Monday, 31 December 2012

Gallifrey Forever written by David Wise and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: Gallifrey stops. Romana has been assassinated…The Time Lords have never existed… Gallifrey’s secrets are lost. On a world they barely recognise, Narvin and Leela find themselves fighting to stay alive. Against all their expectations, brutality and barbarism reign. And Gallifrey’s slaves are rising up to face their masters. Before this day is out, their lives will change forever. And the world they know might end before it has even begun…

Presidential Babe: Lalla Ward being bossy…I have said before that that alone is worth listening to this story for. Her characterisation hits an all new low for this box set and at points it feels like she is shouting for shoutings sakes because its something that the kinkier fans might enjoy. Why have they decided to turn her into monster with no principles? I would rather listen to her struggling to keep hold of her standards in pugnacious times than watch her turn morally bankrupt for the slightest of reasons. She’s not a character that I recognise anymore and has been warped for the slightest of reasons (because that’s the direction Russell wants to take her rather than having a motive or reason for doing so). In no way is this a progression in her favour. What has happened to the woman? She is prepared to hand over time travel to a ethically crooked version of Gallifrey, give them a loaded gun just so they can obtain the method to escape back to the Axis. I think if the Doctor could see what she has become in recent years he would be absolutely appalled. This is precisely the sort of God complex he accused the Time Lords of having in The End of Time and she deserves the exact same fate as them far as I can see. Just as all my goodwill has been worn away by this increasingly redundant season, it feels like her sanity has surrendered to the sheer irrationality of what she has been forced to endure recently. She’s gone good and loopy and the trouble is whilst it is discussed by Leela and Narvin it is only casually addressed. She’s basically become what her detractors used to accuse her of being back on her own Gallifrey. I sincerely hope that this is addressed in the next season rather than forgotten about because to take a character in such a perverse direction has to be for some kind of reason. When she started saying things like ‘fear me because I certainly do!’ I switched off completely. How Russell let this get so out of control perplexes me beyond belief.

Noble Savage: Since getting her sight back she is getting more paranoid and always seems to be five steps ahead of everyone else. She judges a planet as wrong if they need to keep slaves…if everybody was happy then why does the population have to be kept under control by the crack of a whip? As ever you can rely on Leela to be magnificent and salvage something from the ashes. The moment when she captures the magic of the TARDIS and uses it as a method of providing hope for the slaves was just magical. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Being assassinated is the sure sign of a weak ruler!’

Standout Performance: I have a bit of an issue with Carole Ann Ford and I make no secret of it. I dislike actors who forget what makes them famous in the first place and then go on to slag said programme off in their future career. Ford doesn’t quite take that approach…she takes the more underhanded approach of blaming Doctor Who for typecasting her in the Susan role and not getting any decent work afterwards because of it. Its something I’ve heard her drone on about ad nauseum at conventions, in DVD commentaries and documentaries – you know things that she has been paid to come and take part in. I wonder if she ever stopped to think that perhaps it wasn’t the success of the show and the paucity of the character that sabotaged her career but simply that she isn’t a particularly good actress because that sounds like a far more convincing argument from where I’m standing. Saying that she does everything that is required of her here but considering that is to act out a completely non entity who blends in with the crowd Ford is more than up to the task. Meow.

Great Ideas: There’s an interesting new premise at the heart of Forever that made me think that there was a point to all of this after all – finding a Gallifrey that is tantalisingly (and frustratingly) close to the one we recognise. However the flaw in that reasoning is that if they do decide to settle here then the first three seasons of the series are obsolete. A Gallifrey without Time Lords proves to be just as corrupt as the one we know but on a much smaller scale. In the first story Romana explains that hanging on the branches of the Nexus are various alternative Gallifrey’s that have been cauterised for one reason or another. To Forever’s credit it is the only story that explains why its Gallifrey has been cut off from existence. I also rather liked the handful of scenes that dealt with the sudden assassination of Romana and the appearance of our Romana in this timelines rather spoiling the assassins aim!

Audio Landscape: Its never nice to point out the production deficiencies in a Big Finish story (especially considering it is so rare) but the opening scene features a laughably economic crowd of what sounds like four people posing as the population of an entire planet. I can understand why this might be the case in something like The Pirate Planet but surely there is some technical jiggery pokery that can be done make four people sound like four million?

