Friday, 18 March 2011

The Settling written by Simon Guerrier and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: Note to Sir Arthur Aston, governor of the town of Drogheda, 10 September 1649. "Sir, Having brought the army belonging to the Parliament of England before this place, to reduce it to obedience, to the end effusion of blood may be prevented, I thought fit to summon you to deliver the same into my hands to their use. If this be refused, you will have no cause to blame me. I expect your answer and rest your servant. O. Cromwell."

The Real McCoy: The very idea of the Doctor fighting his own battle to save the life of one child is beautiful, especially this Doctor. I would have loved to have seen McCoy; the darkest of all the Doctors tackle the labour scenes on the telly. It’s perfect for his impish character to be forced into such a humanistic role. He used to take on the universe single handedly, small mans complex – what a great way to describe the old master manipulator. The Doctor wants to leave as soon as he realises they have landed in the siege of Drogheda. Evasive and mysterious when pushed to talk about his experience with historical figures – wow he’s changed, the fourth and sixth Doctors bragged all the time! The Doctor comforting Mary over the death of her husband is very poignant and when he discovers what he thinks is Ace’s body he can barely bring himself to talk. He’s so sweet telling Mary stories as she is giving birth to distract her and make her laugh, I wish we could see this side of the seventh Doctor more often, he’s lovely! I love his fury when Cromwell shoots Mary in cold blood just moments after giving birth; he feels like it has all been in vain.

Oh Wicked: I really enjoyed the framing device of Ace and Hex wandering around the TARDIS discussing the action in the story in retrospect. Its very healthy character development for both regulars for the audience to see how the horrors of warfare have affected them but more importantly you can see the emergings of a very close friendship that continues to provide a great reason to look forward to the seventh Doctor audios. Even more vital than both though is the adult material that is offered to Sophie Aldred and she gives possibly her best performance since The Fearmonger way back in the misty dawn of Big Finish. I really like this new and improved mentor-for Hex Ace; it’s a far cry from the horrendous Eastenders stereotype she was in stories like The Rapture. Ace climbed the snowy mountain in the TARDIS once. She tells Hex about Gabriel Chase and how the Doctor took her there deliberately to face her demons. The Doctor leaves Ace in charge of Hex and she asks for a gun to defend herself, knowing how they treated women in this time. Ace wants to see history up close and personal against Hex’s advice that it is a really bad idea. She blames herself for not looking after Hex properly, for losing him in the battle. Turns out she was called Dorothy because Audrey loved The Wizard of Oz. Doesn’t think of herself as much of a feminist. Ace’s remarks that they can do something is misinterpreted by Hex who thinks he’s in for a good time – she’s got somebody who really fancies her there but she thinks of him like her little brother. It’s Ace who begs Cromwell for Hex’s life.

Sexy Scouse: A real coming of age story for Hex. Here he goes through age old lesson of realising you cannot make a real difference to history but brought way up to date by Simon Guerrier putting Hex right in the face of the horror of battle. The Doctor wanted to teach him some practical skills. He just wanted to be by himself all the time. Hex refuses to leaves, he wants to help out on the battlefield with the injuries. There is a lovely chemistry between Ace and Hex developing, he calls her a southern wuss when she is cold in the chilly mountain climate. Philip Olivier plays Hex’s panic on the battlefield with such realism, you genuinely feel that he is terrified of the oncoming battle and completely out of his depth. He’s not religious but seeing a church on fire is just wrong. Being in the thick of the action is nothing like you see on the news, bodies everywhere you look, guts all over the street. He can’t get his head around the idea of people hurting each other like that. I love how Hex mouths off to Cromwell, appalled that he would consider killing people they have captured when they have already slaughtered most of the town. Its nice to have Hex trying to understand Cromwell, the fireside scene where he tells him the brutality of his men is wrong and that you cannot justify wholesale slaughter on moral grounds sees Mr Schofield at his defiant best. Cromwell asks Hex to help him be a better man and help settle Ireland more peaceably. There’s a great scene where Hex gets very comfortable in his role of biting at Cromwell and Oliver turns on him in fury screaming how dare he advise him on military tactics and once again Hex sounds terrified. This is a terrifically capricious relationship. What they did to Wexford was a direct result of Hex fighting, Cromwell feeling betrayed because Hex stands against him. Hex talks about leaving the TARDIS, the Doctor and asks Ace if she would go with him. He sounds downright hysterical when James is killed, screaming in fury at his murderer. Astonishingly he puts his head in the noose and walks up to the gallows in quiet acceptance of his fate perhaps because of all the horrors he has seen. By rights he should have died with the people of the town and he thinks that would have been right. He still has doubts about their lifestyle – Ace makes out that its always better when the Doctor arrives and its okay to leave people to their fate if history decrees it – but its not like that, he’s not like that. He wants to keep travelling with them but he’s not sure he’s good at it.

