Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Anachronauts written by Simon Guerrier and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: An experimental timeship smashes into the TARDIS, and the crews of both ships wake up on a desert island. Has the TARDIS been destroyed? And why doesn’t the Doctor want to escape? Then, Steven and Sara find themselves on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall in 1966. And their only way back to the TARDIS is to betray the Doctor…

Aggressive Astronaut: Steven didn’t appreciate his good days on board the TARDIS at the time because he was always so impatient and ready to move onto the next thing. Steven admits that he and Sara were fast becoming friends and they might almost have been more…but there was never time for that sort of thing. They share a moment of silence where Sara rests her head on his shoulder and its what they don’t say that’s important. Steven acknowledges that he was participating in a war when he met the Doctor but he left that all behind him for a better life. He braces himself for the questions that he has always been too afraid to answer – shouldn’t he be trying to get back to his own time? What about his family and friends? There was no way back until the Doctor could steer the TARDIS and there was nobody left to go back to. Under German interrogation he and Sara would disappear from history and the Doctor would never be able to find them. The benefit of travelling in time meant that all the hoary old escape clichés from adventure stories weren’t clichés yet. He’s so desperate to get free he even considers offering the Germans science from the future – the Doctor would be appalled. At the climax Steven can see that Sara is having a problem with the Doctor’s decision to strand the time pilots and morally he agrees with her but he also understands the implications if they had managed to return home with the knowledge. He wonders if there will ever be any time to explore a relationship with Sara like the one he had in his dream.

SSS: Steely, professional and with a cold beauty, she wasn’t taking prisoners. Sara had changed since she had caught up with the fugitives that she was supposed to kill and they had turned her world upside down. Seeing her personal future is a real eye opener for Sara because it would seem that as soon as her fight against the Daleks is over another war would pop up in its place. Would they ever be over? She starts wondering if it was worth using history as a weapon to put an end to monsters like the Daleks. She has spent enough time with the Doctor to understand that a war in time would mean there would never be any peace. All of history would be part of the battleground. Sara is really learning. She could imagine spending out the rest of her days somewhere as tranquil as a desert island but not without Steven to share it with. She doesn’t love him like that but he was more of a friend than anyone she had known in the service. He knew what she was, what she’d done, that she’d shot her own brother. Everything she had lived for had been exposed as a lie. Steven had never judged her for her part in Mavic Chen’s machinations, he had forgiven her. She needed him to convince her that she wasn’t a monster. Listen to Sara talking like this and knowing what her future holds packs quite an emotional wallop, its almost cruel to list the possibilities of a happy ending for her when we know that isn’t the case. Sara was too much the police woman to allow Steven to steal food in Berlin. Sara understands that they will tell the Germans everything that they want to know because their torture techniques will be two thousand years cruder than those in her time. The consequences of changing history literally presses down on them in their cell and Sara has never been so pleased to get through a night. Steven is going to have to show her how to cope in confinement because he has already learnt to survive years in captivity. Steven recognises that it isn’t the real Sara who has accompanied to Berlin but one that was made out of his memories of her. The Doctor had never told her that they shouldn’t interfere with history. He never told her that he was on Mechanus. The real Sara is strong and doesn’t show weakness like this one and she doesn’t love him. Sara’s delusion was enjoying a party back home on her brothers birthday. She’d known that it wasn’t real but she had been unable to resist.

Hmm: Discovering the spaceship on the beach the Doctor’s curiosity got the better off him and his companions could never hope to hold him back. There was something so imperious and regal about the Doctor at times and now he stands tall and proud as an authority on time itself. Clamping down the firm hand of responsibility on Sara, he refuses to let her ask what happens to Mavic Chen and whether they defeat him. The thought of losing the TARDIS haunts the Doctor. It was much more than just a spaceship to him, it was a link to his home planet and it gave him such freedom. He’s furious when he learns that the humans are using time technology as a weapon rather than an exploratory device. When faced with the wraiths that terrify Steven the Doctor is said to be staring at them with impossible wonder. He refuses to accept Natalie’s apology for Steven’s (near) death and at that point Purves perfectly captures his vicious fury. Beneath his lust for knowledge and exploration there was an underlying irascibility to the first Doctor. It could be seen as a man who is angered to be considered an outcast from his own people for something as simple as curiosity but its more likely just the authority and desperation (it was going to be his last, great role after all) that Hartnell brought to the role. Either way, both Guerrier and Purves understand that resentment bubbling underneath and let it out in dramatic bursts throughout the tale. At times I genuinely thought it was Hartnell playing the role, its that authentic. The Doctor tells the tale of when he met Kublai Khan and his companions fall about laughing. He tries to insist that it was deadly serious but that just makes them laugh more. In a clever parallel to An Unearthly Child the Doctor plans to kidnap Natalie and the rest of her crew because the knowledge of time travel they posses would be far too dangerous to take back to their time (as if his unpredictable old time ship could get them there anyway!). We never quite learn whether the Doctor wants the consent of his companions to abandon the time pilots because he wants them all to reach a moral ruling and he respects their opinion or just because he needs their help carrying them from the ship. I hope it was the former.

