Monday, 28 November 2011

Blue Forgotten Planet written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: 'So, this is the blue planet you’ve forgotten about. But take another look. You helped us once. I know you can help us again.' On Earth, civilization has ended and time is running out for the Doctor and Charlotte Pollard. Will the mysterious Viyrans really help? 'Without you, the human race will die out. And Planet Earth will surely be our tomb.’

Softer Six: We open on a melancholic Doctor sitting by the shoreline on a beautiful planet and wistfully thinking about a friend he has recently lost – could this be the final parting between the Doctor and Charley Pollard? It would appear that the Doctor and Mila (disguised as Charley) have had many adventures together, getting to know each other and drinking in each others company. They skip back into the TARDIS at the beginning of Blue Forgotten Planet giggling, poking fun at each other and talking of mad nights drinking (non alcoholic) cocktails. He talks about it being an ‘extremely long way round’ trip back to Earth for Charley but the tone of his voice suggests that he hasn’t minded one bit. I was literally screaming at the injustice of having Charley frozen by the Viyrans just as the Doctor materialises the TARDIS – the sound of his arrival is such a joyous one and you genuinely think they will be reunited only to have it snatched away. The Doctor scoffs at the Viyrans ridiculous scheme to chase around the universe sniffing out every single virus that was scattered amongst time and space. Astonishingly given how much time has been spent with Charley hiding the truth from the Doctor over past dozen stories when she finally gets to admit that she is from his personal future it is blurted out in the middle of a climactic moment and gets promptly ignored as the story dramatically interrupts! There is simply no time for him to digest it at this point when the fate of the human race is at stake. He can only ever do his best but luckily his best is rather better than average. I really like the way that people who have been pushed to the limit thanks to an impossible situation believe that the Doctor on his strength of conviction can save them without any real proof. Once the cat is out of the bag the Doctor is still trying to protect Charley even when he cannot trust her an inch. Its lovely to see him trying to find excuses to continue his time together with Charley but he knows that he cannot remember her come his future self. Their parting as one of the most successful Big Finish pairings probably came too soon for my liking but golly it has been one heck of a ride.

Edwardian Adventuress: How far has Charley come since she first stepped into the TARDIS in Storm Warning? She has well and truly grown up to the point where she had outgrown the eighth Doctor and decided to leave him and after her tense relationship with one of his predecessors and an unfortunate encounter with a malevolent girl that wanted to steal her life she has wound up working for a robotic race chasing viruses around the universe! Whilst this might sound like a ridiculous path for a character to forge it is only since things have gotten extremely complicated for the character (so around The Girl Who Never Was) that she has really become one to capture the attention in a very captivating way. Charley is now a fighting girl, hanging on by the tips of her fingers and tumbling into one unfortunate situation that she has talk her way out of after another with Time itself unsure what to do with her. This desperate Charley has been a much more attractive character and it is a relief that at this point where she has reached her zenith she is written out leaving people desperately wanting more. Its always best to go out that way – had she gone at the end of The Girl Who Never Was it would have been a case of they’ve finally let go of Charley but the reality is at the end of Blue Forgotten Planet I was thinking I would have loved to spend more time with the Sixie/Charley dynamic. Given how bored I was with the character during the latter McGann era this is nothing short of a miracle. I can’t think of a single instance where a companion has felt so tired and with a single revolutionary step finding myself falling in love with them again but in a whole new way. What’s even more interesting is how India Fisher’s performance adapted with this new evasive Charley and she went on to give her strongest turns against Colin Baker. In all respects this has been a barmy experiment that has paid off. Charley had a phenomenal two seasons with McGann, an inconsistent run in the Divergent Universe and onwards with C’rizz before catapulting into sixth Doctor’s life where she went out at her peak. It’s a shame about the middle section of her time in the audios but taken as a whole Charley has been the poster child for Big Finish companions. A complicated companion whose very presence in the TARDIS is an issue, who declared her love for the Doctor and who broke a vital rule leaping into his past. Ladies and gents please raise your glass for Charlotte Pollard!

