Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Uncertainty Principle written by Simon Guerrier and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: In the future, Zoe Heriot is a prisoner of the mysterious Company, which has evidence that she travelled through space and time with the Doctor. Zoe’s memories have been blocked by the Time Lords, but the Company is determined to break through this conditioning. And so Zoe recalls a journey to Earth in the past, to the funeral of a young woman called Meg, who was involved in scientific experiments that are bringing forth sinister alien creatures. Only the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe can stop them…

Brain Child: I have such a lot of time for both Wendy Padbury and Zoe. Something just clicks with me with regards to the character, she complimented Patrick Troughton’s Doctor by playing the smart ass to his nutty Professor and managed to breathe new life into Jamie as well by coming from such a different background that a cultural comparison said an awful lot about both of them. It also helps that Wendy Padbury is a fine actress who effortlessly recreates the character on audio (okay she sounds a little older but you have to cut the actress some slack in that respect but the enthusiasm and spark in the portrayal is still there). I love how affectionately she talks about the show in the bonus interviews and confesses in The Uncertainty Principle that it was the best job she ever had. Sometimes when people enthuse about the show it can come across as retroactively jumping on the bandwagon of something that is now in vogue again (stand up Maureen O’Brien) but that never feels like the case with Wendy. The way she and Frazer Hines rib each other constantly shows how well they get on and they both talk so fondly about their time with Patrick Troughton. It must have been a very happy time for the show behind the scenes. The running storyline that began in John Dorney’s Echoes of Grey has proven to be the salvation of the Troughton companion chronicles, something tangibly dramatic for me to get a handle on and follow. Her relationship with Jen isn’t your typical prisoner/jailer liaison but something much more interesting. Jen is sympathetic and genuinely wants to help Zoe but has the authorities breathing down her neck. Zoe meanwhile is trying desperately to make sense out of the disturbing idea that a whole section of her life has been stolen from her. Its taking something that made dramatic sense on television (the heartbreaking theft of Zoe’s memories with the Doctor) and playing games with the concept (especially in The Memory Cheats, still my favourite Troughton CC).

Zoe’s head is full of images and noise, people she doesn’t even know. They have punched a hole in what is holding back her memories but it is all random moments and feelings. Zoe’s claims of memory tinkering are being investigated but she doesn’t have much time left as she is being accused of sedition, extortion and threats to personnel. They are invented charges to make Zoe tell them her secrets of time travel. When Zoe started travelling with the Doctor she found the idea desperately unfair…there was so much to see and do but life was so fleeting that there was no way she could fit it all in. Romance is almost an anathema to Zoe, it’s the complete opposite of behaving rationally and logically and so to find herself attracted to somebody is disturbing because it isn’t something that she can control. How intriguing that Zoe should find herself attracted to such a socially awkward, irrational boy, not the sort of person she would ever imagine herself falling for (love’s funny like that) or that she would aspire to pairing up with. Zoe is sixteen and Archie treats her like an equal, not a child prodigy. Memories of the TARDIS being a spacious control room that can take them to other worlds simply doesn’t tally with the visual images of the battered blue police box on the wheel. Its rather telling about where her mind was focussed when Zoe has sketchy memories of the TARDIS but she can clearly recall details about Archie. Zoe felt let down by Archie when he attacked the creatures without knowing if they meant any harm or not but also feels ungracious for turning on him when he had just saved her life. Zoe’s colleagues on the Wheel have told Jen that she cold, calculating and profession which doesn’t tally with the concerned, emotional young lady that Zoe describes in her travels with the Doctor. Either she’s lying or proximity to the Doctor and Jamie changed her. Zoe feared telling Archie how she felt about him because he might reject her and because it would be harder when she lost him for good.

Oh My Giddy Aunt: When Zoe states that the Doctor could charm practically anyone I knew that Simon Guerrier had nailed Patrick Troughton’s interpretation. He’s still doing it today. The Doctor’s comical Wellington boots save his life at one crucial point. He has such a kind, gentle way about him that he could extract any information out of anybody. Zoe had learnt from the Doctor that there were creatures out there that needed to be fought but they only did so when they had to.

Standout Performance: The glorious Wendy Padbury. Engaging at the microphone and behind the scenes.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘As a scientist you worry if there’s no inconsistency. You want a margin of error.’
‘Science is all about inconsistencies. About evidence that falsifies theory.’
‘Even with total recall we embellish our memories in hindsight, altering the facts to fit the story.’ 
‘Is Time uncertain? And stepping out of the TARDIS is like opening the lid on the cat? All futures exist at once until we impose one over another…’ – that is such a fascinating concept and way of looking at the Doctor’s travels (that he actually crystallises time by stepping out into a particular period) it was worth telling this story just to get to this observation.

