Sunday, 6 January 2013

The Jigsaw War written by Eddie Robson and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: A cell. Four walls and one door. Jamie McCrimmon can escape, but it means unravelling a puzzle of extraordinary complexity. And there are more than just two players in this game. The Doctor is there. And so is his opponent Si. As a hero turns killer, and a rebellion becomes anarchy, the lines between good and evil are blurred. And so does the distinction between cause and effect…

Who’s the Yahoos: Sometimes I think it is easy to forget Frazer Hines’ contribution to Doctor mostly thanks to the lack of source material available. Only an ardent Doctor Who fan is going to take the effort to seek out the soundtracks to all the missing stories (or as my husband said to me agog last year ‘you’re going to listen to a TV story…without pictures?’) and tantalisingly new episodes are being discovered with painstaking infrequency that often turn out to be William Hartnell material (an era that already enjoys a wealth of archived episodes) rather than anything from the Patrick Troughton era (I don’t mean that to sound as ungrateful as it might, I go weak at the knees whenever new episodes show up I just wish the scales could be more even in this respect). And despite my assertion that season six doesn’t actually need Jamie (and that perhaps his story ended naturally when Victoria left and he should have gone with her) his presence is never less than delightful, his chemistry with Troughton and Padbury is unmistakable and Hines has always been a fine actor and promoter of the show and always gives his all to any material he is given. Jamie is a great character, funny when he is allowed (or when Hines thinks he can get away with it) and serious when he needs to be and his relationship with the Doctor is the closest to a bromance that we have ever seen on the show (especially when compared with other companions such as Harry, Adric and Turlough). Captain Jack might have been the one to actually lock lips with the Doctor but its with the Doctor and Jamie that where all the real love is. Actions speak louder than words and the way they cling onto each other for dear life suggests a deep affection for each other (not sexual of course) that goes beyond mere friendship.

When Jamie is asked how he and the Doctor work he replies simply ‘however we like’ and I can’t imagine a better answer. He has absolute faith in the man that he will win against any opponent because he always does. Jamie has developed a great respect for the word of the underdog over the authority figures, partly because of his own experiences back in Scotland and partly because that is what the Doctor has taught him. He doesn’t quite have the intelligence to figure that if a subservient population gained in numbers then they would use that to their advantage and gain the upper hand…they would in effect become the oppressors. All Jamie sees are people suffering and he wants to help. The Doctor has been teaching Jamie to read but only when they have the time. He likes this planet because its quite like where he comes from. The Doctor has never let him down before and so its especially disheartening to hear that it is his brilliant plan that has caused the situation on the planet to go tits up. Jamie needs to do things whilst he remembers because his memory isn’t as sharp as either the Doctor or Zoe’s. Every time the Jamie asks where the Doctor got the TARDIS from he changes the subject and he has come to the conclusion that he built it himself. They don’t need money and the Doctor doesn’t like him using weapons when diplomacy is a much better way to approach people. Jamie doesn’t even know how to start talking about this puzzle in understandable terms and so working it out is a massive undertaking for him. Jamie is the sort of person who can achieve something in minutes that has taken a research team weeks by blundering in unawares…but don’t ask him what he did afterwards because he wont have a clue! By the end of the tale Jamie knows how to open each new conversation with Moran so he can figure out where in the sequence he is. He might not be the brightest spark in to fall from the match but he has the capacity to learn and apply that knowledge.

Oh My Giddy Aunt: ‘You’re not that old, Doctor and it’s a big universe…’ He used to be an interested observer. Seeing the brute that Jamie could become given the right circumstances the Doctor refuses to believe the evidence of his own eyes. Even though he was born and bred for warfare, the Doctor excuses his behaviour when they first met of that of an influential young man. Si suggests the Doctor has ‘civilised the savage’ to which the Doctor refutes most strongly and tells him that Jamie is the most reliable friend he has ever had and there’s a reciprocating relationship. He blunders in and accepts the situation at face value and sometimes he gets things wrong. Given the wealth of adventures he has had since there seems to be some truth in the fact that there are plenty of things that the Doctor hasn’t yet experienced. He’s still young, relatively speaking. Jamie simply accepts that the Doctor goes around tackling other peoples problems and if he has secrets about his origins as far as he is concerned that is the Doctor’s business. The day Jamie sees the Doctor obeying somebody else’s instructions would be the day that he is genuinely astonished. The Doctor often tells people not to commit acts of violence but they do it anyway and so he gets to take a moral stance against whilst still achieving his aims.