Charley has been working for the Viyrans because they promised to wake her when they track down the Doctor. When the Viyrans make Charley aware there is an exact duplicate of her wandering around out there she knows it is Mila and that was when things started to get really interesting. The end of episode one is exactly how the cliffhangers can be drafted in to make the trilogies a more dramatic experience. Patient Zero saw the dramatic events of Mila taking Charley’s place and with Paper Cuts wedged between them we have had a bit of a breather so the impact of the first cliffhanger where a fuming Charley comes face to face with her tormentor and it is a real spine tingler. Mila had absolutely everything she wanted and by bungling on her adventure with the Doctor Charley is about to ruin everything for the pair of them. The Doctor is about to discover that he has been duped twice over (by both Charley and Mila) and this faux companionship is going to be brought to a dramatic end. That first cliffhanger though is superb and almost on its own justifies the Charley/Mila shenanigans. Charley doesn’t have anything like a formal contract with the Viyrans, more of an understanding that they can help each other out. She feels she has some sway with them though because she knows that they wouldn’t have completed some of their missions had it not been for her. When she finally gets to speak to the Doctor Charley tells him how much she has missed him but she understands the situation better than he does – a simple explanation for a very complicated situation that she is going to have to untangle for him once the fireworks are over. The Doctor describes the two Charley’s as an intrusion in time and the cause of a corruption in it. When Charley calls Mila by her name it is as though she has physically struck her – she spits back that that isn’t who she is anymore. Charley admits that she has made hash out of everything – even her pretend existence with the sixth Doctor has been usurped. The last thing I expected was the Charley and Mila working together for the man they both love but it certainly gave the conclusion a burst of sentiment that overwhelmed me. We experience the Doctor’s parting with Mila, promising to look in on her from time to time but it is in reality a fiction placed in his head by Charley who has to finally wrap up her time with the Doctor and make it so he never remembers her. Its an oddly poignant moment because unbeknownst to him he has genuinely been having adventures with Mila. Charley is clever enough to know that if she spells out his future to him the Doctor himself will be forced to forget his time with her. We leave her as an unwilling traveller with the Viyrans, ready to forge a future without the Doctor.

Standout Performance: This one belongs to India Fisher who has grown so much as performer throughout her time with Big Finish to the point where she is playing two completely separate characters in her last story with absolute confidence. Go and listen to her final scene with Colin if you want to know how good Fisher is at her very best – its understated and beautiful and the perfect point to say goodbye to the character.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I think the Viyrans are going to wipe out the human race…’
‘Let me tell you a story. You meet a girl on the R-101 airship. She’s meant to die in the crash’ ‘If this is something from my future I don’t think…’ ‘But you save her and that tears at the fabric of time itself – the Web of Time but in a way you don’t care because you’re in love with her’ ‘Sounds like I became reckless in my old age…’ ‘Isn’t that what old age is for?’ ‘Perhaps’ ‘The one day you and this girl, this woman, decide to go your separate ways. But before this happens she sees you die’ ‘Charlotte! I don’t want’ ‘And you don’t regenerate!’ Why are you’ ‘You die!’ ‘Why are you telling me this?’ ‘I think the only way the Viyrans can erase your memory without killing you is if you really want to forget. And now you know when you meet Charlotte Pollard your life will nearly be over!’ ‘Everyone dies, Charley. Even me. I’m prepared for that’ – this is so beautifully performed by Fisher and Baker its everything I could have hoped it would be.

Great Ideas: The best parties in the galaxy are on Grelistor or so they say. There is a very funny moment just after the title music that features a character giving what appears to be a dramatic monologue but in true Armageddon Factor style it is actually a propaganda piece being recorded – an advert for the ‘Save Planet Earth’ campaign. A crater several miles across caused by a chemical explosive device. Without the Viyrans all human life would have died out years ago, sending medication that wipes out the madness. Without the meds you begin to forget everything you have ever known until you are left as a shivering vegetable, afraid of your own shadow. No one knew how to cure diseases, build things or grow things. There were epidemics, catastrophes and the human population was cut by over 2 billion in a decade. Utter chaos ensued with wars breaking out and mass murder with nobody understanding the technology anymore. Viyran ships landed all over the world but it was too little too late. They set up small survivor groups and gave a temporary vaccine to a privileged few. In return they were asked to make documentaries, charity appeals to the Viyrans. Only Charley realises that the Viyrans aren’t medical missionaries but the ones who caused all this madness in the first place. Their mission is to wipe out the Amethyst viruses (that were released in Patient Zero) and the madness disease was their attempt at a cure that went horribly wrong. The Mison particle disseminator that was launched at the beginning of the story was to destroy the minute quantity of Amethyst virus that was detected on the planet but they did not foresee the side effect of the madness. The radiation caused a massive chemical imbalance and somehow the human race had civilisation wiped clean from their collective brains. I just love the idea of the human race being practically wiped out by what is little more than a statistical error especially since the surviving humans have given the mass extinction the feeling of a tangible threat against the planet. The way they so calmly state that in their search for the viruses it has only been necessary to wipe out five races of the millions they have encountered thus far. Only five! The Viyrans have beings in cryosleep from all over the universe that they use in their experiments to find cures for these diseases – I bet that would be a wonderful place to explore aliens from across the universe. The virus is present as one dormant particle in every human being and there is a 1 in 5.4billion chance that sometime in the next 7000 millennia a human may contract the virus! Unbelievably the virus isn’t really dangerous at all, it could only turn deadly against infinitesimal odds! Chronon particles that get released in the time vortex are the cure for the virus so the Doctor extends the time field of the TARDIS around the entire planet and within the sphere reverts the Earth’s timeline to a point before the Viyrans fired their first disseminator. Shifting the entire human race back in time and curing them all of the virus breaks every single rule in the book.

