Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The Judas Gift written by Nick Wallace and directed by Ed Salt

What’s it about: The Braxiatel Collection. Once it was a home, a haven, one of the 800 Wonders of the Universe. Not any more. Draconia and the Mim are at war and the Collection is caught in the crossfire. Its future hangs in the balance as Bernice tries to fathom the motives of a new Draconian ambassador. Director Bev Tarrant must use every trick she knows if the Collection is to survive. She's been a smuggler, a killer and a thief, but all that's behind her now. Isn't it? Beware your sins will find you out. Especially when you accept the Judas Gift. They'll just have to do something impossible…

Archeological Adventuress: On Draconia there seems to be the misconception that Benny is Bev Tarrant’s sexual convenience and Benny (used to the limelight) is appalled at this. As far as the Draconians are concerned the Mim are incapable of feeling anything, mimicking humanoid actions and no more than dumb and parasitic weeds. Bernice fights back that they have spacecraft and a homeworld that supports a vibrant alien culture and that these are normally regarded as examples of sentient thought. As for the Draconians; a feudal society stretching back tens of thousands of years are an archaeologists wet dream but she prefers studying them to dealing with them. The first rule of archaeology is if you can’t trace the artefact, trace the owner. Benny isn’t practiced in Draconian fencing but she does know how to improvise.

Insane Genius: It does make me wonder if Brax knew exactly what he was doing merging his TARDIS with the Collection so if there ever came a time that he would have to flee his friends they would be forced to come after him and bring him back to a seat of power. Saying that he expresses complete indifference to the local war and tells Benny as soon as he has repaired things he will be off again.

Art Thief: Having her last adventure as curator of the Braxiatel Collection narrated by Bev was a great move because whilst she has been luxuriously handled in the books there have only been a few scant appearances in the audios and it is long past time that she moved centre stage. Bev Tarrant is a legend in her own time but the problem is three thousand years from now and like so many other waifs and strays she found herself on the Braxiatel collection. Bev has never found it quiet or peaceful but she has had friends and a good man by her side. Benny thinks that Bev’s audacious plan to try and end the war is her attempt to make a play against Braxiatel who has recently returned to the Collection. She hates politicians because you always have to listen to the subtext in order to get the real message. She doesn’t like the suggestion by Adrian that she has been bought by the Draconians and tries to remind her that murder is wrong under any circumstances. Even she admits that a thief never settles down and that she has come a long way. In her drug induced stupor we get to experience Bev’s history and her relationship with Ethan who called her ‘butterfly’. She was a legend in her own time, a ghost who would sneak through museums on restricted worlds. If there was something you wanted Bev Tarrant would find it for a price. When you are stranded you do what you must to survive, you make alliance and lovers, take and use, do any dirty job to keep your head above water and Bev certainly did her share. She worked for a man called Bayum who controlled a smuggling ring through Draconian space which mean stop offs on the Mim sphere for medical supplies, narcotics and art treasures. With Ethan at her side and a life of organised crime it was something more than just surviving for once. In the here and now Bev refuses to be responsible for the extermination of the Mim no matter what happens to her. Bev has spent years living on the Collection and before that she was a thief, of course she set up some defence systems so that she could escape in a hurry. Alone and waiting, Bev finally admits to killing Ethan and the Judas Gift having fulfilled its purpose falls off her arm.

Hairy Hero: Rather wonderfully Adrian asks Benny first if he has her permission to ask Bev to be his wife. Considering their history, that he is the father of her child and all the fighting (and surviving) they have done together she is clearly the closest thing he has to family and his bashful attempt to ask is really cute. There is a fantastic conversation between Adrian and Bev where he means to propose to her but instead winds up telling her that even considering a pact with the Draconians means she is not the woman he fell in love with. He reminds her of the last dominant species that came their way that tortured him. Of all the times to accept his proposal, Bev says yes without Adrian even being able to pop the questions (because he is hopeless at secrets) during the Draconian invasion. Thinking that Bev is dead he launches himself at Kothar murderously.

Standout Performance: Like The Tub Full of Cats there is a feeling that everybody is taking this material seriously and as top notch show runner Barry Letts used to say if the actors take it seriously it adds some integrity and credibility to the stories no matter how outrageous they might be. Louise Faulkner deserves credit for her most challenging take on Bev Tarrant to date. She really proves that she has the teeth to stay in this series long term and I am pleased that she will be returning. Michael Fenner has the hardest job, guest starring as a Draconian Ambassador who has to weave his conniving way through the regulars and try and convince them to help him in his scheme to wipe out the Mim. To his credit he creates a character who remains both noble and sinister. Harry Myers impresses in his dual role, you get to experience how much bestiality he injects into Adrian as he plays Bev’s ex lover with a far more luting voice.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Don’t forget the little nutty chocolates. It wouldn’t be an Ambassadorial reception without those!’
‘It’s a mysterious ancient artefact most likely endowed with some supernatural power’ ‘Must be a Tuesday.’
‘Butterfly? What does that make you think of? The sound of a trap closing.’
‘This Institute is now under the command of the Draconian Star Empire.’
‘I’m as much a politician as you and my subtext has bite.’
‘Intellect is power and we need every available resource.’
‘But the truth is its not the reactions of others that define who we are. Its how we see ourselves. What counts is how we live. The choices we make. The people we choose to be.’
'Computer. Delete message.'

