Saturday, 7 July 2012

Escaping the Future written by Eddie Robson and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: The galaxy has been torn apart by merciless invaders from the future. A coalition of worlds set up by Braxiatel has been comprehensively defeated by the super technology of the Deindum. Only a few scattered pockets of resistance are still active. Bev is running the Braxiatel Collection as a refugee camp, living in daily fear of attack. Adrian and Doggles hide in a bunker on the Moon, trying to launch covert attacks on the enemy with limited resources. And Hass is stranded on the occupied planet Maximediras. Bernice and Peter are free for the moment, travelling around time in an attempt to learn more about the Deindum. Where did they come from? What do they want? And can Bernice find a way to strike back at them? 

Archeological Adventuress: Peter asks his mother if she thinks they can beat the Deindum and like the good mother that she is she says ‘of course we can’ but with just enough uncertainty in her voice to let the audience know that she thinks they are screwed. I love the scenes where everybody gets together and chips in theories about the Deindum and how they can be defeated – it feels just like old times! Bernice knows that playing about with the timelines and practically becoming the Braxiatel that they all condemn isn’t the way they are supposed to do things. But things are bad and they’re going to get worse. When the news that Adrian might have died filters through that practically clichés it for Benny. She recognises that after this is done then no more. Manipulating the lives of others is off the menu. The last Bernice sees of Peter is him being shot by the Deindum as she is dragged away by Braxiatel. Now she has no choice but to set her plan in motion and eradicate the Deindum’s warlike future – nothing will stop her from protecting her son.

Super Genius: When you hear Braxiatel publicly admitting that they are lost and to give up hope…well its unheard of. He’s desolate and depressed, subject to the Deindum experiments and doesn’t want to see any of his previous allies. His reaction when Bernice rushes in to save him (against her better judgement) made me howl with laughter. This is their chance to finally get some answers out of the man and to hold him to account for his actions…and it has been a long time coming. He asks what Bernice wants from him and all she wants is to see that he cares. Braxiatel used to but he has become so involved in his madly complicated schemes he’s forgotten the cost. Worlds have been lost, lives lost and the future ruined and Bernice wants him to know that it wasn’t worth it. She has no qualms about telling him that if she hadn’t needed him to complete her plans she would have left him to the Deindum. He’s never been happy with his TARDIS since he got into the Jade colour scheme and has been redecorating. Despite the fact that everybody knows what Braxiatel has done he doesn’t hide away from the people in his care but instead assumes responsibility for them. Brax tried to be honest with Bernice about his plans (to which naturally she is appalled) and he makes a very good point that perhaps she would have preferred it if he had gone behind her back and done it so she could find out later and come down on him like a ton of bricks but still reap the benefits. When it comes down to Bernice and Brax being the last two people able to make a difference and fiddle the timelines so the Deindum scourge is deleted she tells him that she doesn’t think what he has done was right but she does understand his motives. It’s the closure both characters needed before they moved on (or lost) their lives.

Angry Adolescent: When Braxiatel made Peter kill Jason he unleashed something inside of him. He has to live with that action for the rest of his life.

Art Thief: She’s reluctant to leave the Collection because six months down and the Deindum haven’t attacked it yet. She tells Adrian that she loves him when she has to send him into certain death. Its nice to know that there is still room for romance in this universe.

Alien Gardener: Hass is tortured to within an inch of his life by the Deindum who want him to tell them where Brax is and he doesn’t break. He’s been letting the radiation build up in his suit the whole time just in case it is needed. Brax returns with a plan for Hass to kill again by releasing that radiation and to give them a chance to put their plan into operation. He agrees but it might just kill him inside to do it again. Lianna’s toe curling scream as Hass unleashes the full force of his radiation onto Maximediras is unforgettable. 

Shaggy Dog: Adrian is a direct man and prefers facing his enemies down and not hiding in a bunker and sending out other people (the BPMs) to do his dirty work for him. He feels it’s a war played by children and not men. Being free in this way feels like being in prison and he doesn’t like spending so much time with the man who almost tortured him to death once. Adrian is all about building and Bernice is all about ruins and that sums up why they could never have worked as a couple.

Food Stains: Since he started working for Braxiatel he has become a psychological wreck who has rarely slept because he cannot switch his mind off and now he gets the chance to tell him how much he hates him for that. Before time is rewritten Doggles is shot down in a hail of bullets.

