Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Cold Equations written by Simon Guerrier and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: In the remnant of a shattered satellite, far above the ruined planet Earth, Steven Taylor and Oliver Harper are dying. As time runs out, they face their pasts… and a secret long kept is revealed. The borrowed time is elapsing, and they realize they are facing an enemy that cannot be defeated. The cold, hard facts of science…

Hmm: An old man strutting about – sounds about right for the proud first Doctor showing off his lifestyle to Oliver! Peter Purves’ throaty voiced first Doctor is perfectly evocative of Hartnell’s internal performances which from interviews I have read Purves understood and admired. The moment the Doctor tells Steven he is proud of him I was holding back a tear; this beautiful partnership is brought up close and personal.

Aggressive Astronaut: Guerrier never forgets what was often skipped over in the TV series, that Steven was an astronaut in his former life and that he was trained to except certain hard facts about space travel. Comparing Steven and Oliver’s views on space travel can lead the latter seeming something of a caveman. Steven has always been something of a hothead (there were some dazzling rows between the Doctor and Steven in season three) and upon learning that all is not what it seems with Oliver his aggressive suspicions are brought to light. Steven’s sense of detachment is palpable, born to the Space Age but at its height rather than this tragic downfall. You’ll be grimacing at the torture Steven goes through in the second episode and his strength as he holds himself together.

Broker Harper: I found Oliver to be a wonderfully strong willed character in his debut adventure, The Perpetual Bond, and really appreciated Simon Guerrier’s willingness to push his upper class background almost to the point of making him unlikable. Rather cleverly Guerrier uses their life and death situation to bring us much closer to Oliver. It’s a fascinating third wheel in the TARDIS that now reeks of testosterone – astonishingly to think that this is the first time in over forty years that we have had an all male TARDIS. To Oliver who comes from a time when the human race hasn’t even stepped on the moon, the thought of venturing out into space is a jolly adventure and it’s impossible not to get swept up in his enthusiasm. Its very exciting to have a character with a big secret, it means there is an added dimension to their adventures as layers are peeled away until we learn the truth. Nice to see that he isn’t just a passenger, Oliver uses his expertise to save their bacon on more than one occasion.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘An awful machine stench…an abattoir of industry.’

Great Ideas: Guerrier has found a gripping framing device for his story. Having listened to the majority of the companion chronicles I often find that the framing devices really help to draw you into the first person narration and often they are told from a point in time after the chosen companion left the Doctor. The opening scene plants Steven and Oliver into a situation that gives them a chance to be honest with each other. Vomit is no fun in zero-g! Ugh! For a moment I thought we were in for a Blakes’ 7 Orbit moment with the Doctor, Steven and Oliver taking Avon’s place but the answer is even more frightening! An intergalactic Dark Age, this is a well thought through setting that sees technology being salvaged and used in ingenious ways. Shocking to think of the Earth as nothing more than an intergalactic junkyard. Cleverly Guerrier weaves in a spoiler to his third adventure featuring this trio and (or even better suggesting adventures a wealth of potential that we wont see).

Audio Landscape: Heavy breathing in space suits, birdsong, the TARDIS dematerialising (does anybody ever get bored of that fabulous noise), a wonderfully exotic, misty location – you’ll actually feel as if you are there, futuristic ticker tape, a crashing moment of drama, footsteps on gantries, a the cold wind of space welcoming our heroes, the Doctor screaming on the intercom, debris bashing into each other.

Musical Cues: The music matches the tone of the piece, disquietingly beautiful.

Standout Scene: The desperation as the story races towards the cliffhanger gave me goosebumps all over, science fails with catastrophic effects for our heroes and I couldn’t have been more gripped. Usually with the companion chronicles you feel a great sense of love and respect from the narrator for the Doctor, it’s become something of a cliché as each one reminds us of how much they enjoyed travelling with the Doctor. The Cold Equations finds a unique way of exposing the strength of friendship between the Doctor and Steven simply without any first person narration necessary. The story drives the point home touchingly in a sequence that sees the two men at an agonising distance from each other. Then Oliver’s secret is exposed and it turns out to be the most enchanting scene the companion chronicles have ever given us. Basically the second episode is one half an hour packed with standout moments.

Notes: Having two actors bring a story to life you have an engaging give and take structure to the script with one handling the narration and the other speaking dialogue. Add in sound effects and music and you’ll swear that you heard a full cast audio. Rather shamefully I kept the cover of The Perpetual Bond as my desktop image for a month because I fancied the arse of suited and booted Oliver Harper.

Result: A melancholic setting and fascinating TARDIS crew, The Cold Equations closes the fifth season of companion chronicles on a riveting high. Simon Guerrier manages to tap into the evocative nature of sixties Doctor Who whilst giving it a modern edge – he grabs hold of the black and white era and paints it in shades of grey. Fully justifying the all male team he writes a wistful first Doctor, a suspicious Steven and a naively excited Oliver who quickly learns that time travel isn’t a game. The title of the story is very appropriate as we plunge headlong into a situation that proves that science is cold and heartless, it has no respect for life and you have to make it work for you. Peter Purves and Tom Allen seize the chance to play something this dramatic and we are drawn to both characters as they fight an impossible situation and I have to give a massive round of applause to Richard Fox & Lauren Yason for their superb music. The scores on the companion chronicles are always good but the music here is extremely emotive and draws you into the story. Those who thought the Oliver trilogy wouldn’t reach the heights of the Sara Kingdom one, think again. You’ll never guess what Oliver’s secret is but I promise you this, it’ll blow you away: 10/10

Buy it from Big Finish here (you wont regret it...):


Anonymous said...

Not fair, not fair, not fair. I really want to listen to this one (having loved The Perpetual Bond) and now you've listened to it already and confirmed that it's fantastic. And I still have to wait for at least two weeks for it to be available to download! Not fair. That said, I'm now looking forward to it even more - I trust your judgement on these reviews, even if I don't always agree with you.

Gus Fallon said...

I actually did guess Oliver's secret and was rather disappointed when I turned out to be right. In "The Perpetual Bond", he was going to be arrested in 1966 for it but homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK in 1964 so it was historically inaccurate as well as rather uninspiring.

Joe Ford said...

I disagree wholeheartedly with that sentiment. I believe the script was written after thorough research and I found the twist being a personal one rather than something plot led was really refreshing. I just re-listened to this last week strangely enough and found the scene where Oliver admits the truth very touching, especially Steven's (non) reaction to Oliver's sexuality.

Ausir said...

"homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK in 1964"

Actually, it was in 1967, so it's quite accurate.