Standout Performance: In a story of this nature you need all of the performances to be pitch perfect to ensure that the audience isn’t distracted away from the plot by an unconvincing turn. Fortunately both Frazer Hines (who is a dab hand at this sort of thing by now both as wild eyed, innocent Jamie and the gruffer but charming Doctor) and Dominic Mafham are absolutely on the money. I was as impressed by their contribution as Eddie Robson’s.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I don’t buy it!’ ‘I’m not trying to sell it!’
‘I would never make Jamie my assassin!’

Great Ideas: When the first survey team were sent to this planet they found it teeming with Unheld who threatened the crew, stole the ship and made it into orbit after beating the crew to death. What an interesting puzzle…Jamie is Moran’s prisoner but suddenly they have exchanged roles and he is the bully boy with the gun and Moran is his prisoner. What is going on? Then things shift again and Moran is not Moran but another intelligence speaking through him. In order for Jamie to escape his cell through the door he simply has to put the sequence of experiences he is having with a stout young officer called Moran in order. He is currently going through them out of chronological sequence and if he puts them in order he will have assembled a code which unlocks the door. I love the idea of the Doctor talking through Jamie just as Frazer Hines is channelling Troughton’s performance, it gives the whole format of the companion chronicles another meaning. Jamie figures that the future is not fixed so the resulting sequences that he is being shown (working for the Unheld, killing Moran, becoming the oppressor rather than the oppressed) are only potentials depending on whether he escapes the cell or not. There are other reasons that he might have put the uniform on as well (spying for the Doctor, perhaps?). Wonderfully Jamie decides to break down the segments he has been shown and write their sequence on the floor of the cell in chalk. A good way to infiltrate is to set up a threat and then save people from it. This has all been set up by the Unheld’s Gods, a fifth dimensional race that needs their belief to give them power. If they grow too numerous they will pull their resources and discover what their Gods really are. So they have been using humans to oppress them and slow their develop, humans like Jamie.

Audio Landscape: Rusty door swinging open, gun firing, banging on the door, cutting through it, alarm. Its quite an economic soundtrack for Big Finish, highlighting that this is entirely set in one room.

Standout Scene: Ultimately there is nobody outside the door trying to cut their way in, this has all been an elaborate ruse to sway Jamie’s opinion of how the future is going to play out. The test was never to work out the combination but to make Jamie think that he couldn’t change the future and he had to become the brutish thug they showed him to be. Its not a test, its indoctrination. Absolutely chilling. I’ve read complaints that the ending is too abrupt and the consequences aren’t dealt with but we have been so expertly guided through the story and had all the elements explained that make the final piece of the puzzle all we need to complete the picture. That abruptness is the proof that this has been rather beautifully plotted.

Result: What a terrific premise; its not just the combination lock that Jamie has to figure out, he also has to assemble the narrative so it makes some kind of satisfactory sense to the audience. The Jigsaw War highlights Jamie’s intelligence rather than his instincts and fulfils the remit of the companion chronicles by exploring new facets of these characters that we have come to know so well. The best characters are those that keep giving even after a wealth of adventures. Listening to Jamie trying to figure out an intelligence puzzle is a fascinating exercise because he remains true to his character (he’s an action hero rather than a brainiac) but he approaches the enigma slowly and carefully and looks at all the separate elements before trying to put them all together. Zoe would have it all figured out in seconds…but where would the fun be in that? That’s why they have swapped roles of late; Zoe experiencing an emotional adventure (The Uncertainty Principle) and Jamie an intellectual one. Since the Troughton era was one of monsters and blockbusting invasions I always love it when the audios take a more historical or psychological approach (of which this is a strong example of the latter), focussing on and exploiting the strength of the regulars in a way that the series simply didn’t do at the time (it was more of an adventure serial). Saying that the Doctor goes through a similar horror to what Jamie did in Evil of the Daleks (which in its psychological investigation was definitely the exception rather than the rule), seeing him in an entirely different light and questioning just how well he really knows the young rapscallion. I love nostalgia but its innovative stories like this that really thrill me. Whatever you want from a Doctor Who adventure, The Jigsaw War has it; it is morally ambiguous (are the Unheld the victims or the villains), it’s a great mystery (what is happening to Jamie and which future will come to pass?) and it develops the characters in kind (you’ll understand both the Doctor and Jamie a little better before the end). Considering its non linear and puzzling nature this is actually very easy to listen to thanks to a script which takes the time to explain itself as it goes and crystal clear direction from the ever reliable Lisa Bowerman. Add in a pair of memorable performances from Frazer Hines and Dominic Mafham and you have a really juicy psychological riddle to solve: 9/10

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