Standout Performance: This one belongs to Miles Richardson through and through as Braxiatel is trapped in the unfortunate position of being kidnapped by Bernice and friends and has to make an account of himself. Richardson gets the chance to be serious, tortured, charming, funny, clever, benevolent and humble. He’s such an asset to this range and whilst I understood the reasons why they wanted to effectively reboot it and try new things after this story it pleased me no end to find him back at the end of the Legion box set. He’s simply too good a character (and actor) to not have around.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Back home in the present monsters from the future with technology that’s as advanced as any I’ve ever seen they have spent the last six months systematically destroying everything I’ve ever known…’
‘I wish I hadn’t been so important to you.’
‘Its hard enough planning in four dimensions without you being enigmatic!’
‘Maybe I’ll go back to the future and dig it up myself one day!’
‘Goodbye Irving’ ‘But not for good I hope Benny. In another life where the story takes a different path…’

Great Ideas: Bernice has tried travelling into the future after the Deindum’s end to find out how they had died (clever idea) hoping to get some clues on how to beat them. Instead they found the remains of their Empire, the whole galaxy crippled by their Occupation and terrified by the notion that they might come back. Its very clever to open on this footing because we know from the off that if the Deindum aren’t defeated they will leave a trail of devastation in their wake the likes of which the galaxy has never seen. They have to be stopped. In the future that Bernice knew (and had explored with the Doctor) humans had certainly survived but in the future in the wake of the Deindum humanity has been completely wiped out. There was an odd jump on Deindus (well what else was it going to be called?) where their technology increased and they evolved from a humanoid reptilian race to giant, glowing reptile heads that are currently causing a menace back in Bernice’s time period. There’s a lovely General Grugger kicks K.9 moment (Meglos) when the Deindum toss Joseph onto the street battered and bruised (he very sweetly goes ‘ow!’). The fiends! Because they are from the future the Deindum have all the advantage, they know how Benny, Brax and all the others are going to jump and can always be one step ahead. Bev wonders if the Deindum are so aggressive because ultimately they are quite vulnerable. There’s a terrifically exciting moment when the Deindum use the BPMs to track Doggles and Adrian’s base of operations and send missiles back at them to destroy their hiding place. One date was recorded, enshrined and remembered forever by every civilisation the Deindum had ever trampled over – the day when their future and past selves met and they found out what they were going to become. Bernice’s plan is to provoke a war between the Deindum from the past and the Deindum from the future by convincing those from the past in the moment where their warlike future versions descend from the heavens to tell them what will becomes that they aren’t their future selves but interlopers who are trying to manipulate them. A war between the same race at different stages of their evolution, that’s brilliant. Even Brax thinks its audacious! Rather wonderfully the crew reconvene in Braxiatel’s TARDIS to created a fake history for the Deindum, a home planet and a mythology that they can use as bluff. They need to go into the past to install their fake history and Braxiatel can muddy the timelines she they don’t notice that things have been changed. He wants to move the Collection, to keep it constantly in movement so the Deindum can’t get a handle on where Brax or his allies are. By using the TARDIS to hoover up spillage from the time fissure he can harness that energy to shift the Collection’s location. They found a quiet little planet similar to Deindus and everybody played their part in making this seem like a real civilisation. Doggles worked on fake technology, Adrian on fake architecture, Bev on fake artefacts and Bernice put together the whole history through remains. This is such an intelligent idea because it utilises the skills of everybody on the Collection.

Ultimately the only way to force this range to move on is to delete the Collection and its inhabitants out of existence. Now it doesn’t officially state that but by playing about with time it is a massive possibility. Cleverly Robson has re-jigged the timelines so that there is the potential that all those Bernice Summerfield characters are out there somewhere but they could be doing anything and might have lived completely different lives. For now the series has to move on but who knows when we might see any of them again? I like that ambiguity, it’s a very creative way of having your cake and eating it. They could be brought back and the ending of this story still makes perfect sense and they might never be seen again and it would still make sense. Clever stuff. And as low key and dramatic as it was this is certainly a more spectacular and memorable end to the Collection than ‘Bernice goes off in a huff’ in The Wake.

