Monday, 18 February 2013

Gallifrey V Emancipation written by James Peaty and directed by Gary Russell

Gallifrey rebuilds... 

With Romana and Narvin ruling New Gallifrey from the heart of the capitol, their former friend Leela now lives as an Outsider, existing in the wastelands of Gallifrey with the former slaves she fought hard to free. With no hope of returning home, to their one true Gallifrey, these three exiles try to find a way to survive and build a better Gallifrey than the barbaric, lawless one they have found themselves in. However, politicians, scientists and industrialists alike enjoyed luxury, power and wealth before Romana and Narvin came along and they will take any action they deem necessary to regain what they have lost. And if Leela’s Outsiders are swept away as a consequence, so much the better. And in the shadows, watching and waiting, is an ancient evil that no one can stop...

Emancipation written by James Peaty and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: Supreme Leader of Gallifrey - the Lady President Romana - is making a series of decisions that are costing her allegiances within the Inner Council. Lord High Chancellor Narvin is trying to protect the truth behind their presence there. Emissary Leela is trying to secure basic rights for her allies, the Outsiders, now freed from generations of bondage to their masters, the Regenerators of Gallifrey. But their enemies plan to expose the truth and let society rise or fall by the consequences of their political ambitions...

Presidential Babe: There is a feeling of trying to steer the character of Romana back in some kind of reasonable direction after her abominable portrayal in the last season. There is a very telling comparison made between her and the Romana that belongs on this world, suggesting she has a lesser lust for power than her predecessor. When she admits that she has lost a great deal because she has lost Leela it is something of an indictment of their friendship. Intellectually they might not be equals but socially and morally Romana has come t rely on her counsel and respect Leela for her many qualities. So much so that their separation truly affects her. Brilliantly Romana can see through Valyes from the start as she dealt with enough weasly subordinates in her time to know which ones mean her harm. She’s just trying to make things right whether that means improving this world or trying to get back to their own. It’s a much more laudable goal than handing over the entirety of the space/time vortex and all of its potential to them or whatever power mad nonsense she was trying to do last season.

Noble Savage: Leela is still suffering from betrayal by Romana and refuses to admit she is her friend. It is one way of keeping their relationship interesting, I suppose, but I cant say it is a direction that I ever wanted their friendship to head in. Words are not her weapon of choice but she can hurt politicians in other ways. Her beef with Romana is that she has lost everything in their journey across the Axis (although considering her everything is merely K.9 and Braxiatel…and to trade for them she has regained her sight and her youth that is not a bad trade off!) whereas Romana is fulfilling exactly the same role in this universe as she was in their own.

Snidey Sidekick: Although he was hardly treated to any material that was worthy of him one of the better innovations to have come from series IV was how Narvin was integrated into the regulars and developed a gentler rapport with both Leela and Romana. Now he is one of the few people that the Lady President can actually rely on. Apparently Narvin is far less grumpy than he used to be…suggesting that there was an even more pig headed version of the man existing in this universe before our Narvin popped along! I find that hard to believe! He seems to surround himself with powerful women these days. Does Romana really think that after everything they have been through in the last year that Narvin would betray her? What would he have to gain? He more than anybody has sought their return to Gallifrey Prime. A more punctilious character you would never find elsewhere. I never once question his motives.

Standout Performance: Steve Wickham. Often underrated and finally given a substantial role, Valyes gets to charm his way back into the Capitol with all the smoothness at his disposal.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We need to get out own house in order before we start imposing our will on others…’

Great Ideas: I like the idea of a newscast on this alternative Gallifrey to catch up the old and new audience on where the series is nine months on. It also has the effect of showing that there is now some form of structure on this world (that was never suggested in Forever where everything seemed to be up for grabs) and adds a little immediacy to the proceedings at the beginning. Nine months on from the attempt on Romana’s life and rumours continue to grow about her plans of allowing the recently freed slave population to set up their own loose Federation of communes in the wild lands. Led by Leela, Romana claims they could be a vital part of the future. A potentially massive source of Zeiton ore (Vengeance on Varos) has been discovered. A possible cure from the dogma virus is on the cards…potentially giving a very good reason for the show to have taken a two season sabbatical. Valyes set the explosion that nearly took out Leela and he is almost responsible for killing Romana too.

