Tuesday, 19 March 2013

War Against the Laan written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: 'Just a taste of Armageddon, Romana. It’s what happens when acquisitive minds are left unencumbered by conscience.' The Doctor, Romana and newly elected President Sheridan Moorkurk take on the all-consuming powers of business tycoon Cuthbert and his vast Conglomerate. But the situation goes beyond a struggle for political power. Cuthbert is intent on revenge on creatures he feels have attacked his interests. But when his revenge looks like leading to inter-species war, the Doctor knows the stakes couldn't be higher. The Laan are on the move. Is it too late to prevent the destruction of all life on Earth?

Teeth and Curls: He’s certainly extraterrestrial and he’s an expert on practically everything so he is the perfect candidate for the post of extraterrestrial expert! The Doctor’s anger in the face of the murdered Laan is palpable, it reminded me of Tom Baker’s fury in the face of the Deciders in Full Circle. When the scientist tries to hide behind that old excuse of just following orders the Doctor makes sure that he is dragged out into the light and exposed as the very person that could responsible for wiping out every person on the planet (mind you it would be very embarrassing if the world was brought to an end by somebody called Harold, wouldn’t it?). The Doctor has been hankering for a boiled egg throughout this adventure and it looks like he is going to have no luck in procuring one…until the President presents him with a bag full of them at the climax!

Posh Girl: Almost as though he wants to make up for her poor handling in The Sands of Life Briggs immediately gives Romana lots to do and Mary Tamm responds to the challenge positively. She manages to gain the understanding of an entire species, she speaks very eloquently on behalf of the people of the Earth (even if she does think they are backward savages) and she apologises for the presence of K.9 that could have been construed as a threat. Romana wouldn’t travel in anything other than the President’s private jet! She doesn’t need to be told where the Laan is being experimented on because she can feel they’re pain and lead the Doctor straight to the wounded creature.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You seem to be remarkably straight forward for a politician! How on Earth did you get elected?’

Great Ideas: Not being a woman or in a position to be able to have children naturally I am perhaps not the best sort of person to empathise with the Laan and yet even I understand the birthing instinct and the lengths that a mother would go to to protect her children. As the Doctor so succinctly puts it everything else must seem rather trivial when you are about to have your child, even the lives that you might threaten in order to do so. It’s a bizarre threat to the planet but it works because of that. Cuthbert is a nasty little corporate figure, one who thinks nothing of cutting open the Laan to see what makes them tick. He wants as many advantages as possible during this conflict and if he has tear his way through the lot of them to discover it, he would (‘Begin dissection! No pussy footing around!’). He’s not a man who is naturally altruistic, he funds charitable operations in order to get the government to turn a blind eye to his less humane projects. I liked how Sheridan was prepared to make the wrong choice with regards to the deaths of the Laan when her back was against the wall and she had to put humanity first. Whilst she has been characterised as pragmatic, intelligent and down-to-Earth she will always put the fate of her own people first before that of an alien race, no matter how inoffensive their motives are. The Sands of Life were never on the Earth, it was Cuthbert’s experiments that forced them to head in the wrong direction.

Audio Landscape: Explosions, screams, the Laan crying, generating momentary time and space warps as weapons (basically it sounds like a wibble), temporal energy bursting, glass exploding.

Isn’t it Odd: ‘Oh, yeah, sorry…you’ve come to the wrong planet for the Sands of Life. You should to that one over there. Well pop along then…’ Not exactly the most riveting of climaxes, is it? What the hell was that parrot stuff all about?

Standout Scene: The Laan continue their fascination with bursting out of the ground but this time in built up, populated areas. Oh how I would love to see this made for TV now.

Result: It was quite a brave idea to tell a story where the invading aliens aren’t invading but just looking for a place to give birth and the unfortunate consequence is that the planet that they touch down on (Earth, naturally) would be shattered under the weight of so many explosive pregnancies. I means that there are no real monsters to fight in the traditional sense in this five parter so Briggs has to invent some human ones to stir up trouble, exploit the situation and complicate an already precarious situation. Stand up Cuthbert…so brilliantly played by David Warner and who in other hands may very well have come across as little more than a series plot contrivances. He’s a vicious sadist, a powerful egotist and a man with lots of secrets. I’m looking forward to seeing what else he has up his sleeves away from this Earth-in-danger scenario. Ultimately this isn’t one of the better alien invasion stories because although it is masquerading as one there isn’t a particularly menacing enemy to fight so the danger often feels falsely prolonged by the efforts of Cuthbert. The solution is extremely simple and I don’t see why the Doctor couldn’t have explained all of this a lot earlier before all the this unpleasantness took place. It sure would have saved a lot of lives on both sides. Looking at the production this rollocks along at a great pace, has some typically exciting Nick Briggs set pieces and sees some very nice work by Tom Baker (I couldn’t tell it was one of his earlier performances) and Mary Tamm (Hayley Atwell makes far more of an impression this time around as well). Ultimately this five part epic is more of a prelude for things to come rather than a completely satisfying story in its own right. What is the experiment that Cuthbert was implanting when the Laan attacked? War Against the Laan shouldn’t be listened to in isolation (it is very much the conclusion of The Sands of Life) and whilst it has its moments (I’m still very fond of that unusual threat to the Earth…I thought everything had been done already!) it provides a predictable conclusion that feels underwhelming after all the stimulating build up: 6/10

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