Monday, 18 February 2013

Gallifrey V Arbitration written by David Llewellyn and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: Romana’s secret is in danger of being exposed by those she trusts, and the only hope of escape is through the Axis. But will Leela’s forthright determination to see justice done, whatever the costs, mean their chance to get home will be lost forever…? And if they are able to regain access the Axis, is the world they left behind any better than the society they have built here?

Presidential Babe: I’m starting to wonder about Romana. During the first three seasons I always thought she was something of a revolutionary, a woman who is willing to go against the tide and do her own thing despite popular opinion going against her. At times her sanity threatened to crumble in the face of such overwhelming resistance. But it strikes me that now she has tried to set up shop on an alternative Gallifrey and they are turning against her decisions too that perhaps she just isn’t cut out to be Lord President. Whilst they are stuck on this Gallifrey this is their reality and they might as well make the most of it. Sometimes Narvin feels that he has to protect Romana from Romana.

Noble Savage: ‘Never underestimate a Leela of the Sevateem…’ Leela has always been an impulsive sort of woman and led with her heart but it seems a little naïve even for her to have been given so many rights and privileges for the Outsider for her to risk them all by kidnapping and threatening to murder Zacker. Has none of the politicking of her peers rubbed off on her over the years? Narvin asks Leela if she has lost her mind when she talks of taking action against the military considering the Outsiders would be wiped out in a flash given the overwhelming numbers of the opposition. She really isn’t thinking straight at the moment and she needs Narvin to remind her that these Outsiders that she has invested so much of her time and energy to protect aren’t her people.

Standout Performance: There is a moment in Arbitration where I had a glimpse of Gallifrey of glory’s past. Leela tells the story of Nadie, her mothers friend, who was taken by the Tesh and she swore to avenge. Louise Jameson’s performance is blissful (it’s the most interested she has sounded in Gallifrey V). Maybe there’s hope for the range yet.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Its like fighting fire with paper!’ More intriguing David Llewellyn dialogue said without a hint of sarcasm.

Great Ideas: The former slaves (or Outsiders) have put forward a convincing argument that they should be entitled to mining rights. Well I say a convincing argument, they threatened to take them if they weren’t given them. It’s a familiar discussion when giving rights to the poor that the richer classes feel hard done by, they feel that the inequalities of one section of society are being foisted upon them.

Audio Landscape: I honestly couldn’t tell you what has gone wrong with this season with regards to its sound design and music because David Darlington has provided memorable examples of both in the past. Was this season rushed through post-production to get it released early? There is very little of note to mention and only a handful of scenes across the three hour length that provided any kind of aural clue as to the nature of this universe and its surroundings. The music is mostly muted and dull with the occasionally dramatic crash bang wallop thrown in for good measure. Given Big Finish’s increasingly cinematic approach to audio storytelling (compare this to the recent three box sets over in the Bennyverse and Gallifrey is left severely wanting) I was awestruck at how meagre the soundscapes were this year.

Isn’t it Odd: Romana suggests that this was a ‘sick society’ when they arrived and that they have turned that around but considering we have spent so little time amongst the people I can’t see any evidence of that. There’s a bizarre one-way conversation between Zacker and Castellan Slyne where the latter cannot be heard for love nor money? I’m not sure where the good Castellan has vanished to but after having a large presence in the first story of this box set he seems to vanished completely. Were the producers unhappy with the performance? He barely gets more than a few lines…and that is over halfway through the story before vanishing again. Bringing in an alternative Braxiatel at the eleventh hour seems a cynical ploy to be able to place Miles Richardson’s name on the credits and thus convince a few more people to buy this set if they are fans. Be warned if that is the case…he only gets a handful of lines and it is merely a reminder that this series has lost one of its standout characters. The character is nowhere to be seen for the first two stories of this set (perhaps due to Miles Richardson’s unavailability?) and it seems superfluous and more than a little irritating to include him now and in such an insignificant fashion. Its taken Lord Zacker almost an entire year to figure out that Romana is an imposter President when it should be blatantly obvious to a blind spielsnake that they are fundamentally different people from the off. The whole nature of this plot left me shrugging my shoulders. We know that she is an imposter and we know that she’s going home and so all the coded conversations about exposing her are just filling time until the climax. Crowbarring a universe between Romana and Leela has been one of this seasons biggest mistakes and its quite telling that when the story (and season) has to be wrapped up Romana sighs and admits its time that she has to reconcile her differences with her. Almost as if they have been trying to keep them at arms length deliberately for as long as possible. Why this should be the case when their independent storylines (rather a grandiose expression for their thin narratives) haven’t been any good and their chemistry when together is so effective I have no idea. ‘You do not wish to be the Destroyer of Worlds again?’ Leela asks Romana, reminding her (and the audience ) of the blind alley perversion of her character from last season that I had happily forgotten about (the writers too it would appear, as this has been quietly shunted into the background as though they were a bit embarrassed by it). Narvin sums it up beautifully: ‘The only reason these things matter so much to us is because this place seems so much like home!’ Seems is the key word there. ‘This isn’t our home and it never has been!’ Yup, I really don’t need reminding of that. Hilariously the whole story becomes one big pantomime when Lord Zacker (who is riding high on his success as a rebel queller and kidnap victim) is undermined in about two minutes and the whole crowd start jeering and hissing at him (seriously, you’d think there was a colony of snakes approaching) and calling for his head. I thought I had tripped into the Eastbourne panto by mistake. Its such an embarrassingly quick turn of events it shows up the weakness in the storytelling and that this universe was never going to unearth anything spectacular. It’s a bit of a joke actually. A three hour long joke. The Dalek/K.9 confusion was done with far more punch in Lance Parkin’s novel The Gallifrey Chronicles.

