Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Perpetual Bond written by Simon Guerrier and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: When the TARDIS materializes in a familiar junkyard in the 1960s, the Doctor and Steven are soon embroiled in a mystery in the City of London. Who are the mysterious bowler-hatted businessmen with their deadly umbrellas? And what secret is young Oliver Harper desperately trying to conceal? Contracts have been signed. A deal is in place. And the Doctor discovers that perhaps not even he can stop a terrible business...

Aggressive Astronaut: Guerrier cleverly ties his new three story arc into his previous one by opening the story with Steven’s agonised reaction to Sara Kingdom’s death. It worked so well in The Daleks’ Masterplan but the series simply cut to the Doctor and Steven arriving in Paris for some respite. This is a lovely point to slip in some companion chronicles, when the wounds are still deep and hurting and Steven is questioning his life in the TARDIS and how safe he is. He remembers Ian and Barbara as kind, intelligent people who had broken down the Doctor’s defences and when push came to shove he was never certain whether he really tried to get them home. Seeing sixties London through Steven’s eyes is an appealing experience because he doesn’t recognise the cars, the aircraft or the currency as that of his time and describes them in an almost alien fashion. Steven admits he is not the greatest musician and it isn’t too long before we could find that out in its fullest as he belts out The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon! Isn’t it wonderful that Steven has no objections to Oliver joining them, rather than considering him a third wheel he welcomes the companionship.

New Boy: Oliver Harper bursts onto the scene, an uppity stocks broker with a big secret and it’s a great way to portray a new companion. Unsure whether you like him very much but desperate to know what he is hiding. He loves his job and likes the uniformity of everybody wearing the same clothes and doing the same thing. Oliver feels as though he has let his bank manager down because of what he had done – he knows he can’t be a part of this world anymore. Oliver enjoys dressing up Steven in the style of a sixties banker and tells him that he scrubs up well enough. Oliver has the manner of a king in this environment with Steven the clumsy servant catching up. Clearly Oliver has been brought up with a very strict moral code and when he realises how underhanded this business is he is the sort of person to yell ‘it isn’t jolly well fair!’

Hmm: Light glints in the Doctor’s eyes as he realises the TARDIS has brought him back to where his adventure with Ian and Barbara started – 76 Totters Lane. He finds it rather chucklesome that he spent all that time trying to get them home and now they have left him he lands there completely by accident. He wonders if the TARDIS has brought them there as a kindness, a chance to catch up with old friends, after having lost Katarina, Bret and Sara. Steven knows that a good mystery is a far better tonic for the old goat than catching up with old friends! Steven wonders if the Doctor had lost so many people recently that he just accepted losing him as a matter of fact. Guerrier portrays the Doctor in an intelligent light, figuring out a plan before any of the trouble kicked off and using Steven and Oliver as pawns to get everybody in the right place. I can just imagine Hartnell loving this material, grasping his lapels with pride as he unveils his masterplan from beginning to end. He knows this story hasn’t come to an entirely satisfactory conclusion what with all those people being shipped off to another planet and their families never knowing where they have gone and he doesn’t patronise Steven into trying to suggest otherwise. There was a strain of powerful honesty between these two characters during season three (there had to be considering what they went through together) and I am pleased that Guerrier has tapped into that.

Standout Performance: Purves has a three man job of playing Steven (with his usual thoughtful charm), Hartnell’s Doctor (which is about as close to getting the real thing in my book – he really has the essence of the character as played by Hartnell and it sells these stories as genuine first Doctor adventures for me) and the bulk of the narration. And he doesn’t break a sweat. People who consider Purves little more than a presenter (there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, that takes its own kind of skill) should give this story a listen because he’s absolutely sublime, giving the material some real heart. Tom Allen steps into the TARDIS as Oliver Harper and I like him, I’m not sure I’m supposed to like him entirely (he is a bit jumped up) but I like his no-nonsense morality and the fact that he is running away from something life changing that he cannot even share with the Doctor and Steven. I want to hear more of him and you cannot ask for more than that in a debut story (compare and contrast to, say, Tegan in Logopolis and I could have happily thrown her into the part of the universe that was being destroyed by the Master!).

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Puff your chest out like your people own half of Cornwall!’ – Oliver’s advice on how to carry yourself in the trades market.
‘The Engine of the World of Trade!’
‘Just as long as Steven and the Doctor never stumbled on my secret…’

Great Ideas: I love Oliver’s assertion hat deals are made by verbal agreement because a gentleman’s word is a bond – how things have changed since then! The aliens have infiltrated the stock market and are buying human cattle, live stock to be exploited. They are one of many alien races investing in the Earth whose banks are still suffering after the world wars. Certain members of Parliament know exactly what they are and what they are doing and the rest think they are an alien business in the more parochial sense as of they are from Hong Kong. The government were practically giving their people away and they certainly offered them a good price. Isn’t this a lovely, quirky Doctor Who idea that simply wouldn’t be handled by an other show? The complete randomness of Steven and Oliver breaking into song really made me giggle. Those who fail the quality test are returned to Earth with their minds wiped but the condition doesn’t always hold. In true Invasion of the Dinosaurs style, the politician that Steven and Oliver bring back to expose this nasty slave trade business is one of the people who is shadily conducting this business with the aliens. Each unit, each human being had food, water and lodgings and days off based on a fifty hour week – ironically many of them are doing much better than they would on the Earth!

Audio Landscape: I love the sixties glamour and pizzazz of the opening with phones ringing, deals being made, it really catapults you into the world of the high flying stock market. The swirling dust of Kembel, rain falling, a lift pinging and opening, cutlery and crockery clinking and laughter and conversation in a café ambience, a huge echoing hall with people talking over each other, umbrella guns emitting laser beams, screaming and pandemonium in the stock exchange as the aliens stomp their way to power, bus bell and engine, people vanishing from the floor.

Musical Cues: There is a lightness and bounce to the music that is perfect for this kind of effervescent storyline that doesn’t want to get too bogged down in moral implications and simply tell a nice, frothy story.

Standout Scene: I love the cliffhanger because it takes the one route that we would never consider, having the Doctor turn on Steven and agree to have him sold off into slavery to save his life. It helps that Peter Purves captures the very essence of William Hartnell’s performance and you can really imagine Billy putting his heart and soul into the anger and threat this climactic moment is laced with.

Result: I wondered if Simon Guerrier would be able to replicate the success of his phenomenal Sara Kingdom arc but I shouldn’t have worried because he has written another entertaining story albeit in a very different style to his previous companion chronicles. The idea of introducing a new companion to the Hartnell era is a deliciously ambitious one and to make it a never seen before all male trio added to my excitement. Oliver is a curious fellow and one of the first lines out of his mouth is a big mystery that hooks you in immediately but he isn’t explored in any great depth here because the plot demands a furious pace – all the sensitive character examination comes in the dynamite second instalment, The Cold Equations. This is a light and bubbly adventure that skips along very amiably and it must have come as a relief for Guerrier to write something this bright after the darkness of his previous arc. Purves and Allen make for fine narrators and take a fair share of the action each and there is a very fluid exchange between them that hasn’t always been the case with some of the other duos in this series. Despite the heavy subject matter this does feel quite slight and my strongest recommendation would be to buy this to experience again Purves’ awesome interpretation of Hartnell’s first Doctor. It really is something special: 7/10

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