Monday, 14 November 2011

The Sentinels of the New Dawn written by Paul Finch and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: Some time after leaving UNIT, Liz Shaw calls the Doctor to Cambridge University, where scientists are experimenting with time dilation. A device hurls them to the year 2014, and a meeting with Richard Beauregard, heir to the Beauregard estate. But there’s something rotten at the core of this family… The seeds of a political movement that believes in a new world order. The Sentinels of the New Dawn are stirring. And their malign influence will be felt for centuries to come…

Intelligent Academic: Liz Shaw is another character with so much untapped potential because her four strong season with the show didn’t begin to scratch the surface of what this strong capable is capable of bringing to the show. This is another of those examples where I am already intrigued about what happened to Lis Shaw after she left the Doctor (and why) so when she starts narrating a story that isn’t set in the heart of season seven but after Lis returned to Cambridge I was completely hooked. She was working in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Physics at Cambridge under Terry Billington, still a PHD at that time and good friend of Liz’s. They were working together on experimental time travel and with Liz’s limited knowledge it looks she is close to succeeding although it worried Liz to be working on something so dangerous. She has to make that difficult first call to the Doctor which was never going to be easy when she left him so abruptly but considering their straight talking relationship his reaction could hardly be too much of a shock. Academia is Liz’s natural home but she still wasn’t sure one year on that leaving had been the right decision and she felt a crushing sense that she had let her former mentor down. Life seemed uneventful after all that hullabaloo with the Doctor and she wasn’t sure now she had adjusted if she wanted to start that up again or remind herself of what she was missing. Liz is cross that the Doctor misled her to the point that she was convinced she was on her own but she forgave as she always used to. The whole experience with New Dawn had been a catharsis for her, dispelling her original doubts of leaving UNIT. She realises that she has moved on with her life and so has the Doctor and there was nothing wrong with that. Terry had inadvertently armed an organisation that wanted to hold the world to ransom and Liz has to shatter her dreams in order to stop that. Terry thought it was professional jealousy and never spoke to her again. Liz never entered her involvement with New Dawn into the official record when she was a UNIT operative but then she so rarely did anything by the book.

Good Grief: Impossible for a human to keep up with a lifestyle too intense, he rushes up to Cambridge to see Liz as soon as she calls him and starts talking time travel. He is genuinely glad to hear from her after a year and wants to know everything about what she has been up to and Liz sensed these were real feelings but she could also sense the relief in him to be able to escape UNIT for a few days. The Doctor isn’t as playful as he used to be after the baptism of terrifying invasions on Earth during his early exile, although he could still be mischievous. The Doctor seems shockingly compliant now he has made it to the year 2014 – of course he is. The ability of time travel has been stolen from him and I bet he thinks now he is 40 years in the future that there must have been some developments to allow him to construct a working time craft, the crafty old bugger! Liz knows the Doctor has witnessed ecological disasters as a result of political ideologies and she cannot believe he would smarm his way into the New Dawns without caring what their politics are. The Doctor insists that he can fly the jet helicopter but in reality it would have been Jon Pertwee foaming at the mouth. It’s a nice touch.

Standout Performance: This last week I have been listening to Caroline John’s reading of Elisabeth Sladen’s autobiography and she has blown me away with the quality of the reading. You could be forgiven for thinking that an actress might not put the right amount of effort into reading somebody else’s life story posthumously but John attacks the material as though she actually experienced these events herself and it brings the (top quality, full of tasty titbits and wry and warm observations) biography to life with real brio and determination. It shows the greatest of respect to Lis Sladen and proves that her voice was simply made for audio, the way she can draw you in so completely. With regards the Sentinels of the New Dawn, just listen to her dramatic reading of the moment Liz and the Doctor travel through time – her pacing, her intensity, its absolutely perfect. And her quiet reveal that a man has died in her arms and what a sobering experience it is beautifully done.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The Doctor’s hair glinted as it whipped in the breeze’ – I cannot think of a finer description of Jon Pertwee’s man of action being assailed by the elements as he charges down the road in a getaway car loving every second of it!

Great Ideas: With their limited knowledge Liz and Terry had managed to create a time window with the ability to see your stationary position in the past or the future. No great shakes to some people but an extraordinary achievement all the same. Its an ideal way to time travel because you cannot interfere with established time and you can even been seen by those you were observing. New Dawn have peered into the future using the time window and made vast sums of money by playing on the markets. They want to create a wormhole not just into the future but the past as well giving them greater hold over financial and political affairs. They link their device with the original prototype that Liz was working on and acquiring the two Cambridge academics that had pioneered the technology. They plan to make every member of the New Dawn unassailable in their own field. The Helidromus has been built in the New Dawns bio-mechanical laboratory in what was supposed to be a mascot, a symbol for the order but is now being used as Richard’s personal assassin. Among all the philanthropic projects that the New Dawn are involved with providing free medical care to the Third World is the most publicised. What isn’t publicised is the curing of Ebola taking place on British soil of a Third World Country or rather samples being taken to create a biological weapon. It turns out that New Dawn were always going to establish themselves regardless of Liz’s actions in the past but they no longer have time travel technology which limits their ambition.

Audio Landscape: Birdsong, the pouring of iced tea, a waterfall bubbling, the time machine going crazy, a hissing burning, helicopter blades whirling, footsteps, polite chatter, Liz’s door locking, the growling engine of the car, the whooping wings and screaming of the crow, motor launches pulling away.

Standout Scene: To be fair to Finch the last scene is a peach throwing a whole new complexion on the framing device and offering hope for future stories featuring New Dawn.

Isn’t it Odd: This story started off with really good intentions to explore Liz’s life after she left the Doctor and for a while I was absolutely gripped by the two of them coming back together again. The idea of the time window also felt refreshing and having the two of them step through time is an idea to relish considering they never had a chance to do so during season seven. By my interest began to wane when we started focussing on the New Dawn because it isn’t a particularly revolutionary organisation (Doctor Who is packed full of these nut job cults that want to take over the world – hell even Torchwood has flirted with the idea in their last series). Actually it is interesting to note that the New Dawn’s plan is quite similar to that of Miracle Day with the unleashing of a terrible medical disaster and the New Dawn stepping in to cure it and restore order, thus taking control. Perhaps Davies listens to these companion chronicles and thought that was ripe for exploitation (but it is only mentioned here).

Result: I think I am a victim of my own making with regards to The Sentinels of the New Dawn because I had built up the story in my head as a gripping precursor to Leviathan that seamlessly answered all my question that the innovative Lost Story left hanging. Alas no, this is a competently told drama with some moments of inspiration (bringing the Doctor and Liz back together was enough to lure me in) but it is weighed down by some clichéd ideas (another organisation with international aspirations) and a lack of pace or tension. What this story does have is the multi-talented Caroline John on board who is one of my favourite narrators because she gives everything to a reading and managed to force moments of pathos and character out of a script that only feeds her morsels. Had this been read by some of the other companion chronicle contributors I might have been a lot harder on the story but John provides a smooth and easy listen and even when I could feel the faults in the storytelling I relaxed into her exceptional interpretation of it. If you have heard bad things about Torchwood: Miracle Day and cannot be bothered to watch it (I would suggest that you do because there is much more there than people have given it credit for) but want to be kept up to speed then simply slip in this story and listen to the Sentinel’s Ebola scheme and mop up. It is pretty much identical to the Families plan in Miracle Day and will save you the bother of having to watch ten episodes to get to the same revelations. Lacking substance but gorgeously brought to life, New Dawn is a curio that I would suggest every Who fan should listen to at least once. Just so you can experience more of Liz Shaw: 6/10

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