Sunday, 25 November 2012

X and the Daleks written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: ‘Subject is called Molly O’Sullivan. An inhabitant of Earth. Born Earth year 1891. Has travelled in space and time with Time Lord known as the Doctor.’ With Straxus and his TARDIS destroyed, the Doctor and Molly have tracked the mysterious ‘X’ to the planet Srangor. It is here that the truth of the threat to the universe will finally be revealed. What is the Dalek Time Controller’s ultimate plan? What exactly is the space-time projector? Who will survive this epic battle for survival?

Bit of Rough: ‘They’re your greatest enemies and you want to save them? You idiot!’ Rather than the plot catching up with them, the early scenes of the final installment of Dark Eyes features the Doctor and Molly retracing Straxus’ footsteps in order to figure what the hell is going on. Unbelievably the Doctor isn’t central to the conclusion of this adventure at all – the Daleks start going berserk with the Doctor completely at a loss as to what is happening and we cut to Straxus explaining that he has pretty much had the solution sorted before the story even began. The Doctor’s role in this box set was to cart Molly around the universe - nothing more, nothing less. I’m not sure he has ever felt quite this inconsequential before. The conclusion would pretty much play out in exactly the same way if he was exterminated by the Daleks before he reached the Relativity Map.

Dark Eyes: By this stage Molly has visited enough places with the Doctor to have developed a certain assurance that danger will follow them at every stage. When she asks why he hasn’t asked her to ‘run Molly run!’ yet I realised that they had reached the same stage as that of the second Doctor and Jamie had after about two seasons but in record time. They have completely adjusted to travelling together at this point. After trying to make a case for them in the previous adventure Molly gets to see the Daleks at their absolute worst, taking out an entire civilisation just because they can. Molly has been teased all her how life about the darkness of her eyes and the Doctor’s affectionate nickname for her reminds her of all the bullying she has suffered because of her peepers and stokes the fire in her heart every time she hears it. To her credit, when she first meets X, Molly tries to bluff her way through the conversation pretending she doesn’t even know who the Doctor is. She just isn’t particularly good at it is all. Molly doesn’t deal with things in a sensitive way so when she is trying to wake the Doctor up she does it with a violent slap around the face. And again. And again. What a girl. Molly is both delighted and shocked to find that her eyes aren’t unnaturally dark at the climax, happy to be able to blend into a crowd (like she would ever be able to do that with her temper) and unsure whether she will be able to recognise herself. Briggs gives you the impression that Molly is going to be knocking about with the Doctor from now on (or at least gives the impression that the Doctor thinks that) but anybody who has been paying attention to the character wont be shocked to hear that she has left him to return to Kitty and the life she once knew. It leaves Dark Eyes on a bittersweet note because I had grown accustomed to the character and thought she had great rapport with the eighth Doctor. There’s certainly a lot more potential in this character and I hope they are reunited in the future.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Kindness doesn’t usually flourish in the persecuted.’
‘You’re working for the Daleks’ ‘Errr…with the Daleks’ ‘No one works with the Daleks.’
‘I looked at history objectively, truly objectively and realised that the Time Lords are far worse than the Daleks.’

Standout Performance: I’ve already mentioned how strong Paul McGann and Ruth Bradley are throughout (although it is worth repeating) so this is a shout out for Peter Egan who has given us the most interesting version of Straxus yet. During the climax he is particularly impressive, condemning the Doctor for his morality when he had the opportunity to wipe out the Daleks forever.

Great Ideas: Fans of the new series who are bored of the sonic screwdriver being the solution to practically any problem in time and space might chortle at the Doctor’s mention that the device was a little too large to carry about to just undo screws so he has adapted it for a variety of purposes. We visit a planet that lives in the grip of Dalek fear with inhabitants that are allowed to live their lives as they see fit but whenever their masters need more slaves for their plan they turn up and drag them underground. The story recalls The Daleks’ Masterplan which also visited a myriad of locations before settling below the ground on a Dalek base on one of the planets previously featured. I was convinced that Nadeyan was going to be a Dalek agent luring the Doctor into a trap and so points to Nicholas Briggs for subverting that expectation and having him transpire to be as innocent as he appears to be. Molly’s dark eyes are full of retro-genitor particles, full to bursting and vital to both X and Straxus’ plans. You need a Temporal Chamber in order to build a Relativity Map and with that you can look upon any event in time and space (a bit like an evil version of the Space/Time Telegraph then?). A TARDIS within a TARDIS is an idea that has been played around with before (in both The Time Monster and Logopolis) but its such a neat explanation for why Molly is familiar with its controls and why they can’t contact the Time Lords that I’ll let it slide. The Doctor hasn’t been travelling in his TARDIS but a bog standard version dressed up to look like it. His TARDIS is somewhere else in its depths. The last time the Doctor saw the Dalek Time Controller he was being blasted into the vortex but he was rescued by Kotris. The Daleks and Kotris are trying to wipe out the Time Lords using Molly’s retro genitor particles to erase them from the timelines. However Straxus was onto their game from the start and plans to use their scheme against them, using the particles to destroy the Daleks. The only real surprise then comes with the reveal that Kotris is Straxus, his predecessor (although I guessed that that was a possibility quite early on). The climax features two versions of the same character trying to use the identical method of erasure for very different reasons. Only on Doctor Who! It’s the living embodiment of what classic Doctor Who was about, a small budget scene discussing big budget ideas. The best moments here come from having the two Straxus’ arguing with each other, Five Doctors style, and showing how the very nature of a Time Lord can create a schizophrenic sequence of contradictory events. Straxus tried to kill himself in Fugitives to stop Kotris from ever coming into being but his predecessor was one step ahead of him there and arrived in time to save him. I think I have just gone boss eyed. Ultimately Kotris is less of a villain (because he is only reacting to the evil deeds his previous incarnation has completed) and more of a (what did they call the Doctor in A Tangled Web?) ‘psychotic crusader’ who has fallen in with the wrong crowd. The Daleks murdering Straxus means that everything that Kotris has done is rewritten but the Dalek Time Controller is uninterested in that – he is planning to destroy the Time Lords himself in good time.