Standout Performance: Clive Mantle really throws everything into his performance as Cromwell, its much more than just another famous actor playing a guest part in Doctor Who – this is a genuinely spellbinding interpretation of a historical character. Cromwell as portrayed by Mantle is unpredictable and terrifying but also capable of moments of great warmth and character.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘No man’s ever made a success of Ireland!’
‘What we did there has been justified. Once word got round about that no other town would hold out to us. It saved thousands of lives on both sides. It was worth it. It had to be done!’ –Cromwell excusing the atrocity at Drogheda as a warning to others.
‘This’ll keep you warm wee babby…’ – you just want to kiss the Doctor when he says that.
‘Wounds are better avoided than cured.’
‘I spent the best part of today keeping her alive!’

Great Ideas: Does the TARDIS latch onto important events in history, ones that are so big they affect the vortex? Ending up where trouble happens like moths to a flame. Lemon tress in the library? The women and children got to the boats but the boats sunk under the weight.

Audio Landscape: A whistling wind, explosions, men screaming, a bloody battlefield that sounds very chaotic and violent – very authentic, walking through muddy puddles, drums bashing, a grenade exploding, clashing steel, crunchy footsteps in the snow, snoring, thunder rumbling ominously in the background, a lovely warming crackling fire, its that football team again (the pub crowd from Medicinal Purposes and other stories!), vomiting, Mary’s birth screams, terrifying screams during the evacuation, the babies screams and applause, gunshots.

Musical Cues: The music is gorgeous from the off, it’s a style of Irish music that I simply adore and has some wonderful vocal stings.

Standout Scene: The cliffhanger to episode two is one of the best Big Finish have ever produced, not a moment of peril or a twist of action of character but the most controlled and manipulative of Doctors suddenly realising that he is going to have to bring a baby to term in the middle of a battle. The end of episode three chilled me to the bone, the screams of the townsfolk of Wexford as Cromwell’s troop cut through them with orders to kill them all. This is history up close, bloody and nasty and unrepentant.

Result: The second priceless historical in a row, Simon Guerrier takes a much more personal approach to the subject matter by pushing the inexperienced Hex right into the heart of battle and seeing how he copes. It’s a fantastic vehicle for Philip Olivier who really gets the chance to sink his teeth into some meaty, dramatic material and question Hex’s place in the TARDIS. Guerrier writes deftly for the Doctor and Ace too, giving the former a wonderfully sweet subplot and the latter the uncomfortable position of helping her friend through lessons that she has already learnt. Gary Russell’s direction is superb, bringing the fight to life with brutal honesty and Clive Mantle deserves a huge round of applause for his unforgettable turn as Oliver Cromwell. Uncomfortable to listen to in parts but with an authentic atmosphere and engaging characters, this is a historical adventure that will be remembered for some time: 9/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @

1 comment:

David Pirtle said...

With Clive Mantle's Cromwell coming on the heels of Stephen Beckett's Richard III, I'm starting to feel spoiled.