Monday, 4 March 2013

Patient Zero written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: Finally, the Sixth Doctor challenges Charlotte Pollard to tell him the truth. Who is she really? What is she doing in the TARDIS? To discover the answers, the Doctor must travel back in time, beyond all known civilisations to the vast, mysterious Amethyst Viral Containment Station. But answers lie within the TARDIS too. Someone who has been there a long, long time... Meanwhile, the Daleks have travelled back in time on their own mission, to bring them the ultimate victory they crave. But it is a mission so complex and delicate that even they know they must beware the web of time...Who is Patient Zero? What has happened to Charley? And why have the legendary Viyrans been summoned?

Softer Six: The end is nigh for Sixie and Charley just as they had established themselves as the signature duo for Big Finish in the new regime. I understand that they couldn’t keep these secrets up forever and its rather wonderful that we don’t get too much of a good thing (ala the eighth Doctor and Charley going on and on and on…) and it does go to show that Briggsy and co do want to try new things on a regular basis. All these are good reasons to bring this relationship to an end but it still doesn’t make it any less upsetting because they have made such an engaging pair and the writers have managed to have some great fun with the concept of Doctor hopping. As usual the sixth Doctor adventures are where all the fun is at.

The gloves are off now and the Doctor wants to know exactly who Charlotte Pollard is and if that is even her name and he isn’t going to be nice about it! He recognises that Charley wanted Carmen’s time machine in The Raincloud Man for reasons other than the ones she stated. He’s vicious until he realises she isn’t faking her illness and suddenly he is full of concern for his new friend. The Doctor admits that over the years he has been searching for a cure for Charley he has been caught up in a few scrapes (you could happily insert stories like Davros in here). The Daleks cannot risk killing the Doctor because they know they meet him in future incarnations so instead massacre their way through the familiars to get his co-operation. Also they torture him for something of a giggle. . The Doctor doesn’t have the strength to protect the station and it s secrets if it means losing Charley, he has been searching too long and hard to give up on her now. He hardly knows Charley at all and he’s certain that she has been hiding the truth about herself since they first met and yet he feels a connection with her. The Doctor has had a misspent life around operating systems and you soon develop a seventh sense! He thinks he is gambling on a certainty that the Daleks wont allow the station to explode – it is an insanely dangerous plan because if he is wrong they will all go up with it but he has often been known for his recklessness. He tells Charley (who is in fact Mila) that she can stay but she has to back peddle on the overdone flattery.

Edwardian Adventuress: Just when you think things cannot get any worse for Charley than having to live life on the run and lie through her teeth during every adventure now she has contracted a disease that leaves her incapacitated for a long time and has her body stolen! Poor Charley has spent years of her life in the zero room as the Doctor tries to work on her condition. He pops in every now and again to make sure she is alright but he still hasn’t managed to help her. Every time he gets close the virus outfoxes him. Mila recognises that there is something different about Charley and that is that the TARDIS doesn’t like her. Nick Briggs latches onto the idea that Charley is different from the other companions because the TARDIS wont protect her. It recognises her as a web of time deviant and rejects her presence which gives Mila the opportunity to latch onto her body. Who ever thought there would be so much mileage left in this character? She is far more interesting now than she has ever been before and the clever notions dealing with her defection to a different Doctor keep coming. Charley screaming in the distance as Mila feeds the Doctor a pack of lies about her so called secret past she has been keeping from him is devastating. Given that the Doctor is happy with this explanation and seems to be ready to head off for fresh adventures with her there is every chance that the real Charley will stuck watching his adventures with the fake Charley for a long time. Sometimes you have to wonder if she was better off dying on the R-101. Even Charley admits she has cheated death for far too long and now nobody knows that she even exists… to hear her say ‘Memoirs of an Edwardian Adventuress’ after all this time and everything that has happened broke my heart.