Audio Landscape: Screaming, another Time Ram shock, Daleks gliding about, Dalek heartbeat, lots of doors clunking open, Daleks having a nervous breakdown, birdsong.

Isn’t it Odd: Given that only the first part of this epic story actually deserves to be isolated as a single adventure (because parts two, three and four drift into many different adventures willy nilly) I am confused as to why each story on this set is individually titled like they are. They lead the audience to expect four distinct, singular stories that can be heard in seclusion whilst also containing an umbrella theme like the Key to Time. Had Briggs simply named the entire story Dark Eyes without the (admittedly pretty good) titles he would have automatically have avoided that criticism. I can’t imagine I was the only person to get a little confused on that score. It seems a little churlish to end A Tangled Web on the drama of a TARDIS in Time Ram only for it all to turn out to be a fake concocted by Straxus. After the counterfeit hippy Dalek scenario we’ve just experienced its hard to believe that anything the Doctor and Molly are going through is actually real. The conclusion to Dark Eyes features two of the same Time Lord outwitting each other and the Daleks swooping in at the end and saying that they didn’t care if this plan worked in the first place because they have another in the wings. It does rather render the entire story moot. If the Daleks don’t care that they have been defeated (in fact this may be the one and only time when they choose to defeat themselves in a rather shoulder shrugging way) why should we? You’ve got a climax that the Doctor doesn’t take part in and one that the Daleks don’t give a damn about – its hardly Clash of the Titans, is it?

Standout Scene: Looking back over the four reviews of the Dark Eyes set I have noticed that the moments that have stood out the most for me aren’t the big, climactic scenes but the more intimate moments. Especially those featuring Molly. Nick Briggs’ writing is at its best when he focuses on something very personal and Ruth Bradley is such a superb actress that she nails these scenes with precisely the right injection of emotion. X and the Daleks features a moment that took my breath away when Molly decides that for the good of Doctor and universe she is going to commit suicide. Its not a depressing scene by any standards, Molly actually looks back at her life and considers herself to be quite fortunate in how things have turned out and she appreciates the wonders she has been able to experience with the Doctor. A beautiful moment amongst all the noise.

Result: Trying to condense an entire series into a box set is an ambitious idea and one that should be applauded but falls down on two contradictory fronts; there isn’t the time to tell individual stories in enough depth so they wind up being unsatisfying vignettes and simultaneously the running time is far too long to tell one interweaving arc story because you are waiting too long for the answers and are disappointed by them because of it. Being practically the same format as Trial of a Time Lord it would appear that Briggs learnt nothing from its mistakes. Had the Molly O’Sullivan/Dark Eyes plot been one individual hour long story and not spread do thinly through so many other adventures it would have made for a gripping listen. And had some of the mini adventures been stretched to fill an entire CD (especially the 1970s and Dalek City stories) they would have made far more satisfying adventures. Trying to have his cake (to enjoy all the elements of a 13 part Doctor Who series in one four part box set) and eat it (trying to tell one epic adventure whilst conjuring lots of diverse adventures as well) is Briggs’ downfall here. The Daleks’ Masterplan might be sprawling portmanteau of ideas and adventures in the same vein as this but it has a dramatic drive and a taste for telling something truly legendary that is missing from Dark Eyes. There’s also the feeling that Briggs may have reached a dramatic peak with Lucie Miller/To the Death that comes with four years worth of build up and so this set, for all its agreeable elements, could never quite match up to it. I don’t want to step all over what has been achieved here because there is a great deal to like about this saga – Paul McGann brings the material to life with a rarely seen zeal, Molly O’Sullivan is more than a match for his Doctor and I will be campaigning for more adventures with this delightful companion, Andy Hardwick’s sound design is a work of beauty taking the audience on a trip around some startling audio landscapes and Nicholas Briggs proves that he isn’t short of ideas even at this stage in his Big Finish career with frozen waves, giggling Daleks, evil smog and the distant hammering of the Time War in the near distance all providing great moments. It has all the ingredients to make a delicious soufflé but given the conspicuous plotting and underwhelming climax it never quite rises as high as it should. X and the Daleks runs around for the first half an hour, killing time doing nothing in particular and when the climax arrives despite there being some good concepts in evidence there is the feeling that the revelations are a little inconsequential for such momentous build up. Dark Eyes ends with four people in a room arguing about a plan that has been foiled before the Doctor even got involved. The Daleks’ Masterplan ended with a planet being aged to death and reborn with a companion being slaughtered in its wake. Perfectly diverting on its own strengths but not quite reaching my expectations, Dark Eyes needed another revision before reaching the studio. If nothing else this set introduced us to Molly and it is more than worth the expense of the set just to enjoy a spin around the universe with her: 6/10

Overall: 7/10 – Entertaining, but not everything it had the potential to be. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Listen to UNIT: Dominion! This is where Big Finish got that cinematic adventure spot on! Look forward to your thoughts on it.