Thursday, 28 April 2011

Circular Time written by Paul Cornell & Mike Maddox and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: Spring – In the springtime of a distant future, the Doctor and Nyssa become embroiled in Time Lord politics on an alien world. Summer - During the stifling heat of a summer past they suffer the vengeful wrath of Isaac Newton. Autumn - In the recent past, Nyssa spends a romantic golden autumn in an English village while the Doctor plays cricket. Winter - And finally, many years after their travels together have ended; the two friends meet again in the strangest of circumstances.

An English Gentleman: Nyssa thought the Doctor would be scared of heights after falling of the telescope at the Pharos Project on Earth. If he had a rope and harness he would still be walking around handing out jelly babies in a mile long scarf! He admits that he can die but quickly skips over explanation. The Time Lords are clever – they send him to places they know he would give his right arm to see and if he refused they would send some stuffy dull bureaucrat in his place. Positively evangelical about the idea of another Time Lord striking out in the universe. Prydonians are cunning and you cannot take your eyes off them for a second. Do the Time Lords like to keep on good terms with their resident rebel? Not all Time Lords want to use up all their lives the way the Doctor fritters him – although he wouldn’t say that they are frittered! The Doctor’s idea of worse than being trapped in a torture chamber is a Dalek taskforce or Mars winning the ashes again. Must get around to making a new sonic screwdriver, he keeps going on about it but has never gotten around to it. Prydonians are usually anything but free thinkers. The Doctor would place himself in hazard rather than allow Newton’s speculation about time travel continue which adds credence to his claims. He dies and returns like a hardy perennial. The Doctor once told PG Wodehouse that there is always a story waiting to get out. He’s rubbish at telling Nyssa that she looks nice, instead telling her that she fits into the period well! I really enjoyed the Doctor’s awkward, almost angry reaction to discovering Nyssa and Andrew in the woods canoodling and how he asks her not to apologise for enjoying herself. It feels as though he has lost so many friends to other men who can offer his girls something he can’t that he is bruised by the fact that it may happen again. They always used to say he was old before his time, an old man in a young mans body. Each time the Doctor regenerates they change into something more comfortable, something appropriate to the present conditions (actually given the increasing violence of the Eric Saward era the sixth Doctor is an appropriate example of that principle). Every time he regenerates, he dies. What a person his next incarnation will be – all those colours in the white! With the strength of his companions he runs without reluctance into his next life with another life to save.

Alien Orphan: The best Nyssa story we have ever been given – a story which develops her character to the nth degree and allows her experience all facets of life. How can Nyssa herself so superior given the company that she keeps and the destruction the Doctor carries in his wake. She cannot bear to see children hurt and steps forward to object to the justice of the Avian race. When the Doctor suggests that the bird city looks a bit like Traken Nyssa is appalled saying that maybe he is right except that its laws are random and brutal. Nyssa is genuinely shocked to hear that the Doctor was exiled from Gallifrey, she thought that he left his home planet freely. Nyssa is writing a novel, embarking on a literary adventure about a world where everybody is kind and looked after by a good King – its not a fantasy adventure. Its fascinating to see how awkward Nyssa is when she gets some male attention. She was thinking that there would be something frightening about the village of Traken and almost sounds disappointed that it is quite ordinary. She gets talkative once she has had a few drinks. There are all sorts of times and places where Nyssa can point up to the sky and say that was where she grew up and everybody she knows lives – even though that world is lost to her in her personal timeline. Feelings are feelings and you cannot hedge them off with logic – Andrew grabs Nyssa and kisses her and she enjoys it even though letting surprises in are a new skill for her. She believes she requires practice and she asks him to kiss her again. She is terrified that if she stays with Andrew one day he will change his mind about her and not see an alien princess but an ordinary woman who works in a pub. She cannot make the choice and so asks him to tell her to stay but he refuses because it has to be her choice. In the future long after she has left the Doctor Nyssa is married to an analyst and has a baby. Leaving with the Doctor to explore the universe was the start of Nyssa growing up, it wasn’t all horror, it was fun as well. Nyssa was the most vital part of the Doctor’s family at the end of his fifth life. The last time Nyssa saw the Doctor was in a dream but she will say without reluctance that he is still out there.

