Friday, 28 December 2012

Gallifrey Disassembled written by Justin Richards and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: Gallifrey kills... The President of the High Council wants Romana dead. The Temporal Intervention Agency has been dispatched to hunt her down. Its mission: to eliminate her from the timelines for ever. It would be as though she had never existed… Only an old friend can offer Romana any hope of survival. An acquaintance she and Leela once shared. One they haven’t seen in years. But time is running out. Death is fast approaching. And this time, not everyone can survive… with or without the Doctor.

Presidential Babe: Romana finds the temporal adjustments of this Gallifrey quite grotesque just as she did back on their own. Narvin does point out that they had the ability to do exactly the same thing with the Oubliette of Eternity but Romana was just as opposed to that. I would always pay good money to listening to Lalla Ward being all bossy (I think there are men out there who would pay for that with an entirely different emphasis) and the alternative version from this reality is a no-nonsense Nazi with a penchant for ordering exterminations if things don’t go her way.

Noble Savage: ‘A little temp-or-al tinkering…’ This is the biggest challenge of the set for Louise Jameson who has to portray two Leela’s on opposite ends of the scale and inject them both with a sense of believability and integrity. Since it is Jameson in the hot seat she achieves that with almost casual aplomb. This Leela has had her father surgically removed from her timeline and is a hateful individual who still exists as Romana’s right hand woman but in the (very well suited) role of her torturer. If that isn’t an idea that gets you excited I have to question whether you actually have blood pumping through your veins. Not only does Jameson get the opportunity to play an evil version of Leela (which is such a delicious idea I can’t believe it hasn’t been tried before) but at one point she is to play the evil version pretending to be the good one! Imagine trying to play the character you normally play badly? Even blind and trapped on a planet that she doesn’t understand ‘our’ Leela is still willing to protect her friends at the potential cost of her own life. Forced to face up to a mirror image of herself, Leela has to go through what Romana did in Reborn but its far more extreme (and yet oddly more believable as well). She can see how the savagery could have been tempered and moulded into something more sophisticated – turning her brutality into a well placed scalpel rather than a club. There’s a gorgeous moment when the torturer Leela decides to take away Leela’s experiences but comes away blind as a result. Our Leela enjoys the irony of her namesakes theft.

Born Again Brax: I’m so pleased that it was Brax’s creator that was afforded the chance to allow his creation to meet the Doctor. Teasingly nobody ever states that the two of them are brothers and instead it is hinted at several times with playful interruptions. Romana deduces that since she knew nothing about the title of Lord Burner, as did Narvin then Braxiatel must be her own personal assassin back home. If this is brought to light once they return home (if they ever return home) it could have some interesting consequences. We also learn of Brax’s involvement with the assassination of the odd President (committing the crime and then covering it up because he was in charge of the inquiry!). There’s no low that he wont stoop to if he has a good enough reason.  Its interesting to see how close Romana, Brax, Leela and Narvin have become now they only have each other to rely on. When Brax is apparently lost at the climax to Disassembled even Narvin is forced to swallow down a lump in his throat. How times have changed.

The Other Doctor: ‘I’m respectable now. A Time Lord with rank and position…’ When K.9 notes that he can detect the Doctor (his presence rather given away by the striking cover that finally depicts Colin Baker as an older man) my heart started racing. An alternative Doctor is a mouth watering prospect. The Doctor is affable, amiable and utterly charming. He’s got to be evil then. Colin Baker portrays a Doctor who decided to come home from his wanderings and settle back down on Gallifrey. As such he’s had both lifestyles and is utterly content. Or so it seems… Disassembled is a fantastic reminder of the disturbing undercurrents that Colin Baker first brought to his portrayal of the Doctor but now they are more refined and less histrionic. Had he played the Doctor as mild mannered and refined as this in The Twin Dilemma but with the unfortunate complication of enjoying the suffering of others things could have been very different. He hasn’t used the title ‘Doctor’ for a long time. He spins a tale that sees him as a conscientious objector to the ways of the Time Lords forcing him into to practical exile as he was shunned and ostracised by his peers. The very idea of a Doctor who argues that the Time Lords should observe and not interfere is immoral. Once his cover is blown he reverts to form and enjoys taunting his Leela for her failiure to fool the others and admits that if it was his doppelganger that was blind he would have put out his own eyes in order to complete his task. He is totally dedicated to seeing that his President’s wishes come true. Although he is happy to have settled and to be pulled out of his revelry to murder the odd political spanner in the works at his President’s whim, he looks forward to be able to slaughter his way through the multitude of universes that the Axis will afford him. When he finally bares his fangs (metaphorically speaking…the vampires are coming in the next story) the Doctor is really rather scary.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You’ll burn in Hell for this!’

