Sunday, 3 July 2011

The Drowned World written by Simon Guerrier and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: Space Security Agent Sara Kingdom is dead, her ashes strewn on the planet Kembel. But, in an old house in Ely, Sara Kingdom lives on… To the Elders of this ruined world, Sara is a ghost, a phantom that must be excised. She must prove her right to exist, and she does so with stories. Stories of a time when she travelled the universe with an ancient Doctor and his heroic companion Steven inside a magical space/time ship called the TARDIS. And one story in particular could make a difference. The one about their trip to a world covered in water, where a human expedition is being wiped out. It’s a battle to survive, as the travellers face the horrors of the drowned world…

SSS: A copy of Sara haunts the house in Ely. Not a ghost, more of an echo. She gave her mind to the house because it needed a sense of right and wrong. When the TARDIS slipped beneath the silvery waters Sara’s first reaction is relief because she remembered to shut the doors on her way out. As her life is in terrible danger for the first time in ages Sara is grateful for her service training. She isn’t scared; she just has a strong desire to get things done. The instant she shot her brother it made her as a person, changed her. She became a good person through a terrible act. At the story’s end Sara wants to slip into a dream where things are different and she doesn’t regret a thing. Sara wonders longingly why the Doctor has never been back to see her considering he can travel anywhere in time and space. She has granted the wishes of Priests and Prosecutors and they have never come back to see her.

Humble Husband: Imagine the perspiring embarrassment of being so proud of your recordings of a manifestation and having to face the Elders as the recorder reveals nothing. There was only ever one wish that Robert wanted of Sara and that was to aid in his desire to have a baby with his wife, something they had been trying and failing for some time. Robert was happy to disperse Sara when she embarrassed him but when he needs a wish granted – the sickness that is gripping his people having taken hold of his daughter – he calls her back into being. Despite this he doesn’t ever feel like a selfish character thanks mostly to the thoughtful performance by Niall MacGregor. Robert has a tricky decision to make at the climax and one that will leave you eager to listen to the final instalment.

Hmm: When facing new creatures the Doctor’s eyes twinkle with curiosity and excitement. As the sea rises the Doctor has to make the impossible choice between saving Sara’s life and saving the lives of everybody else. Fortunately for him it is a decision that she makes for him because I don’t think he would have been able to live with the consequences. The Doctor’s mind is said to work furiously as he tries to think of a way to save his friend and that is probably the best description I can think of to describe the first Doctor’s intelligence.

Aggressive Astronaut: Not even Steven knew how the Ship was bigger on the insider or how it travelled through space – the Doctor guarded his secrets jealously. Always a people person to the Doctor’s fierce intellect, Steven insists that they stay behind and make sure everybody is okay and see things through to the end.

Standout Performance: Jean Marsh has played four very distinct but equally good roles in Doctor Who. Her portrayal of Joanna in The Crusade is still one of my favourite performances in the shows history and in particular her argument with her brother in episode three is a highlight of how sophisticated the show could be in those early days. Next up was Sara Kingdom, an Emma Peel in space complete with a kinky uniform, a gun and a kick ass attitude. Such a shame she never stayed on and spared us Dodo but she still has one of the best departures a character had. Battlefield is not a favourite of mine but Marsh’s turn as Morgaine is clearly one of the stories highlights and she finds hidden depths to the character beside the bits the script tries to crowbar in unsubtly. Finally she enjoyed another villainous role in Paul Magrs’ The Wishing Beast – not the best written of stories but Marsh commits herself to the role and camps it up fabulously. Not forgetting her glorious turn in Upstairs Downstairs which saw her nominated for several awards. Marsh is a British icon and that’s not an overstatement. We are extremely lucky that she has agreed to continue her association with Doctor Who because she brings a real touch of class to these stories.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Sara Kingdom is now at peace. Let that be an end to it.’
‘It ate into my brain and all the things I am and recoiled from my touch.’
‘I’ll save your daughter if you’ll surrender me your life…’

