foundation knows the fate of mankind; they promise a tomorrow where humanity will evolve into a godlike form of infinite power. They will lead us there, to a destiny that spans the stars. This is how the future will unfold. The Doctor knows the fate of mankind; the human race is destined to fight and struggle for their very existence, to survive disaster and war and carve an empire from an unforgiving universe. He has seen it with his own eyes. This is how the future will unfold. Beneath the towering headquarters of the Somnus, in the streets of Moscow a dark power is building, and a conspiracy that stretches across eternity is nearing completion. Time is fracturing and the Doctor and Turlough are at the heart of the chaos. History is about to change ¤ and the galaxy will burn in its wake...

An English Gentleman: I really like the audio relationship that has developed between the Doctor and Turlough despite the fact that in 76 releases we have only had 3 stories featuring them. It’s also great to move away from both Peri and Erimem and Nyssa for a releases and to have an all male release that is a rarity in Doctor Who. What I really enjoy about Peter Davison’s performances in Big Finish productions is how h really seems to understand the material and with a script as dense and detailed as Singularity you need a strong actor in the central role to give the ideas some meaning and Davison does this superbly. Whilst he is excellent throughout he aces the last scene which is a landmark moment for the Doctor, finally putting the human race to rest. Landing in Russia the Doctor admits they are hardly going to let him back in the Kremlin after what he did last time (ooh intriguing, can we learn more please?). Moscow and he are old friends. When recognised he says he has one of those faces and you could say that he deal with the futures market. The peculiarity of being a time traveller and exposures to the energies of the temporal vortex makes you more sensitive to time rifts. Described as having smug self importance and callous disdain (surely that’s the seventh Doctor?) and that he cannot stop himself from interfering. The Doctor will be punished a billion times over for his betrayal of the human species – now that perked up my attention early on. What on Earth could he have done? When searching for him on the internet odd hits pop up with his alias online. He hates bearing bad news. The Doctor is the furthest thing from an authority figure you are ever likely to meet. He has a family of sorts but every time one of them leaves he ages a few centuries. A slave to his nature? Sometimes he can hear the TARDIS whispering to him. His fifth is described as one his more passive personas! At the end of part three Davison sounds positively pained as he screams ‘You’re killing my ship!’ All of mankind will be his executioner because the Time Lords are responsible for the ultimate death of mankind. Turlough asks if fate is cast in stone why does the Doctor bother to stop and get involved? Only the broad strokes are laid down, it’s the moments between the ticks of the clock where life truly thrives and they can make a difference. Quietly telling the last of humanity to sleep is an awesome moment of quiet intensity. In sharp contrast with Scaredy Cat’s lousy characterisation of the Doctor this handling of his character is very elegantly handled and gives Davison some fantastic opportunities to show what he is capable of.

The Boy with the Eyebrows: An awesome showing for Turlough as well, once against being afforded development on audio he was denied on TV (where he was just shoved in the background and told to act suspiciously). He can’t sleep through a landing and wonders if just for a change it would be nice to ignore these passing stops (I especially love his casual disdain that they have landed on the Earth again). He hates being cold and asks himself if it would too much to ask for a tropical beach with pretty girls (never fear Turlough…Lanzarote and Peri are on the way!). Everywhere they land there is always a damsel in distress waiting to appeal to his better nature and like everybody knows he always tries to fight that! Turlough takes considerable exception to being called English! He is sick of being the Doctor’s passenger and not being warned of the dangers. Showing what a softie he really is, Turlough is particularly good at claming Lena down just by being honest with her, he admits he knows how loneliness feels and like his romance in Loups-Garoux he gets quite close to her. The Doctor never knows what he is thinking which is what makes him such an interesting travelling companion. He isn’t a hero on moral high ground but he does make a convincing argument for not altering the past. Turlough has a cruel streak and has something of the wolf in him (a nice touch of Loups-Garoux there). I loved his admission that had it been one of his family that he could have saved he would have gone but Lena is a better person than him, its great that he is not only a flawed character but an openly flawed one. He hasn’t seen that much of the universe and spits at the idea of being told he looks human saying maybe it’s the human race that looks like that of Trion! ‘Where is the temporal vessel?’ ‘Sod off!’ – come on you’ve gotta love this guy! A ruthless solution is Turlough all over, t
he Doctor would think of something clever but Turlough just smashes his way to freedom! Turlough is more human than Tev will ever be, he tells him to look into his mind where he can see all the friends he’s lost, how he was torn from his home world and family, all the pain and torment and murder and destruction he has been subjected to. He wishes that sometimes the Doctor would just leave things alone but it is commented that actually he might be more like the Doctor than he thinks. People praise both Phantasmagoria and Loups-Garoux for giving Turlough superb material and it is true but for my money his best characterisation is under James Swallow’s steady hand, this story reveals more about his character than his entire tenure in the series.

Standout Performance: I thought both Natasha Radiski and Max Bollinger gave excellent performances as Lena and Pavel, in stark contrast to Scaredy Cat’s vacant characters here were two people caught up in events that we could really care about.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Time doesn’t care about us. It doesn’t care about the lives of the little people. Big events, all that history rolls down like an avalanche and we get crushed underneath. You push time. Time pushes back.’
‘I can’t die in the past!’ ‘Yes it would be a terrible faux pas!’
‘Its still our hate that keeps us warm after all these years.’