Standout Performance: I’m always impressed with the excellent material they give Nyssa in these audio adventures because she was so neglected on television and Sarah Sutton is simply divine in this story, delivering a fresh and different performance in each episode. In Spring she is accusatory and shocked as Nyssa learns about the Doctor’s past, in Summer she slips into the fast and witty dialogue with ease, in Summer we get to see a gentler, melancholic Nyssa who enjoys a twilight romance and in Winter we visit an older, stronger Nyssa who has forged her own path in the world. Throughout all of these many facets of her character Sarah Sutton gives a consistently but subtly different performances and once again reminded me of what a superb actress she is.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Look out! Vampires in the Capitol!’
‘I do not like fools, forgers…or Catholics! Which are you?’
‘I will tell your jailer not to spit in your food unless I expressly request it!’
‘Nothing political! What could be more political than money?’
‘I’m so glad you didn’t pay by debit card…’
‘I cross the void beyond the mind…to seek a truth they’ll never find!’ ‘A bit less arch Doctor…’

Great Ideas: The Doctor has been asked to bring Cardinal Zero back home since he has decided to give up his political career and live amongst the trees. Avian creatures who punish the children of the criminals. Regeneration has class, gender and species politics. Zero is planning on giving the Avian race the power of flight again. Droppings of the chicks plus fruit juice equals poison which deters the males from stealing the eggs. The first murder in six years and Zero is to be the judge, jury and executioner. I love the fact that Zero’s TARDIS turns out to be a lake – how awesome! He regenerates into something half Time Lord, half avian. I loved the sudden moment of awful realisation when Zero admits that he was the murderer and but he has no family on this planet to punish – the nearest thing would be somebody from his own planet…

The Doctor gives Nyssa coins from the wrong era and they are arrested for forgery! If it was intended as a joke they will be executed anyway. Newton is a very clever man who deduces precisely what the TARDIS is and refuses the Doctor entry because he fears he will head back and change his past. What if there is no future or at least we do not reach an age in which time travel is impossible? Which would make the Doctor an alien from another planet and quartering him would sort that out. America becoming so powerful that they will conquer even the moon itself! Although he discovered gravity Newton is thoroughly pissed off that the apples struck him full in the face causing him to have a nosebleed for three days (the Doctor is a fast bowler!).

Cricket writes mortals into history through stories and statistics, that’s why it appeals to the Doctor. To have the Doctor return to the village of Stockbridge is a fantastic touch of comic strip nostalgia that Big Finish will exploit again in the future.

A farmhouse where the Doctor lives with dishes on the shelves around the room resembles the TARDIS. He lives there with his wife and his children, Adric, Tegan and Nyssa. He has a zero cabinet inside his barn. This whole adventure takes place inside the Doctor’s mind in the few seconds before he regenerates – it is the Master’s laugh that is echoing inside his head and the Spectrox poisoning is draining the life from his body. He was trying to reach out across time and space to get support from his friends and add their energy to his own but somebody is trying to create an illusion in the hallucination you have in the few seconds before the regeneration. The Master is using the Doctor’s mental link with Kamelion to stave off the process and turn the Doctor’s friends into a hallucination rather than aid to his transformation.

Audio Landscape: The exotic sounds of the rainforest, there is a fabulous chirruping alarm signal, Zero snoring, falling into the lake, his flapping wings, arrows firing, birds twittering, firing a pistol, squeaky prison doors, the polite applause of a cricket audience, children screaming in the distance, the crack of the cricket ball hitting the bat, Nyssa in the bath, screaming winter winds, making a cup and stirring in the milk, gurgling baby, squeaky doors, frightening laughter the screams across the landscape.

