Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Magician’s Oath written by Scott Hancock and directed by Nigel Fairs

What’s it about: "You must never tell. Not a soul. That's the magician's oath." A heat wave in July and a tube train is discovered buried in twenty inches of snow. A Saturday afternoon in Hyde Park and scores of people are instantly frozen to death where they stand while the sun beats down from the sky. Freak weather conditions in London, and the Doctor and UNIT are called in to find the cause. Meanwhile, a street magician, who was witnessed at the scene of the tragedy, entertains crowds in Covent Garden. As Jo Grant and Mike Yates disobey orders and investigate alone, they discover an enemy with terrifying powers. And they may not live to share his secrets…

Camp Captain: The framing scenes are set a long time after Mike Yates was discharged from UNIT and he reminisces about times when Sir Alistair was in charge and the Doctor was their scientific advisor. He used to love working for UNIT back in the old days but is disheartened that it doesn’t even mean the same thing anymore. Mike caught up with Jo Grant last week and they laughed and cried and drank far more than they should. He has seen people’s minds broken by extra terrestrial influences, their souls bent out of shape. Mike can be casually sexist, dismissing Jo’s suggestions as ‘sweet’. Mike steadfastedly refuses to have his unwavering loyalty to the Doctor shifted, he knows he is a friend and he will save the Earth whenever they need him. Jack tells Mike that Jo knows how he feels about her and she knows that he would never tell her and she’s glad about that. All that love with nowhere to go, loving the girl with so much life in her. Mike sat with Jo daily as she recovered from her ordeals with Jack, just wanting to be there for her, as she lay comatose for weeks. If she remembered anything about his feelings for she never said anything. So many years later Jo remembered the card that contained her memories of these events and she tracked Mike down to apologise to him, now realising how he felt about her. Everybody he knew has either died or moved on, they either have partners to cherish or families to love but Mike doesn’t really have anyone and he’s not going to pretend that it’s all right. He gave his life for this job and it never gave him anything but that’s okay because it was his choice.

Good Grief: Something of a legend now. He saved the planet so many times. He doesn’t think magic exists; he always chases the logical explanations. The Doctor changes his face, a mask against the universe, a mask with which he chooses to hide his true self away. The whole of time and space trapped within a police box, his to lord it over.

Brilliant Brig: Nothing seemed to faze him. Sums up the Brig beautifully.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘For a while we had been receiving reports of freak weather conditions around the central London area…’ ‘
I watched them, water dripping from their bodies, trickling from their eyes, never blinking. The dead were weeping and there was nothing we could do.’
‘Diamond Jack was coming home…’
‘You have opened the floodgates, Doctor and I thank you’

Great Ideas: Scott Hancock mines a wealth of clever ideas making this is a strong science fiction story as well as a good character study. Hyde Park freezing over is an astonishing idea, one I would have loved to see realised. People had been frozen alive, families out picnicking, children licking ice creams even people queuing for the bus and people swimming in the water. Mike comes across the shattered remains of a Collie, jumping for a Frisbee and splintering as it hit the ground frozen. An entertainer with the ability to control the elements on such a scale? There’s a wonderful moment when Jack explodes into shards of ice, utterly unexpectedly. Jack was able to perform conjuring tricks since he was a lad but each one drains him but he goes on because it is a talent to exploit. He can read memories, picking the ones that he likes and discarding the rest because he doesn’t have any of his own. A spaceship under Highgate cemetery, containing all of Jack’s personality and memories that have been deleted from his mind. He committed so many crimes; so many obscenities that the Doctor wasn’t around to prevent and now they have been given back to him like the Doctor. The bullets drift lazily in the air towards Jack and he steps aside, letting them hit the wall beside him. Jack absorbs his energy from movement and life for his tricks. He manages to tap into the national grid, turning out a single street with the wave of a hand. Prison ships have basic precautionary measures of being able to track their occupants. Think of Jack as three separate entities; first you have his memories, consigned to a databank on board the prison ship. Then you have the blank mind in a new human body designed to blend in one Earth, the imposter Jack. And creature is the animal Jack, the thing that he was before he lost his mind. The essence of evil undiluted by any humanity. Half of London drained of power, blackouts in districts as far as the eye can see. Jack doesn’t realise he is fighting himself and he summons up the elements at his command to destroy the creature.