Great Ideas: I’m not sure if this season occurs before or after the show had been returned (I think after) but the use of newscasts to heighten tension and give the war a presence in peoples lives is very RTD. And just as effective. Fighting continues along the Draconian/Mim border and whilst there has not been any widespread military engagements clashes have been seen in a number of key sectors. They can’t fight and they can’t flee so Bev has an audacious plan to try and talk to both sides about the conflict and make friends. This year the Collection has been subjected to alien pollen, gravitational shifts, time jumps and this time there was reason beyond random weirdness (thank goodness) and it’s the reason Brax is back. Nobody was told that Brax had decided to merge his TARDIS with the Collection and it is causing all kinds of problems. The Domes on the Mim homeworld are hospitable enough but they aren’t terribly robust and one strike from a Draconian warship and their envoys will be killed. Step forward Hass who is the only member of the Collection who can withstand the atmospheric pressures if the Draconians crack one of the Domes – he already wears a pressure suit that is sturdy enough to handle the Yedosi atmosphere. When Kothar talks about the Dalek incursions and the trouble with the Fifth Axis it makes you realise the Draconians (who were always considered in Doctor Who to be an equal race) have been through exactly the same shit as we have on the Collection. However Bev accepting the Draconian symbol of peace struck me as a terrible mistake such it might look as if they were siding with them in the conflict. They have chameleonic powers but their natural form is a toxic, sponge-like matter and now they are adapting like a virus adapting to its environment. Bernice can see through his argument – if you get a court ruling that the Mim aren’t sentient then they can use banned weapons on them that are considered obscene for use against sentient life forms. It would be like tidying up the garbage. And the courts would not give credence to such an argument without credible academic support which explains Kothar’s visit to the Collection. If fighting moves into Earth space the government will be asked to call up the Terran reserves to create a buffer zone. The Time Out Guide to Draconia – that is brilliant. With a little digging you can see that Kothar is a man who can adapt his public persona to whatever political arena he finds himself posted in. The Judas Gift is the power of the Emperor to divine right from wrong, a jewelling gauntlet from the Dark Age and the very artefact that is trapped on Bev’s wrist. Kothar was offered this job for his hard line reputation but that isn’t why he took it. Using the pulse canons on the Mim Sphere will ruin him in the here and now but centuries in the future he’ll be a hero when his people look back on his actions. And that is why he used the Judas Gift because it will tie his actions with those of the First Emperor and he will be mythologised in the same way. As a bonus he will have restored his family’s disgraced name. The Stone Hauser Medical Facility is totalled thanks to a stray barrage in a Draconian assault, they attacked a neutral medical facility and as such the negotiations with the Collection are over. Turns out the case against the Mim being sentient was all a ruse – the Draconians just needed the Judas Gift to have time to read its wearer. Ethan, Bev’s ex lover, was Kothar’s blood brother from their adopted family. He thought if he helped bring down the smugglers plying their trade in Draconian space the Emperor might see the worth in his fathers beliefs. To restore their family name…but Bev murdered him for his betrayal. Bev was in charge of the Collection and her lands are now forfeit – the Collection is in Draconian hands now. Bev’s message contains subtext in the static and she hopes to hell that Benny remembers to look for because there is much more going on here than meets the eye. Kothar couldn't have known what Bev had done to Ethan, someone from her path must have told him. Its not the Draconians that are behind all this - someondy is using them. She waiting for them to find her at Port Royal but they have to listen to the message first but only Brax has figured it out and he has deleted it. What monstrous deception is he up to?

Audio Landscape: The crowds of chatting academics in the Collection library, heart monitor, heavy breaths, breathing device, mechanical Doctor, the running waters and birdsong of Ataxia, fencing practice, birds screaming, gunfire, a laser grid firing, the Draconian ships descending and firing on the Collection, people being shot down and screaming, Bev inside the fighter, the proximity alert, Bev’s fighter exploding.

Musical Cues: The Draconian Ambassador descends to a (pretty tacky) version of their national anthem. The music is extremely good in this story, exciting and with a real dramatic punch that makes the moments of conflict stand out. I especially love the music as the Draconian ship descends, I was really caught up in the story and the music gave me goosebumps.

Isn’t it Odd: You can try and disguise his voice all you like, I would recognise Gary Russell’s sultry tones as the news reader any day of the week.

Standout Scene: I love the scene where Benny, Brax, Adrian and Bev meet with Kothar and kick him off the Collection for his peoples dishonourable attack on a neutral target before his warship descends and he takes over the Collection. Its beautifully written and leaves your jaw hanging.

Result: Events on the Collection have not been this enthralling since Death and the Daleks and Nick Wallace taps it’s a rich seam of characterisation that sees Bev, Adrian, Brax and Benny getting some of their best ever moments. The Draconian/Mim conflict has been building for some time and now it explodes into warfare and the Collection finds itself in the middle trying to stay in one piece. We’ll be saying goodbye to the Collection at the end of the this season and it is fitting that its best storyline was saved for last. Everything that is great about this series comes into play – the regulars are on top form (Bev’s history allows the Draconians to gain a foothold on the Collection) and treated to some scorching dialogue, there is an intriguing archaeological mystery to solve, the universe building is first class and the running storyline is given some dramatic momentum with some heart-in-mouth twists forcing developments. If you are invested in these characters and this universe, The Judas Gift is about as riveting as it comes: 10/10

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