Great Ideas: I should point out the cover which is absolutely beautiful and one of my favourites. Many cultures predict the end of the world, the Somnus Foundation know the future of man, they wish to turn us into our own Gods and be at one with the stars. The Somnus predict an invasion of the Earth in the 22nd Century by machine creatures. A time fracture is forming, the formation of a branch point where history is about to diverge off its established path. The Somnus take what you were and keeps it alive and breathing on the Earth but everything that made you a person is relocated – a new tenant moves into your body and you are displaced forever. Ember is the Earth as nothing but ashes, the stars all dead except for the last sun but that is fading now. Entropy has come, the death of the universe. November 30th was Moscow’s worst storm for 30 years and the night Lena’s mother died. Now the Doctor has brought her back she wants to stop what happened. The Somnus are looking to create a group consciousness, to implement the death of identity and total instrumentality. All life of Earth will be shifted from the physical to the meta form. Family makes you make decision you never normally would, Lena committed euthanasia on her mother to end her cancerous suffering and she never told Alexi. I found Pavel’s death quite upsetting because he was a likable guy who we had gotten close to, somebody caught up in the wake of events (take note, Scaredy Cat!). When Time Lords die it is not a peaceful death. The Sleepers choose this time zone to create their singularity because these are the last days of Earth as mankind’s cradle. Soon new technologies will arise, space travel gets easier and humans will start colonising other worlds – they will be spread too thinly to create the singularity. The TARDIS is trapped in the event horizon, powering the singularity. The Sleepers are revealed to be humanity, the last descendants of mankind in a fleeing exodus. They were sentenced to death by the Time Lords, they knew the end of the universe was coming and they opened a gate to another realm leaving the humanity to perish. The conclusion is rooted in human drama to keep it real; Alexi forgives Lena for lying about their mother. The ancestors that the Sleepers so casually abused throw them back where they belong.

Audio Landscape: Another story off and another example of Gary Russell’s direction at its finest – there are a wealth of authentic sound effects that bring Russia to life with some assuredness. The voice of House, the TARDIS sounds like it is being put through the blender at the beginning, traffic teems on the streets, muzak in the Somnus building, aircraft cruising in the air (that’s really subtly done and adds nothing but some realism to the scene), birds squawking, church bells gone mad as the timeline divides, a coffee percolator burbling away, the screaming winds of Ember, a storm breaking with growling thunder, lightning streaks and sheeting rain, smashing a window, bullets whizzing through the air, a funfair, an explosion, rubble falling, electrics shorting, a building collapsing, Russian goes very silent in a eerie scene, Lena’s mental assault, the entire population of Moscow reaching out for the Doctor, the TARDIS screaming in dematerialisation pain, the Doctor and Turlough within the Singularity. Steve Foxon deserves much kudos for whipping up such an incredible atmosphere with his sound design.

Musical Cues: Foxon manages to provide a score, which is both quietly understated but also urgent when required.

Result: Often overlooked, Singularity has a substantial script and a top-notch production and is one of the strongest stories of late. James Swallow deserves kudos for not only providing a fresh new setting but also a cast of interesting, sympathetic guest characters and a wealth of deft concepts to play about with. There is some sublime material for both the Doctor and Turlough and Davison and Strickson once again make an intriguing all male team. The concept of the last of humanity heading into the past and changing their future is one that has been borrowed in the new series but it is not handled with half the audacity or conviction that it is here. This is precisely the sort of layered, confident storytelling Big Finish told far more regularly in its first 50 releases, these days it has to be a huge lurch from the norm to produce something this good. A welcome reminder of how good these audio dramas can be: 9/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @


ali said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ali said...

Davison committed genocide again? Must be Tuesday.

At first, listening to these, I assumed they were a reflection of the Saward era. Wet cement and all that.

Then, as I thought about it, I decided the reason Davison has such dark stories is because the Doctor, in all his forms, has been treated as a figure of menace. One reason why the saccharine episodes of Nu Who come off as forced. (I rarely agree with Moffat but he was bang-on when he said the Doctor does what he does for reasons great and terrible. The most likely answer is, he's trying to atone for civilizations he destroyed.)

Since Davison is, arguably, the most noble of Doctors, in my headcanon I like to think of his regeneration as a great tragedy. Because that was sort of the Doctor's shot at being a decent person. Or settling down, which is hinted at in a few Big Finish stories. But adventures like this seem to make him out to be a bigger monster than all the others combined!

David Pirtle said...

I agree that these Davison/Strickson stories have been increasingly good, at least up to this point. It's always jarringly entertaining to shift from the 5th Doctor's casual chemistry with Nyssa to his somewhat spiky relationship with Turlough. I love that Vislor's strategy of dealing with someone wanting to meddle with their own past is to explain the dire consequences in the coldest possible terms, then simply dare them to go through with it. He really is more like the Doctor than he wants to let on.