Standout Performance: There’s something very disquieting about the atmosphere of the first episode and its delivered to the audience superbly by the performances of Peter Purves and especially Jean Marsh. They adopt a similar stance to Colin Baker and Maggie Stables in The Nowhere Place, a cold and quiet fear in their voices that consistently kept me on edge. Mind you Simon Gurrier is working his nuts off to generate an anxious edge to the story with Steven convinced that they are being watched and the hints that the TARDIS might be unsalvageable. With Purves’ stunning recreation of the Doctor and Marsh playing Lang you might just be convinced that you are listening to a full cast play.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The TARDIS! It must have been destroyed!’
‘The machinery here is little short of miraculous. It opens up such new vistas for your people – all of space and time! The things you could see and learn and experience, hmm? The wonder of everything out there! And yet you think it is just a stick to smash your enemies over the head!’ – I would love to have heard William Hartnell deliver that impassioned speech as the Doctor but Purves taps into his violent anger brilliantly and the result is a wonderfully scathing moment for the first Doctor.
‘Travelling in time only meant more things to fight.’
‘You must understand. You will both be interrogated by torture and then you will be shot. You will have no appeal. This will all be done behind closed doors. Your people will never find you!’ – what a bleak welcome Steven and Sara receive in Berlin.
‘Sharing our knowledge of the future with these people…who knew what the consequences might be?’
‘Was he right? Should we have tried to stop him?’
‘There was never the time…’

Great Ideas: Imagine how exciting the idea of another ship trying to materialise inside the TARDIS and practically tearing it apart would have been to a child of the sixties? Its exactly the sort of ambitious idea that the show would never have shied away from in its innovative early years. The very idea of opening this story on a beach with the ship having crash landed and all the survivors meeting up to try and figure out where they are is so indebted to the first episode of Lost I could practically see the Island in my minds eye. To be fair it was a phenomenal pilot episode and a great scene setter and so if you are going to borrow an idea you might as well take it from the best. Another hundred metres and the other spaceship would have landed right on top of the TARDIS. These humans are pioneers, the first humans to travel through the barrier of time. If this experimental flight was successful then all of time might be jammed with commuters shuttling back and forth through history. There is a strong possibility that their ship wouldn’t just explode but cease to exist in an instant and they would never eve know they would died. Simon Gurrier has always been good at conjuring up clever ideas and potent imagery but this is an immediate assault and very attention grabbing. The war with the Daleks was ancient history to these people and Mavic Chen was barely mentioned in schools. The food machine from the TARDIS in the jungle? Instead of wires there are fleshy tendrils running through the spaceship, organic matter sprouting from tears in the flesh as though it were alive. History is being used like a weapon. Time Sprites are a fairytale told to the children of the Doctor’s civilisation and according to the theory there is one caught in the heart of every TARDIS. Rather than simply picking up where we left off in part two we switch narrators and see a quick recaps of the events of the first episode from Sara’s point of view. With an Entropy Gauge you can measure the age of the surrounding universe. The whole forest environment is make believe, the reason they haven’t been able to get back to the Ship is because of the many distractions thrown in their way and the illusion that it is out of their grasp. A door standing on the beach like something out of a fairytale. The Doctor set the emergency systems just as they were about to crash into the spaceship and both ships found themselves in exactly the same dimensions – they were literally inside each other. The TARDIS created the beach and tried to keep the Doctor busy whilst it was healing, offering him mystery and horror and a chance to breathe. Natalie threatening to hijack the TARDIS is a very powerful moment, despite the Doctor’s protestations he is powerless to stop her. A race called the Wall of Noise? With some gorgeous sound design and a riveting performance from Peter Purves the second half of the story opens on an furiously urgent chase sequence that drags you into the action. Guerrier paints a melancholic picture of post war Germany, a city that is licking its wounds and trying to hold itself together apologetically. Armed police roaming the streets and ready to dish out death to anybody that crosses them. It’s a genuinely oppressive environment that closes in on our two heroes. Even when Steven and Sara offer the Germans knowledge of the future they still let them stew in their pitch dark cell and ponder their fate. There’s a similar unnerving atmosphere in the Bernice Summerfield audio Just War. Screams permeate their cell, the anguish cries of time as it reacts to their attempts to change history. Because they have changed things, they fear that they are both coming apart from time. Space was a highly political subject but not a military one and they are seeking not a victory of might but of ideas. Steven realises that this isn’t Berlin but his memories of it, the bits that he studied at school. The Doctor had been trying to press against the edges of Steven’s delusion, to try and break him free. Whatever this thing is it allows them to group their minds together so they can reach out and put them all in their own prison cells. The Doctor can’t take the time pilots with him, so he takes them to a place well out of reach of their war with the Wall of Silence. Their time travel knowledge will be useless on Kolbolt. Scenes of them banging on the TARDIS door begging to be taking home to their loved ones and their fight falling on deaf ears to the Doctor are unforgettable. He is playing God with their lives and in some ways he even envies their opportunity to begin again.