Audio Landscape: I was very impressed by the sound effects in this story, for a story that is all about magic tricks you get a real sense of the wonder of Jack’s powers. Typewriter, footsteps, cup and saucer, there’s a chilling sequence of Hyde Park ringing with the laughter of children and paddling and suddenly cracking with the sound of frosty ice and people screaming, birds flying through the air, the crowds that Jack draws, Jack shattering, Mike smashing a window, ragged breathing and sounds of something stumbling, crackling fire, thunder cracking through Jack’s home, screams and flames as Jack’s memories come flooding back, an explosion of light, owls hooting, computer banks bleeping, the electric force hitting the creature and causing it to scream to death, ticking clock.

Musical Cues: An emotive piano score to evoke the feeling of ice and sorrow as the people in the park freeze and melt. Atmospheric violins slide in and out of scenes as Mike and Jo go investigating Diamond Jack. Drums burst into life as the Doctor and Mike head off to defeat Jack during the climax. Another superb Jamie Robertson score, it appears he can turn his hand to any genre with equal skill.

Isn’t it Odd: Is that David Richardson screaming ‘Show us a card trick?’

Standout Scene: I thought nothing could top the genuinely horrific moment when Jack freezes over Hyde Park but the sequence where Jack gets his memories back is equally frightening all thanks to Michael Chance’s dark performance.

Notes: It might not have meant to be the case but this is a perfect starting point to reacquaint yourself with Mike Yates before heading into the Hornet’s Nest series. He starts that series as a lonely man looking for a direction in life which is precisely how he leaves this story.

Result: Whilst the first Doctor stories have been consistently excellent, as far as I can see so have the third Doctor Companion Chronicles and The Magician’s Oath is no exception. Diamond Jack is a chilling creation and not just because he can suck the warmth from a picturesque scene, Michael Chance gives a superb performance imbuing Jack initially with much charm and then a quiet menace. He genuinely feels like a formidable force bringing the Earth to its knees. As a character study for Mike it really works because it poignantly reminds us of his betrayal of his friends, how he never really moved on with his life and how he never loved anyone quite like Jo Grant. It’s ironic that he should have started out so stereotypically dull as a military figure because he became one of the shows more jaded and realistic characters. Richard Franklin is a terrific dramatic narrator and he brings this story to life with some skill, aided by some precise direction. This was tense, melancholic and unexpectedly powerful, a real surprise: 9/10

Buy it from Big Finish her:

1 comment:

dark said...

There was a lot i loved in this story precisely for the reasons you outlined, atmosphere, character, it's all there. But listening to Mike Yates talk about past missed opportunities is actually uncomfortable, indeed I'm glad now that I have! heard the nest cottage audios sinse when I first listened to this story I left with such a huge lump of bad feeling it wasn't funny.

My only miner criticism is, why is Jo so under used here? A story featuring Mike and Jo taking so much initiative on their own and confronting a genuinely terrifying menace, especially one where the third Doctor is not quite as over powering a presence as he usually was, really should've had more to it. I was thus sort of disappointed that Jo got her mind monkied with, though I will say this is one of the few occasions I've seen the "and your memories are gone so you won't forget this incident or it's emotional consequences" trope used that hasn't felt like a %100 copout but a genuinely heart wrenching moment.

Also,I have to say Richard Franklin captures the Brigadier and the Third Doctor perfectly, indeed while nobody has ever! had a voice like John Pertwee, I think Franklin's is my favourite attempt out of all the third Doctor companions.