Standout Scene: The cliffhanger is obviously going to be the talking point of this story and probably the box set in general. I hate to be cynical about these things but it does feel rather like tossing in a ‘wow the next box set will be better than ever!’ surprise at the end. Which wouldn’t be a problem if the overall quality of this box set hadn’t been so astonishingly poor. I’ve mentioned it before but lesser episodes of the new series (particularly The Rebel Flesh and A Good Man Goes to War) slyly used shock cliffhangers to convince the viewer that they had just watched a particularly good episode of the series because that was the last, lingering impression left in their minds. It feels like something similar is going on here and I fully expect at least some of the core audience to be brainwashed by the potential of this cliffhanger into thinking this series had something of worth to offer. It really hasn’t. Saying all that the moment itself is well realised and if it is leading where it has the potential to go (ie Cardiff have let down their guard and told Big Finish that they can explore the Time War or at least the events that led to it) then the next series could claw back some of this ranges respect. For now the Daleks are back but if they turn out to be Daleks from an alternative universe (that has been done to death on Dalek Empire already) I may give up listening to audio and take up fly fishing instead. Your reaction to this turn of events will depend on whether you think Big Finish needs more Dalek stories or not.

Result: Thank goodness that is over. I had to force myself to listen to the concluding part of Gallifrey V this morning because I knew if I left any reasonable amount of time nothing would compel me to return to this particular series. Given my allergic reaction to Llewellyn’s contribution to the previous series I didn’t hold out much hope and whilst there is nothing particularly abhorrent going on in this story its still nothing but lifeless running on the spot until the surprise cliffhanger. Leela is shown the error of taking on somebody else’s cause without thinking out her actions. Romana is exposed as an imposter. And Narvin…well he’s there but he doesn’t seem to be doing anything but telling everybody else how wrong they are all the time. These developments should have taken place in last seasons climax and there really hasn’t been a good reason to defer until now. It feels like this series has been a deviation from the storyline that Gary Russell has wanted to tell. As far as I can see nothing of worth has occurred across this entire box set in until the final five minutes of this installment and it genuinely feels as though this is where the producers wanted to take the series from the word go but an extended visit to this dreariest of Gallifrey’s has been foisted upon them. The Daleks were always going to be the major threat to this series given what the future has to offer (the Time War) and pretending that anything on this alternative Gallifrey has any relevance is nothing but self delusion and prevarication. Basically what I am saying is that if you have forced yourself to listen to Forever from Gallifrey IV then forget about listening to the first two hours and fifty-five minutes of Gallifrey V and just stick the last couple of tracks on. On my oath you wont have missed anything vital. None of the dwindling regular cast are developed in a significant way. There are no running plot threads that capture the imagination. And there is an extreme dearth of incident which instead is filled with endless dialogue scenes discussing dead end ideas that are going nowhere. Think of putting your fingers in your ears and going ‘lalalalalalalala…’ for over three hours before having a surprise sprung on your at the last minute. That’s what Gallifrey V feels like. I’ve just spent 210 minutes in this universe and I sill have no proper understanding of the place and given its sparse sound design I haven’t even had a sense of it aurally (its nothing but sliding doors and bleeping consoles…how boring). A crushing disappointment, not just for me but for the likes of Lalla Ward and Louise Jameson who deserve far stronger material than this. Let’s hope this new direction will provide some kind of fitting closure to the series. This two season diversion has long outstayed its welcome: 2/10


The Leviathan Vampire Girl said...

David Darlington's music and sound design has been extremely poor of late, it's almost as if he can't be bothered anymore.

He's recently been undertaking the sound duties on BF's 'Dark Shadows' range and it's the exact same music he uses here. Nothing to distinguish either series, the two are virtually interchangeable.

Joe Ford said...

Thanks for commenting. Its bizarre, isn't it? Because I know that he is capable of so much more. He was one of the staple sound designers/musicians back in the day and produced some really memorable work. It looks like Gallifrey VI will require a lot more oomph given the cliffhanger and so I hope Darlington wakes up to the fact that he plays a vital role in proceedings.