Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The Nowhere Place written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: 2197. The fighter-carrier Valiant has just crossed Pluto's orbital path. Its captain is expecting trouble from alien raiders. She is not expecting the Doctor and Evelyn. She does not believe members of her crew when they say they can hear an ancient bell ringing. A bell that strikes terror into their hearts. 1952. The Turret Class locomotive Ivy Lee is hurtling through the night. On board, there should only be two passengers: both of them carrying documents from the War Office. But now, there are also two unexpected visitors on the train. One is the guard with ill-fitting trousers; the other is an excessively dotty old lady. The Doctor and Evelyn have arrived and 'Time's End' is approaching

Softer Six: I really love how Colin Baker throws himself into whatever is asked from him from Big Finish. The sixth Doctor has tried swashbuckling and singing, he has been eaten by horrible great jellies, he’s even had his heart broken as his best friend comes to terms with the death count in their adventures and Baker has taken on every one of these roles with some considerable skill. The Nowhere Place is another completely different experience for the sixth Doctor, a story where he is afraid of something that he cannot quite get a handle on and Baker adjusts his performance so he sounds just a bit on edge throughout. It’s a superb performance and combined with the terrifying sound effects and subtle, sinister music, the Doctor’s discordant behaviour gives the ambiguous threat a tangible sense. The Doctor panicked so much he let his tea go cold! For the Doctor to admit that something scared him must be serious, especially the sixth Doctor. He panicked when he didn’t recognise the readings from Earth, there was something instinctively wrong about it and for some reason he doesn’t understand why he’s so very afraid. He used to have a handy screwdriver that did his vibrating for him once and he really must get around to building another…and he does have perfect pitch (Evelyn is terrified that the Doctor is going to sing again!). The sillier his stories get the more serious the situation is. When you’ve lived as long as he has you try out all sorts of hobbies and the Doctor has been a trainspotter! He has a great fondness for humans and their planet of origin. The Doctor is the solution, not the cause of the problem. He’s so sick of people pointing guns at him he tells Oswin to shoot him because he isn’t going to hang around and watch her crew tear the ship apart to get to the door. The Doctor dresses up as a train guard and Evelyn laughs that it suits him, distracted by his sartorial elegance! Just like the third Doctor in Planet of the Spiders the Doctor faces his fear and confronts whatever is on the other side of the door. The Doctor is haunted that he wasn’t able to save all those species lost to the door but at least takes comfort that Evelyn is all right. He can’t say that he did the right thing but he did do his best.

Learned Lecturer: Just what you need when you are frightened, Aunty Evelyn and a cup of tea. ‘That’ll help…being smug. Well done!’ – she’s always there to remind him of the social graces. What a little ray of sunshine she is! The Doctor and Evelyn are cheeky with each other and laugh a lot – it’s a very comfortable relationship to listen to. Maggie Stables sounds genuinely frightened after Armstrong is consumed by the door to nowhere. The Doctor suggests it is Evelyn that is the anorak with regards to trains but she replies its just elemental social history! As soon as Evelyn hears the bell she scrabbles for the door in space even to the point of bashing on the TARDIS door to reach it. She laughs her head off at the Doctor’s train guard impression and then adopts the persona of a posh bit of totty affronted by interrogation (‘Well really! How rude!’). Evelyn is pretty scary when she is possessed – demanding the papers or she will kill herself! She begs for the Doctor’s life when Oswin threatens to blow up the TARDIS to stop the advance of the door – she declares he is the one person who can help them. Evelyn really needs to know what was behind the door, what was calling out to her but when the Doctor reminds her of what she felt when it exposed to it she decides this is one adventure she doesn’t need all the answers to.

Standout Performance: Martha Cope really throws herself into her role of Oswin – finally somebody who isn’t charmed by the Doctor but thoroughly pissed off by his intrusion on her ship. All the performances in the first two episodes are gripped by a sense of panic that makes the atmosphere stifling. Nick Briggs provides all the answers in the last episode, his is such a recognisable voice but it’s perfectly suited to the role of the scientist/alien.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You know those dreams…when you go back home, your childhood home and everything’s changed. You know it should be familiar but not one thing is as you remember it. As it should be…’
‘Yes I am! In the dark! And that’s where I’ve been ever since I glimpsed what was in store for your planet, your entire species! Something so alien to the nature of time and space that I was instantly repelled like an animal retreating from fire, like the fear of falling into the pit of hell! Almost as if something primal was triggered within me!’
‘In the insane logic of Time’s End, you’re here at the end of time, you’re on the verge of your first star drive mission, you’re in 2197 AD and probably in countless other times too. Everywhere and nowhere. Time and space are distorted beyond all shape and reason. There’s no order to events. Something that happened a millennia ago could happen in the next second.’