Isn’t it Odd:
  • Romana’s opening speech is so stultifyingly awful I had skip back a track to listen to it again to make sure that hadn’t drifted off to an old college lecture and not paid attention properly. David Wise does not assemble English in a way that I recognise, it’s a lot of self important words strung together to try and sound impressive but winds up being a bizarre form of anti-language. Some of the dialogue is so unimpentrable and unnaturalistic it threatens to trip up somebody as loquacious as Lalla Ward. An impressive feat. These opening gambits to hook us into another alternative Gallifrey are beyond dull now. There is a crushing feeling of ‘more of the same’ which isn’t how the final part of a box set should feel (compare on contrast to UNIT Dominion which was riding high on the revelation of its third part cliffhanger and never stopped running with it).
  • I don’t understand why they couldn’t find a double of Romana? Surely Gallifrey of any universe has cloning facilities?
  • Narvin wants to become Rassilon? Are you sure that Gary Russell didn’t write this? It’s the ultimate fanwank!
  • As we move into the latter half of the story they start to discuss the Eye of Harmony in scientific terms. What the fuck are they talking about? I like a complex plot and elaborate concepts (sometimes I like it when things are too complicated – Brotherhood of the Daleks, The Last Resort) but this hermetic technobabble is such an anathema to decent drama that the story might as well be in a foreign language for all the sense it makes. When Lalla Ward bemoans that Christopher H Bidmead took all the joy out of Doctor Who and made it serious and ‘geek friendly’ this was the sort of nightmare she was promising. Little did she know she would be trapped in a labyrinthe of her own horrific predictions.
  • There are several illusions to the Deadly Assassin which I thought was quite cheeky given the gulf of quality between the two stories.
  • It seems very unusual to introduce the concept of a TARDIS to this reality simply for the sake of it rather than as a means of our heroes to escape the Axis. I for one would welcome their freedom from these myriad of Gallifrey’s and this would have been the perfect opportunity to achieve that. Romana and her companions Leela, Narvin and K.9 travelling the universe in a TARDIS. That would have made for a fantastic series five. What a missed opportunity.
  • The Krilik fail to make an impression; a conceptual race from the dawn of time…blah blah blah. Nothing we haven’t seen done before better. Either they were included to try and give the conclusion of this set some kind of dramatic flourish or they are supposed to be the new big bad of the range. Either way it doesn’t work. Considering the former it’s a case of too little too late and they are hardly presented in the most forbidding light. Given the latter they are contained to a branch of the Axis on an alternative Gallifrey that doesn’t effect the ‘primary’ timeline in any way, shape or form. Apparently the whole of the multiverse is threatened by this never heard from before race…but a multiversal threat was handled far more effectively in the EDAs (for a starters it was actually what the entire arc was about rather than just shoving in the threat at the last minute).
  • The triumphant ending of this series is…promise of more of the same. How disappointing. Leela now hates Romana, there’s no Brax or K.9 and Romana is as nutty as squirrel shit. How Russell ever felt this was a point worth reaching leaves me scratching my head.

Result: Its better than Annihilation but considering my allergic reaction to the previous story don’t take that as a indictment that Forever is any good. I realised going into this story that we have lost the two most impressive aspects of the first half of the Gallifrey IV box set and that that might be another factor in my growing disillusionment; Leela’s blindness and Brax. But things that are missing are hardly the only faults on display here; the script is garrulously verbose to the point of not making any sense during the technobabble scenes, Romana’s character has perversely been twisted into a immoral time meddler, Narvin continues to make no impact whatsoever (even when there are two of him around) and the story blunders along from one lengthly dialogue scene to another refusing to gel into a narrative with any momentum. Its telling that the final story of this box set fails to cohere any of the ideas or themes that have been explored throughout the season and instead it just brings things to a jarring halt with no sign that things will be any different next year. It feels as though this has all been made up as it went along and that so much effort has gone into ensuring that the mammoth cast were available at the same time that nobody charted out the narrative or knew where the story was heading. Was there any point to introducing the threat from another dimension at the climax? Will we ever see Braxiatel again? Was there any point in blinding Leela only to wave a magic wand and cure her again? Will Romana ever pay for her misdemeanours? So many unanswered questions and what bothers me more than anything is that if I have to endure another season like this I don’t even know if I am interested in learning the answers. Forever feels like an amateurish first draft of a story that needs several revisions before it is bashed into any kind of recordable shape and it closes a disappointing season on a real bum note: 3/10

Overall: What started out as a potentially fun idea became the embodiment of 1965’s The Chase without the fun; our heroes traversing a number of bizarre landscapes for no rhyme or reason. The biggest problem with this box set is that it peaks with story two leaving the second half to serve up little but disappointment. Ultimately this is misconceived (the alternative universe approach) and only serves to frustrate fans of the series and completely alienate newcomers. There’s little in here for anyone. This should have felt invigorating and fresh but instead winds up feeling like a series in its death throes. How something starring Lalla Ward, Louise Jameson & Miles Richardson can be quite this underwhelming does not compute: 4/10

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