Audio Landscape: The winds of Deindus, screaming crowds, the growling Deindum voices, explosions, alarm, explosion, Brax’s TARDIS, the articulated lorry TARDIS, birdsong, Adrian facing an all out conflict with the Deindum, rolling waves, explosions as the Deindum catch up with them.

Standout Scene: The confrontation between Bernice and Braxiatel was everything that I hoped it would be. Robson allows the action to pause so we can share a moment between the two most important figures of this range. Once good friends and now the best of enemies, Bernice has finally got the chance to tell him everything that he has put her through. She wants him to admit that he had Peter kill Jason (because until now it has only been a suspicion) which he does and barely shows the slightest bit of remorse. Jason had discovered that Braxiatel was altering history and on a more personal level he had been manipulating Bernice and whilst Brax could have altered his memories (again) the real danger was that he was about to recruited by the Deindum. He would have been a valuable asset to them against Brax and something had to be done. He used Peter to bind Bernice to him – if she thought her son was dangerous she wouldn’t want to cope with him on her own. When he realised the Benny was inextricably linked to the future of the Deindum he thought he could influence them by influencing her. He’s been monitoring her via her time ring ever since she left the Collection. The truth is Braxiatel has his own reasons for wanting to defeat the Deindum that are far more important that the squalid path of destruction they have created since their inception. But he can see how much this means to Bernice and he has to live in this time period so he sacrifices the energy he needed to resurrect the Time Lords to save this corner of the universe and the future of its citizens. For a moment Bernice wobbles and tells him that she appreciates the sacrifice he is making. The last scene is spectacularly dramatic as both Bernice and Braxiatel are killed by the Deindum just as the timelines start warping – they might both be alive once continuity has settled by for this moment in both their lives they are dead.

Notes: Unlike short story collections in the past the anthology Present Danger is not an essential purchase because the main plot developments of this story take place in the audios. The six month period between the end of Resurrecting the Past and the start of Escaping the Future is charted in the novel and you get to see how the resistance was built and the lengths Braxiatel, Benny and the others are going to try and hold this menace back. Because there is no hope of a resolution (that’s here) it’s a very serious tome but its gripping because of it and with authors such as Lance Parkin, Kate Orman, Simon Guerrier and John Dorney contributing the hit rate is very high. Some people might object to the novel/audio format where you skip from one to another between stories but I think it’s a terrific approach to telling stories because you get the benefit of the intimacy of the written word and the immediacy of audio. It’s a very fulsome experience. And as long as they choose one dominant media to tell all the important moments in (the audio series is definitely top dog) then having the books to back them up just makes it a more intimate, detailed experience.

Result: ‘Bernice your brilliance has cleaned up my mess admirably. You have been remarkable…’ Unpredictable and seeded with great ideas, the conclusion to this two hour blockbuster wasn’t at all what I was expecting and is all the better for it. What’s great about Escaping the Future is that it doesn’t go down the obvious path of telling a war story (the anthology Present Danger has already filled a lot of the messy, violent blanks during the Deindum invasion plus we have already explored a war setting on the Collection in the Life During Wartime/Death and the Daleks double bill and it was hardly going to better that) but instead uses its time to spoil us with long overdue confrontations, the joy of seeing enemies turn into allies and experience this team working together to create a plan of monumental importance to defeat the Deindum. What I thought was going to be a depressingly shallow combat tale instead becomes a hugely imaginative and triumphant piece about these characters we have come to know and love triumphing against all the odds even at the cost of their lives. There’s exciting moments (missile alert!), performance pieces (the riveting Bernice/Braxiatel confrontation which sees Bowerman and Richardson at their best) and a real atmosphere of doom as the entire population of the Collection try and provoke a conflict between two evolutionary stages of the same race and manipulate the timelines. They are literally playing God. It’s a story where Bernice gets to scrub an entire war out of history (it might be one that could have been avoided but that is a moot point now since it has happened) and even as she puts her plan in motion she understands (as do we) that it will mean consequences. Consequences for her and consequences for the range. This two parter has been triumph in both re-igniting interest in the series and polishing off over ten seasons worth of storytelling. It has managed to be epic and intimate, exciting and involving, clever and creative. Its all the things I have come to expect from this range at its best with the added excitement of knocking down the house of cards once and for all. Who knows what the future will hold but at least we had the chance to play with all these wonderful toys one last time. The last scene is brilliantly climactic and unforgettable: 10/10

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