Audio Landscape: An extremely sparsesoundscape...its the first I've heard of David Darlington in a while (once the staple sound designer of this series) and the result is something which is far less cinematic than I am used to of late. A screaming horde, a cheering crowd, laughing, raining, bleeping bomb, explosion, heart monitor.

Isn’t it Odd: I remember a time when this series was a hotbed of strong, scientific ideas, where concepts such as time travel, temporal paradoxes and alternative universes are explored as something that was practically mundane to the people of Gallifrey. There were recurring villains with counterplots, over arching dangers, encroaching wars and general sense of the planet being busy busy busy. Nowadays it is hard for anything to actually happen at all. The first twenty minutes of Emancipation is all about setting up the relationships that have been established on this alternative Gallifrey in the time we have been away which wouldn’t be a problem if only something were to occur. To say this is plotless would be a disservice to the term. Its just about people walking in and out of rooms and indulging in not particularly inspiring) verbal swordplay rather than actually getting on with anything. Once upon a time Joss Whedon struck upon a brilliant ploy to steep all of his characters in humour and thus make them all incredibly likable. It is something that is lost on the current creators of Gallifrey because every single member of this cast of characters is dour, deathly serious and completely without any form of wit or charm. It’s a crushingly dull place to be because of it. What is wrong with injecting a little warmth into these people? Even Leela (who was always the beating heart of this series) is as cool as a cucumber this series. The series has never felt the need to spell out every twist in the plot (and there aren’t that many) before (not even for Leela’s benefit) and I don’t see why it is starting now. Bizarrely the twist to this story seems to be that everything goes right for Romana. Have things really been that bad that the good guys managing to get something right is seen as a triumph.

Result: ‘If I’m right we could save our Gallifrey!’ Either Gary Russell is brave for sticking to his guns and letting this story play out as he originally intended (ie not returning to Gallifrey Prime at the first available opportunity) or he is stubborn for refusing to admit that the least series went down like a cup of cold sick and is deliberately refusing to steer things in a more popular direction. For the time being at least Gallifrey is staying on the alternative world set up in last season’s Forever and that’s just how it is. The fact that the series is clinging onto one location is a massive plus because at least if this reality does prove to be another pointless deviation from the main plotline it at least has the time to be set up and explored in some depth. Last season there was a stronger feeling of getting the gang back together for a good laugh over creating an enduring four chapters of the Gallifrey legacy (seriously, go and listen to the special features disc of Gallifrey IV which is the most self congratulatory thing you will ever experience) and what was needed here was a back to basics approach to show a doubtful audience they should see this story through. This is hardly a return to form for the simple fact that it takes ages for anything to happen (there’s eventually an assassination attempt on Leela) and the consequence is merely more incessant squabbling and bickering. The series seems to have lost its engaging penchant for politicking, replacing it with people standing in rooms bitching at each other instead (and no they are not one and the same thing). There’s a slight thread running through this story that suggests that long overdue plot resolutions are on their way (talk of the Dogma virus being cured and a return to the Axis) but I don’t think a range should dine out on the positive hints that the current situation will soon to be tossed away. You can’t exist on an empty promise. Most of the positives in Emancipation are characterisation of Romana and Narvin but Leela is awkwardly written, and none of the new characters make much of an impression (remember the golden days of super-bitch Darkel?). I remember a time when each chapter of a series was a self contained story in its own right (to be fair to Gallifrey IV that was the case even there) but this latest box set seems to be playing a long game, laying down seeds here but playing out as one, long, three part story. Which wouldn’t be a problem if it was an interesting three-part story. I used to love this series and I want to love it again, and it frustrates me that I don’t. A shame, I was hoping a fresh writer would bring a fresh perspective: 4/10

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