Great Ideas: Captain Oswin’s standing orders are to protect Earth’s solar system from alien raiding parties, which have in the last decade caused unacceptable levels of damage to cargo loads and loss of life in the outer galaxies. A simple door in the hull of the ship, which opens with a terrifying, scream but doesn’t lead into space. A door that is over 50 billion years old. The Ivy Leagh locomotive connected to a spaceship far in the future? The people that hear the bell are attracted to the door and sucked through and it starts attacking more frequently, opening grabbing people. The wing leader drives his shuttle straight into the ship, attracted to the door, and the whole fighter was sucked inside. The walls and the floor was blown away but the door is unscratched, hanging in space. A gigantic mouth wide open mouthing the words ‘Time’s End…’ The only two legitimate passengers on the train are on a mission of national importance. Ridgley’s flights of fantasy – he’s drawing pictures of spaceships, dreaming of striking out amongst the stars. Seeds of humanity’s future like Leonardo Da Vinci design a machine of powered flight. If Ridgley’s papers are lost then mankind will travel no further. Whatever is behind the door tricked the Doctor and Evelyn into going back to 1952, it wanted mankind’s ability to journey into space wiped from history. Trevor’s fantasies are the tiny germ from which those abilities grew, destroy that germ of an idea and the idea may never happen at all. The Doctor lands the TARDIS right in front of the door to block it when it next opens. Two months the Doctor and Evelyn were away and in that time Oswin has had to watch hundreds of her people get dragged away inside the door. Earth as it was fifty billion years ago…that’s where this creature is from? The next species? Time’s End – the theoretical point at which all cosmic laws break down, all the physical forces of the universe depleted and distorted, every action between matter, energy and time beyond all reason, the final moment of destruction for everything, an insane maelstrom of utter chaos caught in the moment before…nothing. Nowhere. No time or space. Creatures, species that have evolved on Earth, ripped out of time and space. What scared the Doctor was the next species, the one after humanity. They are committing genocide eternally because the dream of travelling was their right and they don’t want anybody else to achieve it. A catastrophe that ripped their species out of time couldn’t have been down to a misplaced co-ordinate! The destroyed every chance the Earth has had of producing a successful species, reducing them all to nothing, dragging them out of time and destroying them because they were jealous. If the Doctor saves them then none of the other species would have existed, the human race and countless unknown predecessors. Something turned a simple error into propelling their species to Time’s End – a hue influx of power? Raw energy? The Doctor has seen the future and he knows that the human does realise this species dream, they do reach out and escape from the solar system. Tanya fired the missile that made the Nowhere Place possible, the Doctor changed the trajectory of the ship so that this time Tanya’s ship destroyed the Nowhere Place and billions of possible timelines evaporated within it.

Audio Landscape: Static, intercom, people chatting behind a door, an impressive squadron launch and screaming off into space (very Battlestar Galactica), pouring tea, a bell ringing in the TARDIS, the Doctor’s squarking tracker, fingernails down a metal wall – argh Nicholas Briggs what are you trying to do to me (!!!), the screaming door that seems to eat you as you scream through it, a steam train whistling and signal bell, I love a chugging train, chipping bits of the door, the echoing message to the taskforce, a fighter crushing into the ship makes for an impressive set piece with a groaning hull as a result, people screaming and coughing, the TARDIS moving, whistling wind, the Doctor talking out into the nothingness – a lovely echoing effect, the dramatic influx of raw energy.

Musical Cues: Is that a slightly altered version of the theme tune? It has some creepy screaming going on in the background. Nicholas Briggs is a very atmospheric musician and we haven’t had a score from him in such a long time – The Nowhere Place enjoys the fluting, reverberating just-out-of-the-field-of-vision music that made Time of the Daleks and Neverland such creepy and visual stories. It presses in on you during the scarier moments making them even more claustrophobic.

Isn’t it Odd: A show like Doctor Who has such a wealth of stories that it is impossible not to compare similar stories to see which ones deal with the same sort of material in a better way. It is very unfortunate when two such stories should take place back to back (the closest I can think of before this was Remembrance of the Daleks and Silver Nemesis and I sure hope nobody thinks the latter is the superior piece!). The Nowhere Place shares similar elements with Something Inside (including a mysterious title) but deals with those elements with so much more style it leaves Trevor Baxendale’s story in the dark. Both stories have an unidentifiable threat but with this story it is chillingly realised and dramaticised, they both have scenes of people arguing but here they are scripted and acted with passion, both have the regulars trapped in a frightening situation and Colin Baker and Maggie Stables adjust their performances so we are constantly kept on edge. Oh and The Nowhere Place doesn’t have that disco music repeated over and over and over…the music is genuinely atmospheric. As I said it is unfortunate that we should have two such similar stories in a row and in true survival of the fittest style, Something Inside has its arse well and truly kicked!

Standout Scene: The end of episode three is terrifying – Evelyn possessed on the outside of train, her voice transforming into an alien squeal crying ‘Time’s End!’ The story is haunting, right up to the last scene.

Notes: I really like the cover – it might be the bloke in me but I love steam trains and the ghostly laughing faces gives it a surreal edge.

Result: A strikingly atmospheric production, just hearing that bell and the steam train whistling sends a shiver down the spine thanks to some chilling performances. It’s been an absolute age since we have enjoyed a Nick Briggs written and directed story and this is healthy reminder of just how dramatic his writing is and convincing his direction can be just before he takes over from Gary Russell as producer. The first two episodes build up a suffocating ambiance before the story dovetails into a completely different environment, the Doctor and Evelyn heading onto a fabulous steam train to solve the mystery of the door that sucks people into hell. Baker and Stables are always good value and they seem to get on better than ever here, terrified by the crushing danger that the door represents. The answers are riveting when they come, suggestions of a time long before ours and times to come – opening up a universe of storytelling possibilities. In all honesty I had forgotten all about The Nowhere Place and this was a total surprise – it’s very good indeed: 9/10

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

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