Great Ideas: I have to say the cover is particularly memorable, especially when you consider that it is the combination of Wendy Padbury and her daughter with the former exposed as being younger than the latter. The disturbing Golem like creature that has its hand wrapped around the side banner is quite a sight too. Cutting straight to the funeral of a young girl, of the awful wrongness of parents burying their child is an attention grabbing way of inviting the audience into the story within a story. I love the idea of playing about with the idea of memories being unreliable, of Zoe pulling on a thread that has one face at the end of it (in this case, Archie) and letting the details emerge. We never know whether what Zoe describes really happened or is a fiction conjured up in her mind and she certainly isn’t convinced that she was a time traveller. I also like the device of having Zoe relay the story to Jen and her checking out whether those details are factually correct. It means we can ascertain whether the story has the bare bones of the truth to it or is simply being made up as it goes along. Even more brilliantly Zoe claims that she could have simply read the same documents as Jen and used them to build her story…she’s nothing if not a realist. The Company doesn’t need to prove that Zoe went back in time but that she saw something of value to them. That would be enough to keep Zoe alive. How creepy is the imagery of the squat, withered creatures stepping out of the shadows into the rain and attacking the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe? The scrambled egg substance is residue from the space time vortex (see also Guerrier’s novel The Pirate Loop for a more in depth look at this substance) and sometimes the TARDIS gets clogged with the stuff as it barges its way through the maelstrom. Atomisation is the method of dispatch of choice by the Company, not just killing you but scrubbing you out of existence. Is Zoe’s evidence more reliable than the facts because its inconsistent? Zoe wonders if there is a good reason that she doesn’t remember her time with the Doctor…because it is something that is unsafe to know. That’s a very logical way of looking at it. Something that Zoe has seen, something that the Company can’t let slip through their fingers is what they want and they are willing to threaten Jen’s children in order to get her to co-operate and dig it out. The Feynman machine smashes a hole in space time and they are lucky that they don’t fall into the future or past. The creatures have only been trying to help them, to tell them how to fix the breach. Meg, dead and alive at the same time, breaking Zoe’s heart as she actualises and steals Archie’s affections away. A machine that can bridge the dimensions, something that would be very valuable to the Company. I wonder what else they can mine out of Zoe’s memories from her travels with the Doctor? Will they eventually go after the secrets of the TARDIS?

Audio Landscape: Digital lock, door opening, fizzing aspirin, rain lashing, a church bell ringing, social atmosphere of a pub, an almighty explosion, bird song, a groaning bus, reception jingle, a disturbing ghostly voice, Padbury’s scream which is still the best in the business, Jamie running into a burning house, heart monitor.

Standout Scene: Simon Guerrier is certainly putting his education to good use as he has Zoe in engage in some real science and mathematics but not in a way that alienates the audience. He has a way of bringing massive concepts to life but making their application about people so we can relate to them. We use strings of 1s and 0s to stand for letters and words, we can use them to build pictures, models in three or more dimensions, create worlds beyond our own ability to imagine them. In the years since Turing’s first room sized computers all that’s really changed is the complexity of those strings of numbers and the speed at which they’re processed. Driven by need (military systems, banking) all these installations depend on long complex codes to keep their security systems safe and Fineman glibly suggested a way to make computers even faster. Super position is a nucleus at the heart of an atom, so tiny that it is barely observable and radioactive. Decayed and undecayed at the same time, a mix of probabilities until you try and measure it, it only because one thing or the other until we impose certainty on it. Just like Schrodinger’s Cat. Transplanting these scientific theories into something tangibly emotional like Jamie lying in a hospital bed (both alive and dead at the same time) is a great way of getting the audience to connect with these big ideas.

Result: ‘I remember everything…and I remember nothing.’ There is so much to admire in The Uncertainty Principle; the continuing saga of Zoe exploring her blocked memories, the central storyline that allows a younger version of the character to experience the first stirrings of romance and the intriguing and spooky mystery at the heart of the tale. It seems that with the dream team of Guerrier, Bowerman, Yason and Fox nothing can go wrong. Actually for Guerrier this is a script that struggles a little within the fundamental narrative (its gripping to a point but seems to fizzle out right at the end so it’s a relief that there is a second climax to bolster the latter half of the release) but his dialogue is so full of intelligent observations and clever ideas (especially the way he explores how potentially deceptive Zoe’s memories could be) that on a moment by moment basis the story is packed full of substance. There is plenty of dramatic incident too which Lisa Bowerman does her usual sterling job bringing to life with the help of two of the best sound designers and musicians in the business. The framing device for the Zoe companion chronicles is so strong at this point that it threatens to rival the main storyline for interest and at times succeeds. The Troughton CCs have been a mixed bunch, ranging from the banal (The Emperor of Eternity, Fear of the Daleks) to the sublime (The Glorious Revolution, Resistance) but with this ongoing narrative they have struck gold at last and I am eager to see where this story of Zoe and her fractured memories is heading. Wendy Padbury makes reading this dense script look effortless but also gets to explore a more emotional side of Zoe and she is ably supported by her daughter in the pivotal role of Jen. These stories are proving what I had always suspected about Zoe, that she has far more to offer if you dig a little deeper. The Uncertainty Principle takes a good look at what makes this girl tick, during her time with the Doctor and afterwards and underneath all that plucky charm is a fascinating, multi-layered character whose exploration proves absorbing. More please: 8/10

No comments: