Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Full Fathom Five written by David Bishop and directed by Jason Haigh-Ellery

What’s it about: "If I told you the truth, I'd have to kill you..." The Deep-sea Energy Exploration Project was apparently destroyed by dirty bombs in 2039 AD, turning the surrounding sea bed into a radioactive tomb. Rumours suggest the DEEP was conducting illegal, unethical experiments... In 2066 the Doctor discovers the research centre remains intact. The terrible truth about what happened twenty-seven years ago will soon be revealed. The Doctor is determined to be the first to uncover and confront the secrets of the DEEP. But unearthing the past can have terrible consequences for your future…

Cool Collings: Imagine if the Doctor was the villain of the piece? An intelligent, devious, manipulative man who dresses up his adventures as something good? This the third Unbound story in a row that has been expertly cast – David Collings has portrayed a number of impressive roles throughout classic Doctor Who, Sapphire and Steel and Blakes’ 7 and I have never seen him give a less than stellar performance. His turn here as the growling, bitter Time Lord is unforgettably nightmarish and I don’t know if I could handle a continued series with him because he scares me so much! Never one to pull his punches, the Doctor nakedly tells Ruth that his father is dead despite whatever she may have read in a top secret report. He made a promise to her father that he would keep her safe and he intends to keep it. The Doctor isn’t a stupid man and he knows Hoskins brought him to the DEEP to smuggle something away. He left the TARDIS 27 years ago and now he has come back to claim it – he has been trapped on Earth all that time waiting for the radiation levels to come down. He starts destroying evidence of the secret project that was taking place in the DEEP. The Doctor refuses to carry firearms and points out that the last person to brandish it is dead anyway. To hear the Doctor say ‘I don’t care if he lives or dies’ is brutal – it’s the last sentence I would ever expect to part his lips. Ruth’s father made him promise that he would never let her know that he became a monster. Lee tries to get the Doctor into a ends-justifies-the-means debate by asking if he would have stopped the obscene experiments during World War II if he knew that the research data would save millions in the future. We’ve already seen the dirty side of his nature creep out but when he shoots Lee to drive his point home I was clapping with delight. What on Earth will this nutcase do next? He has no concept of what is right or wrong when he understands what is for the best and when that means killing somebody he is perfectly willing to pull the trigger. He’s like a rabid animal when the TARDIS key is dangled in front of him.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I came here to ensure the secrets of the DEEP stay buried…’
‘You gunned down an innocent man just to tidy up a loose end!’
‘One down. I wonder how many more lives this bastard has left…’

Great Ideas: Splitting the narrative between the Doctor and Ruth discovering what did happen at the DEEP and actually experiencing the tale with the Doctor at the same time is a clever conceit that allows David Bishop to set up surprises in one and then spring them in the other. Chimney like structures on the seabed pumping vent mineral rich water into the ocean at temperatures approaching 370 degrees. Black smoke could the new hit energy supply. Ruth’s fathers negligence poisoned the fish stock for miles around and many lost their businesses. A ring of mines in the ocean that the Doctor avoids by making the submarine appear organic. Lee has been diverting funding from the Black Smoke project to run his own experiments on the sidelines. The military were never interested in the Black Smoke project – they just needed a credible smokescreen for the real work that was going on. The DEEP was the site for a series of vile experiments that saw genetically enhanced DNA being taken from marine species living in the vicinity of the black smoke and injected into growth accelerated human clones. Trying to create a super soldiers in utterly unethical and extremely dangerous experiments. There were grotesque failures that were left to rot in the vats, even babies. Ruth’s father became the scapegoat when everything went wrong. A cluster of dirty bombs was placed around the base so nobody could come near the place for years. The General wound up becoming the very super soldier that he was trying to create.

Audio Landscape: Seagulls screaming in the sea air, the sea rolling into the shore, the rusty hatches of the Neptune, proximity sensors, sonar, water dripping on the decks, the submarine docking with the DEEP facility, bubbling vats in Lee’s laboratory, the echoing hull of the base after the devastation, ripping pages and burning them, heart monitors, Hoskins being heard whilst torn apart over the intercom, I really like the gurgling voices for the infected people,

Musical Cues: Wowza, one of the most dramatic scores ever to grace a Big Finish production and no mistake. Matching the bombastic, unrelenting attitude of the script, Toby Robinson ensures that this is going to be as exciting as possible. I especially love the single note piano strikes during the tensest scenes.

Isn’t it Odd: Some of the characters err on the wrong side of melodrama (well it is in keeping with the tone) in places and whilst it doesn’t affect the enjoyment of the piece for me in the slightest I could imagine other people finding it a bit flat. Vollmer is the worst example with his peace loving protests but Ruth gets infected by the stories end. I personally don’t mind stories that slant this way as long as there is strong drama at the heart of the tale to justify it and Full Fathom Five deals with enough weighty issues to get away with it.

Standout Scene: Full Fathom Five saves its best surprise until the conclusion: that the Doctor murdered Ruth’s father to stop any part of Lee’s experiments from leaving the base. When Ruth discovers this the Doctor decides that she needs to be silenced too. I’m sure other people have thought about the shock of killing the Doctor and then as soon as he wakes up murdering him again until all of his regenerations are wasted but David Bishop is the writer who actualises it and it is a perfect place to leave this story on. Wasting all of those potentially long lives in a few seconds because he failed to live up to his name. Its brutal and shocking and brilliant.

Result: Full Fathom Five is right up my street. A concealed underwater location dripping with secrets, discussions of morality in science, twisted surprises around every corner and a truly haunting interpretation of the Doctor. I don’t give a damn that the melodrama is turned up to the umpteenth degree, this is quite simply a deliriously exciting slice of traditional Doctor Who which is so dark it is looking out at ‘normal’ Doctor Who from the other side of an evil universe mirror. This is a Doctor who is willing to murder, who curses and who has no principles when it comes to doing what he considers right. David Collins is so frighteningly good in the role I had the chills before the story was over and I kept thinking how this was just like the first Doctor when we first met him but pushed into even more extreme circumstances. I love David Bishop’s uncomplicated and direct approach to storytelling – he cuts straight through all the pretence and gets straight to the drama and as a result this story has real pace and atmosphere. Definitely a one off but a kick ass one: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/3-Doctor-Who-Unbound-Full-Fathom-Five

1 comment:

Frederick Ortiz said...

Have to agree with you on a lot of this...though I hate to refer to Star Trek in this contex, this tale was the perfect 'Spock's Beard' to what we are all use too.