Disembodied Voice: The very idea of Mila is par for the course of the innovative and spectacular concepts in this Charley arc, a girl who has been trapped within the TARDIS since the days of the first Doctor and has been watching all the comings and goings ever since and not being able to reach out to anybody. The amount of time she has spent unable to communicate has driven her quite insane and now Charley has contracted the same illness that draws her out of physical reality she wants to use the opportunity to pour herself into Charley’s body and live a normal life as the Doctor’s companion. Its completely nuts, much like the singing Daleks in Brotherhood of the Daleks and the war concluding Top Trumps in The Raincloud Man and like both of those ideas it is utterly unique and rather brilliant. She’s the companion that has always been with him and he has never been aware of it. Mila hid away from the Daleks in one of their time machines and because they were so scared of the Doctor she wanted to go with him. She waited until they caught up with him in The Chase and sneaked into the TARDIS and she has been ever since. Mila’s ability to kill the Daleks with little more than a touch makes her a very scary prospect (especially how she talks to it with such a cute giggle!). The Daleks were experimenting on Mila with a virus that was supposed to change what you were, if you caught it your DNA would mutate into whoever you caught it from (I’m going boss eyed). They were experimenting with it because they wanted to use it to turn people into Daleks (mutants I hope) but the reaction to the virus was too violent. They kept experimenting on her and she knew they would be happy unless she had become a Dalek or was killed…and she ran away to escape either option. They were using Mila to test the virus on, they thought if she could pass on the disease and make copies of herself and survive it was a success and could be tested on Daleks. It worked but the when they tested it on themselves the Dalek test subject died and they were furious. They bombarded Mila with radiation again and again and again until finally she couldn’t even remember who she was and she phased into another dimension. When Charley realises that the Doctor has never seen her even though she has been by his side for so long you understand the real tragedy of the character. With Charley unprotected Mila uses her disease to switch places with her – Charley is becoming Mila and Mia is becoming Charley…that’s why she loves her because she is about to embrace her and take her life. The whole point of the station is to prevent the use of these viruses as a weapon, the Viyrans are coming to take them away and destroy them. Mila conceiving a story that the truth that Charley has been keeping from the Doctor is that she was a prisoner of the Daleks works for her because that is an honest account as far as Mila is concerned (and handily it makes sense of the Daleks recognising Charley in Brotherhood of the Daleks). She very cleverly uses the information she would have witnessed in The Daleks’ Masterplan and Power of the Daleks to weave together a sense of hero worship that she development during her imprisonment with the Daleks – how precisely would Charley know this information if she wasn’t a prisoner of the Daleks?

Standout Performance: It has to be India Fisher who has grown so much as an actress since she has been playing the part of Charley it is impossible to reconcile her with the squeaky voiced amateur of her first season. Since she hopped Doctor’s she has been given so much more to do and a darker, more conniving role to play and it has brought her performance right down to Earth. In Patient Zero she gets to play all manner of emotions but her real coup is when she takes on the role of Mila which is pretty much the same role she was playing back at the beginning of her tenure but with a more girly tone and a sly wink to the audience every now and again. The contrast to Charley is subtle and obvious. She even has to play one of the Viyrans!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘He used to make me laugh! He made them all laugh, those girls. They all loved him but they left. Every single one of them. None of them stayed.’
‘How ironic…rescued by the Daleks.’
‘If in doubt shout. Never fails, does it?’
What’s going to happen to me?
‘Soon we will be able to start our work…’ – there is something haunting about the Daleks calling the deployment of genocidal viruses work.
‘Perhaps its best this way. Charlotte Pollard fading away to nothing…’
‘You know, I should be grateful that you never learn, shouldn’t I? Grateful that ultimately it always boils down to one simple move that outwits you, ties you in knots and destroys you. Its often a long time coming and the suffering along the way sickens me but sometimes what really hurts about you, you – the Daleks, the supreme beings is that you fly in the face of everything I hope for in the universe. Change, growth, learning, the ability of beings to eventually transcend their limitations. To become something better. And here you are, trapped in your rage to survive and exterminate. Believe me when I say its truly pitiful. Goodbye’ – one of the Doctor’s best ever speeches.

Great Ideas: It’s the return of the Viyrans who made an ambiguous introduction in the one part adventure that tagged along with The Minds Eye (to my memory the only time a one parter impressed me less than the main release) but they are given a far better introduction here. They are spoken about in hushed voices and it Fratalin is told it would be wise to evacuate before they arrive and sterilise with their usual efficiency. There is a wonderful cut to Charley in the Zero Room and we discover it is years later and the Doctor has been trying to figure out a cure for her illness – you expect there to be a reset at some point but it never comes which really shocked me. In that time the Doctor has probably been having loads of adventures, if you were the sort to go all timey wimey he might have had his adventures with Flip in that time, whilst still working on a cure for Charley. The fact that it is handled so matter of factly is what makes it so effective – to the Doctor this is just a couple of years but for Charley this way longer than she has even been travelling with the two Doctors put together. The Daleks are very reluctant to damage any part of the station (unless they have to) so the Doctor simply has to know why. The very idea of Daleks asking to have the door opened for them rather than blasting their way through feels so discordant I almost did the ‘human female has escaped self destruct…’ from Death to the Daleks! If one of Fratalin’s familiars are killed he can feel it. The Daleks are there to retrieve patient zero which is a great mystery to be solved if ever I heard one! A ‘mass conjoining’ of familiars? Sounds disgusting! Patient Zero is the origin of the infection and in this case it is Mila. The station contains the biggest stockpile of viruses in the universe and if the Daleks get hold it they will make life intolerable for every living creature in existence (see Lucie Miller in the EDA range). The Viyrans were charged with the duty of taking all captured viruses and destroying them in the heart of Amathustra, Amethyst’s sun. The Daleks on the other hand want to dematerialise the station and all the viruses away. The Doctor sets the Dalek engines to explode and they have to focus all their attention on keeping the explosion inactive leaving the Doctor enough time to escape. The viruses the Daleks discovered where scattered through time and space…which means they must have been released at some point. The Doctor has to destroy the station via the Daleks time engines because that has already been written – the viruses were released and so he has to do it. He is the cause. It becomes a race against time with the Doctor trying to cause an explosion so devastating that it will destroy everything and the Daleks wanted to cause an explosion that will allow the viruses to spread. Their defeat is their victory. Charley/Mila knocks the Doctor unconscious so he isn’t taken from her in the explosion he plans to cause.

Audio Landscape: Charley fading in and out of existence, the TARDIS console going nuts, the awesome Dalek time machine sound effect (I love that!), is this the first time we have had a motorised hum when the Daleks move around like they do in the TV series, Dalek heartbeat, a lovely (and pleasingly brief) montage of the various Doctors talking, alarm, ugh – the sound of a Dalek being glooped and drowned by one of the familiars, the familiars screaming and melting away to nothing, extermination blasts, the Viyran horn sounding as their ship approaches, the clumping footsteps of the Viyrans and their electric humming, I love the assimilation of language the Viyrans use, the TARDIS grinding, fizzing and popping, the Daleks shooting the console, Daleks versus Viyrans in some action packed scenes.

Musical Cues: Howard Carters music is always something a bit a special. Towards the end of episode one where the Doctor is being executed as a saboteur there are strings and an organ playing that make it feel as though this really could be the end. The music gears up to new heights when Charley mentions Mila’s name towards the end of episode two and then punches you in the gut over and over as the Daleks step up their attack at the climax to part three. There are several set pieces in the last episode where the music is so bombastic and exciting it could have come from a summer blockbuster being played by a full orchestra – go and listen to the score during the climactic final act. It is superb.

Isn’t it Odd: Some people might criticise this amount of complication in the plot but I love it. As long as it ideas that are well thought through, imaginative and for a purpose I am more than happy. Perhaps this story does lack a sense of aesthetics (flowery sensual dialogue) but that’s not what this is all about.

Standout Scene: When you realise the full horror of what has happened to Mila as a prisoner of the Daleks and that is followed up with the full horror of what is happening to Charley now…who said that the third episode was always the weakest? I love the way Mila’s voice slowly melts into Charley’s and India Fisher’s subtle shift perfectly matches the devious character that has been established. The thought of poor tortured Charley existing as a disembodied presence in the TARDIS is yet another cruel punishment for her many infringements to the Web of Time. Make sure you listen out for the scene after the closing credits – Charley is in a bad place and its going to take some work on the Doctor’s part to undo it.

Notes: The viruses catapulted into space at the end of this story are gathered by the Dalek controller and put to devastating use in Lucie Miller. Their plan to create a plague planet to shuttle through space and wipe out entire worlds brings the EDAs to a spectacular close. Well worth seeking out although make sure you take a hanky.

Result: Dramatic, complex and very exciting, Patient Zero is another scorching Sixie/Charley tale that starts to round off their adventures with some real aplomb. Nick Briggs knows how to spin a Dalek yarn but inspired by the insane shenanigans of this incredible arc he has plucked a number of very clever ideas from the situation and created a frightening and unique character in Mila and found new ways to torture Charley. There is a boldness to the presentation that I really like, it is pacy and exhilarating (with an inspired musical score) and forces you to keep listening whilst the intelligence of the writing keeps you thinking. Things are definitely coming to head with Charley and somehow I can’t see her getting a happy ending but her continual bad luck is proving to be ever more stimulating. The Viyrans finally make a decent appearance and go head to head with the Daleks in some punchy scenes and the fact that the result of this adventure leads to an even more hellish time for the eighth Doctor (it seems he and Charley are still linked) in the future means that regardless of how good this is it is also essential backstory for Lucie Miller/To The Death. You would think two Dalek stories so close would be a cause to complain but both Brotherhood of the Daleks and Patient Zero find interesting new things to say about them and after all this time that is no mean feat. Electrifying and it has left me desperate to hear the rest of this trilogy now the Doctor has left with an imposter: 9/10

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