Audio Landscape: Waves lapping against the shore, a Mison disseminator being fired at the Earth – you can hear it screaming through the atmosphere, applause, helicopters tearing across the landscape, blades whirring, the wibbly wobbly TARDIS landing, the Doctor’s echoing voice as he emerges into a canyon, boots marching, what sounds like a crowd in a scrap with machine guns being fired into the melee, a dog snarling, the Viyran ship landing, the landing ramp hydraulics hissing, I love the metallic whirring that signifies a light moving across the Viyrans monitors (very Cylon), siren, guns cocking, madness breaks out with bullets flying, people screaming and being cut to pieces, Charley freezing, levitating the cryopods, the Viyran intruder alert horn, explosions, Big Ben.

Musical Cues: Is this the first main range story that Jamie Robertson scored? If so we are in for an absolute treat from this point onwards since his music is some of the finest that has ever featured in a Doctor Who production as far as I am concerned. I am so glad that the producers decided to add musical tracks as an extra feature on the discs and downloads because you get to experience the scope and emotional drive of some of scores without the dialogue and sound effects distracting you. The horns are very much in evident which pre-empts that this is going to be one of Jamie Robertson’s cinematic scores. Everything about the Viyrans approach is dynamic, loud and proud.

Isn’t it Odd: This is less of a criticism of the play itself and more of fan expectation because I remember there being quite a lot of talk about the Viyrans on forums and in DWM and a lot of people thought they were going to be the next Big Finish Big Bad. When the truth of the matter was they were a fairly mundane robot race that work really well because they have been included in some operatic stories that heighten their status and were memorably brought to life by Nick Briggs. So they did work just not in the way that they were expected to.

Standout Scene: The final goodbye between the Doctor and Charley (and I love the fact that they don’t actually confirm that it is Charley) is everything it should have been. With the truth she has been hiding exposed they can finally talk frankly with each other – Charley knows that his memory has to be erased and she insists to the Viyrans that she has to be the one to convince him that it needs to be done too. Colin Baker and India Fisher are remarkable in this scene and by the end I was grabbing at the tissues. Stick around after the final titles because there is a hint that this might not quite be the very end for Charlotte Pollard who is still out there somewhere working with the Viyrans.

Notes: There was a moment that really made me smile with a ‘Doctor’ ‘You were expecting someone else?’ exchange in episode four which took me way back to the regeneration scene in The Caves of Androzani and reminded just how far we have come with this character thanks to Big Finish.

Result: An aid mission gone fatally wrong leaving the Earth a post apocalyptic wasteland – that’s a fantastic setting for a Doctor Who story. Its used to stage a cinematic extravaganza that paves the way for a final goodbye to Charley Pollard from the main range. It is a testament to how they revolutionised her character since she joined the sixth Doctor that after so many years and releases that it still feels as though we are letting go of the character too soon. Nick Briggs is so underrated as a writer and this is a fantastic example of how well he can craft a Doctor Who story and here has been able to shape a trilogy to ensure that Blue Forgotten Planet is a very satisfying finale. The Viyrans are back for the blockbusting story they were promised and the Charley/Mila storyline is given appropriate focus and tension. Just look at the way he uses the cliffhangers to grab hold of the listen and catapult you into the next instalment – so many writers forget the true effectiveness a good cliffhanger can have and here we have three humdingers. The story holds the attention throughout thanks to a lavish production courtesy of Briggs (the sound effects are so effective that if you close your eyes you are actually taking part) and a Jamie Robertson score that ups the excitement levels at all the right moments. What this story is really about though is separating the Doctor and Charley and on that score it does so with real aplomb. The lies are abolished and they get to say goodbye to each other as they really are and it’s an emotional high for both Colin Baker and India Fisher. Blue Forgotten Planet has so much to do – rounding off a trilogy, telling a dynamic story in its own right and giving Charley a decent hurrah – and Briggsy ticks these three off with such swagger it is a real testament to his talent behind the scenes: 9/10


Jimmy W said...

Hey Joe, Love your reviews. I was just wondering about these Sixie/Charley stories, they seem to form a pretty arc based on your reviews. Are there any standalone stories that can be listened to out of order?

Joe Ford said...

Hi Jimmy, many thanks for commenting and for your kind words. They are pretty heavily intertwined I have to be honest and they form a terrific run. But you could safely listen to The Doomwood Curse out of all of the stories available and still not feel as if you are missing out on any information.

Mica said...

I think I spent a good amount of the last hour of Blue Forgotten Planet crying. It was not easy to say goodbye to Charlie. She is my favorite companion (after Donna).
I probably hated Mila to the end...and it was so sad seeing the Doctor remembering Mila and forgetting Charlie, even though it was for the best (and Mila wasn't really evil, despite all she did with Charley and deserved to be happy). As it is sad for Charlie thinking that she saw her Doctor die and having to say goodbye to him again.

I had never watched or listened an episode with Sixie before Charlote Pollard entered his life and I really learned to love The 6th Doctor. Now I have to find a way to watch his episodes (and listen to other audios).

This was an amazing story and an amazing review. Thank you ^_^.