Great Ideas: Sara knows what wishes the Elders will want her to grant including an end to the war in mid Africa, a cure for the sickness that is coming this way and children dropping to sleep. Sara talks about the story of the old men who got caught up in the workings of a clock which sounds like a pretty awesome story to be told one day to me. Pioneers on the furthest reaches of space with a do or die attitude. The creature in the silvery waters teases with them for a while before lashes out and consuming Keith with one whip of its tendrils, melting him away to nothing. Its wonderful how Robert stops Sara’s story at the appropriate point for a cliffhanger because he wants to come back to the story begging for more. There is a beautiful image of Sara looking back at the complex from outside it and seeing that it looks like a spider clinging onto the edge of a rocky precipice with more than two thirds of it submerged by the mercurial sea.

Audio Landscape: Scratchy writing, a rain lashed voyage across the sea with thunder rumbling ominously in the distance, clock ticking, water rolling in the distance, the bubbling, the tendrils lashing out like a whip, an ear piercing scream, the mumbling deliberations of the Elders, banging on the squeaky door, there’s a lovely effect at the beginning of episode as Robert reintroduces us to Sara’s story and slowly rain starts to fall and it gathers ferocity the nearer we get to the story, smashing the porthole, firing at the tendrils, Sara’s scream when she keeps telling herself she wont is chilling.

Musical Cues: Quiet, poignant and very effective – again the musicians understand that sometimes less is more.

Standout Scene: The creature recoils from Sara when it realise that she is cold enough to shoot her own brother dead. It sees into her heart and mind and it pities her.

Notes: Doctor Who’s legacy never ceases to amaze me. The very idea of telling a twelve-part Dalek story in which two ladies dressed up as the new companion both die and a story that spans all manner of genres from high drama to farce – that alone is a crazy idea. But it works. Then to skip forward over 40 years and have a trilogy of audio dramas based around one of those characters played by the original cast member – well that is just absurd! But it really, really works. I’m not only impressed that the producers and writers see such potential in 40 year old characters that can explored but I’m also wowed by the fact that Jean Marsh was happy to come back and play the part. It’s completely insane and totally brilliant.

Result: Lisa Bowerman has emerged as one of the standout directors in Big Finish’s repertoire and whilst I thoroughly enjoy her louder, brasher stories she seems to have found a disquieting niche in the under-the-skin atmosphere of the calmer stories. The opening fifteen minutes of The Drowned World reminded me of Home Truths and her other masterpiece, A Thousand Tiny Wings, in that it is almost terrifyingly quiet in how it is played. This just helps to serve the story when the excitement builds and the sudden moments of horror really take effect. I love a director who is not afraid to let the quality of the script step forward and holds back on all manner of audio trickery until the story needs it. Simon Guerrier has really tapped into something special in the continuing adventures of Sara Kingdom and he gives Jean Marsh some strong, emotive material to play and (naturally) she acquits herself tremendously. You’ve got two equally strong plotlines intertwining; Sara facing the danger of the silver sea and her developing relationship with Robert. The Companion Chronicles occasionally tap into something that is far greater than its source material and The Drowned World is one such example – a stirring drama in its own right and a second piece of this trilogy that leaves you hungry for the third: 9/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

1 comment:

dark said...

First time I heard this one, I was mostly in the position of being far more interested in Sara's story of the echoe in the house and the world Robert inhabits than in the story of the drowning asteroid mine or the acidic water. Then suddenly there was that shocking moment of Kieth's death followed by that bizarre poetry of Sara communicating the creature and I suddenly got hooked.
In a way, knowing what I was in for made things far better sinse I was able to take the story at it's pace and shuttle between the two tales with no problem at all.
Robert is such a lovely character, a conflicted yet honourable man who tries to do the right thing even in the wrong circumstances, and even when it's hard, and I love the chemistry he has with Sara even if she is a sentient house.

If you asked me one story which showed why I love doctor who so much, this would be an amazing example, sinse it manages to strike that amazing fault line between beautifully artistic and planely bonkers, ---- sentient house? a sea in space that eats people? and yet stays completely human.
A wonderful, wonderful story and one I shal doubtless hear a third time too.