Audio Landscape: This is an extremely evocative audio with a stunning array of sound effects utilised to great effect. Hryrek-Robinson has a way of highlighting a single sound effect so it really comes to life rather than assaulting you with a medley of noises and wasting his hard work. The result is an audio that is very easy to visualise and if you shut your eyes you can join the characters on this adventure. The wraith attacks are genuinely terrifying to listen to – I would suggest that you don’t listen to this story if you are feeling sleepy and there is the possibility that you might nod off – because waking up to the sound of these unnatural shrieks might just scare the life out of you! Popping champagne, the shrieking noise of another ship trying to land inside the TARDIS, lapping waves, rain lashing down and hitting the leaves on the trees, walking on soft sands, branch snapping back in Steven’s face, laser scalpel, birds screaming in the trees, the bleeping food machine, screaming ghostly wraiths attack, a vicious wind, gunfire. The gun being fired at Steven’s chest, hysterical laughing, running footsteps, gunfire, dogs barking, busy traffic, screams in the cell, ticking clock, a jungle garden on the Kolbolt moon.

Musical Cues: Some delicious exotic stings on the opening beach scenes thanks to the ever reliable Toby Hryrek-Robinson.

Isn’t it Odd: The second episode for all its glorious insights into Sara is the weakest of the four because it feels as though the story is running on the spot and waiting for the narrative bending twist at its climax.

Standout Scene: There is a wonderful, wonderful moment in part two that mirrors a similar scene from The Rocket Men where the Doctor tries to do a little matchmaking. Before people start to object its no different from the way he manipulated his own granddaughter out of the TARDIS and into the arms of David Campbell so it does have precedent. The forest environment is a dream, a chance to relax and the Doctor tells Sara to take advantage of the time. Unsure, he gently reminds her that Steven is sat on his own by the fire. ‘We only really regret the things we never did. Sit with him. Talk. Enjoy the dream while you can…’ At the other end of the spectrum is the horrific moment when Steven points out all the inconsistencies in the Sara that has been with him since he arrived at Berlin and climaxing in her horrific death. Jean Marsh is so good at portraying Sara’s horror and pain, its horrible. Finally the emotive ending and the decision that the Doctor makes at the conclusion. Love it.

Notes: On the run from the Daleks, the Doctor and Steven having stolen the Terrainium core and Sara’s involvement places this story specifically during The Dalek’s Masterplan.

Result: Simon Guerrier continues to reap rewards from exploring Steven and Sara and has delivered another fascinating, polished script. What impresses me so much about The Anachronauts is how he continues to find interesting things to say about the three regulars whilst indulging in an ambitious tale that is bursting at the seams with evocative Sapphire and Steel-like concepts. The first half of the story is practically a prologue for the main adventure and chance for the Doctor, Steven and Sara to get their breath back after being chased around by the Daleks for so long. It serves as a hypnotic reminder of the ‘sideways’ adventures that the show threw into the mix to keep the format unpredictable in the shows early years. Indulging in some haunting imagery, serving as a reminder of just how magical the TARDIS is at this point in the shows history and featuring strong character development, this is top notch material. The second half of the story is posing as a historical drama of the sort that this range excels at, conjuring up an evocative snapshot of the past and forcing the characters to make some tough decisions. There’s a real feeling of claustrophobia (not all that surprising when we find out where Steven is really trapped) in these episodes, as though whatever Steven and Sara do they will end up interrogated and shot. And the answers when they come are very satisfying. The Companion Chronicles always seem to bring the best out of the directors and sound designers and that is especially apparent in The Anachronauts. Ken Bentley has directing plenty of Big Finish stories by now but this has to be one of his most accomplished productions, managing to switch genres with ease and with complete control over his fierce acting talent. I have spoken about Toby Hryrek-Robinson above but he deserves another shout in the summary for his excellent soundscapes and music which compliment the production and give it a very visual feel. You’re basically getting two companion chronicles for your buck and whilst the unforgettable conclusion wouldn’t be half as effective without the discussion of the first half, they still feel like two individual stories. Simon Guerrier continues to impress and Purves and Marsh are legendary: 9/10

1 comment:

jimf said...

Sounds amazing -- very well-written review about what sounds like a very well-written Companion Chronicle! I wish I had the time to buy and listen to the Big Finish audios.