Standout Performance: Colin Baker and Louise Jameson as a pair of bad buys…there is no part of that sentence that doesn’t get me animated. Baker taps in to a quiet menace, charming the woman that he has been sent out to kill. Jameson on the other hand is completely unrestrained and salivating at the thought of hacking away at her doppelgangers timeline. Scenes of the two of them plotting in the shadows are unmissable.

Great Ideas: It occurs to me that Justin Richards never seems to be short of creative, intelligent ideas (usually derived from real science) and his notion of the Monoverse really excited me. Vansell’s TIA technical team have been working on a project to collapse timelines into a single cohesive universe, one that follows a cohesive history defined and policed by President Romana. They have certain margins that they like to keep to ensure Gallifrey has dominance over all realities and if planets and people dare to shift the balance they can have them removed to keep the percentages in check. They can’t retrospectively correct their own past, the last time they tried to they lost nearly a third of the population of the Citadel and nobody even noticed. The paradox proves to be Braxiatel himself and the Lord Burner realised this straight away because many years ago he was issued to kill his brother. He was killed and yet he still lives.

Audio Landscape: Most unlike Big Finish, there were a number of scenes in this episode where characters are talking in the foreground behind those we are concentrating on that feel jarringly pasted over the action. It only draws attention to itself because Big Finish are usually so good at disguising this sort of thing. Its almost made up for entirely by the sequence where Leela taunts Narvin from all directions and enjoys spooking him out from every direction.

Isn’t it Odd: Just as Romana called herself ‘Astra’ in the first installment, thus she calls Vansell ‘Fred’ in this one. With Russell directing she just can’t seem to be able to help herself.

Standout Scene: ‘Only two people have ever survived a Burn Edict…’ Unbelievably, Richards offers an alternative explanation for why the Doctor and Susan left Gallifrey when they did. I’m not going to telly you what it is because it’s a surprise worth stumbling across in the course of the story. The way it is slipped in almost invisibly suggests that both Richards and Russell were aware of its potentially controversial nature but for the sheer balls of its inclusion I was left awe struck. A massive round of applause.

Result: At first I was nonplussed at Justin Richards’ opening gambit because it didn’t seem to be at all different from the Gallifrey that our regular characters spring from. It did get me excited that they might be home for a moment. Then I realised that this was the devious shield, keeping us from the appearance of the alternative versions of Leela and the Doctor where this tale scores its big win. Dissembled works better than any of the other stories in this set because it takes the dodgy central premise and lets the regulars learn something interesting (Romana discovers the Brax was her Burner and what Richards dares to suggest about the pre-Unearthly Child Doctor makes the set worth buying alone). Ultimately its little more than a run-around (the characters always seemed to be on the move) but with such outstanding performances and the chance to explore the darker side of some of the best characters in the Doctor Who universe it is practically unmissable. Richards gives this story a dramatic force that the others are lacking, generating excitement not only from the contrast of characters but also the claustrophobic world they have found themselves on. The only thing that mars this is the muddying of the Bernice/Brax continuity although I’ve heard that this might be resolved at some point in the future. Oh and the agonisingly long and nonsensical prelude to the next adventure that feels like it goes on for the length of a bible. That aside, this is vintage stuff: 8/10

1 comment:

Straight Outta Gallifrey said...

I just read your review. Bravo. I think you nailed it! I was a little disappointed that this was another doppleganger story, but it came out quite entertaining.