Musical Cues: There is a growing sense of unease as Newton deduces the future through a handful of coins and the ominous, building string music adds a real sense of frisson.

Standout Scene: Issac Newton thinks through the manufacture and surface detail of mixed currency and judges it not to be Irish propaganda but a product of the future – a brilliantly written scene packed with intelligent observations. I almost choked on my crunchy nut cornflakes when the Doctor started quoting ‘I am the Doctor!’

Notes: Paul Cornell is Carolyn Smycox’s husband and there is a lovely touch where the Doctor expresses his wish to head back to Nicaea one day – The Council of Nicaea is written by Symcox and takes place after Nyssa has left the Doctor and Peri and Erimem have joined.

Spring: A delightfully imaginative piece which economically covers quite a lot of ground. It has been almost 30 releases since we last heard the Doctor and Nyssa together and this is a firm reminder of how well they work together. With its intriguing Avian culture, digs at Time Lord culture and Zero’s quirky transformation, this is a highly enjoyable first episode: 8/10

Summer: The astonishing premise of Issac Newton predicting the future through a handful of coins is the springboard for this profoundly powerful segment. The writing is top quality with the author having studied currency intellectually and creating the world of the future through them. David Warner gives a typically strong performance and the fifth Doctor enjoys some quality moments. Sterling stuff (geddit): 10/10

Autumn: An evocative holiday of cricket matches and dancing that sees the Doctor and Nyssa shine in the golden autumn Stockbridge atmosphere. Sarah Sutton gives her most affecting Big Finish performance yet and the direction of this piece is extraordinarily good, capturing the romance and the atmosphere of this colourful, chrysalising season. I never thought short bursts of storytelling like this could be so emotive and I have never been more pleased to be wrong. Enchanting: 10/10

Winter: What could have been agonising fanwank is given a touch of genuine emotion and becomes a touching parting riposte for the fifth Doctor. I guessed early on at which stage of his life we were visiting but that didn’t make this reunion between him and his closest companion any less moving. The description of the Doctor running into his regeneration is as beautiful and uplifting an ending as I could imagine and the story is laced with some poetic touches: 9/10

Result: Despite his New Adventures and Human Nature television masterpiece it is Circular Time that feels like Paul Cornell’s most personal opus. His favourite Doctor and ideal companion, the theme of the seasons, romance and regeneration – all of Cornell’s strengths burst into life within this story. Mike Maddox proves an excellent collaborator and together they produce four very strong, distinct, evocative stories. Circular Time is a superb first innings for the Nick Briggs’ produced audio dramas and kicked off the anthologies that would turn up sporadically and already raises the bar that none of the subsequent attempts have quite matched. A top quality release, superbly put together by John Ainsworth and one that turns evolves Nyssa’s character beautifully, this is highly recommended: 9/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:


Anonymous said...

Hey I just wanted to say, I just started getting into these audio plays and I find your reviews very informative.

I just wish there was a convenient tab on the top of the page for audio works too. It's a right pain to look them up sometimes.

Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

I was almost expecting, at the final of Winter, for Colin Baker to make a cameo! It's Caves of Androzani all over the place

MY favorite was Summer, I laughed my head off with the verbal interchanges among the Doctor and Isaac Newton!

‘Look out! Vampires in the Capitol!’ LMAO

Doc Oho said...

Fabulous story, isn't it? I must listen to it again shortly.

Anonymous said...

A very special cycle of stories: beautifully written and performed. Each brilliant as an individual listen but listen to them one after another to fully appreciate the complex but deep relationship between The Doctor and Nyssa.
One gripe: Nyssa's future husband and first romance on earth are shallow, badly-written, badly-acted, unsympathetic burks. You simply can't imagine ANY Nyssa wanting to be with them, yet alone.....
Please look past this as what remains is genuine class.

David Pirtle said...

These are all enjoyable shorts, I agree, and you're right about how wonderful Sarah Sutton is in all of them. It's a great showcase for how amazing #5 and Nyssa are as a couple (rather than as part of a dysfunctional quartet).