Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Babblesphere written by Jonathan Morris and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: The violent, volcanic world of Hephastos is home to a colony of composers, painters, authors and poets, all striving to create the greatest works of art the universe has ever seen. But in pursuit of their goal, artistic collaboration has been taken a stage too far... When the Doctor and Romana arrive, they discover the colonists have neglected their well-being and their once beautiful habitat, which has now succumbed to decay, and they are enslaved to the Babble network which occupies their every waking moment. Every thought, however trivial or insignificant , is shared with everyone else and privacy is now a crime. The colonists are being killed and the Doctor and Romana begin to suspect that a malevolent intelligence is at work. With time running out, the two time travellers race to discover the truth before they too are absorbed into the endless trivia of the Babblesphere...

Teeth and Curls: It’s the perfect representation of the season 17 Doctor (but then I would expect nothing less of Morris), bursting from the TARDIS all hat and scarf and making fatuous remarks before turning deadly serious when they discover a body almost immediately. That mixture of the frivolous and the quietly menacing that made him such an interesting character in those days. He has as much of a knack of getting out of trouble as he does getting into it! He and Romana are quite fascinating and have a great deal to offer to the Babblesphere.

Noblest Romana of Them All: Romana has left her sonic screwdriver in the TARDIS assuming that the Doctor would bring his as he always does. He has done the same thing. That’s the trouble with travelling around with your female counterpart, you both assume the other is going to be the clever one. Whilst the Doctor is tied up and kept out of the way, Romana gets to do all the things she is so good at. Sympathising with the underdog, meeting the rebels and causing a bit of a stir. At this point in her adventures the pupil has outgrown the mentor and to some extent did a better job.

Standout Performance: Ooh Lal-la, your fourth Doctor is startlingly accurate. Her Matt Smith is phenomenal too.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If there’s one thing we can be certain of in an uncertain universe it’s that everything goes wrong eventually.’
‘Nobody’s thoughts are private. Not since the Babble network started’ – replace Babble network with Twitter and you’ll see what this story is getting at.
‘There was nothing we couldn’t do if we all put our minds to it.’
‘As it became more popular people didn’t want to be left out…’ – a fabulous line, showing how insidious fads can be and how dangerous if there was a exploitative mind behind it.
‘People used it to gossip. To talk about the trivial minutiae of their lives. Everybody had to share everything. Every waking thought with everybody else no matter how private. Even I had to take part. I had to hear what people were saying about me…’ – is Morris talking directly to the audience here?
‘The superficiality and insularity of an entire civilisation feeding of itself ad infinitum. This was babble.’
‘Epic fail!’

Great Ideas: Let’s be honest some writers can be known to wither and die over a period of time once they have run out of ideas or given everything than have to the show. It happened to Terrance Dicks (who is still churning out the odd belter but mostly regurgitates his own work these days), it happened David Whitaker (who started off writing gems like The Crusade and finished producing something as generic as The Wheel in Space) and some people could even make an argument for Steven Moffat whose recent The Bells of Saint John was nothing much but an entertaining collection of ideas and scenes that have already been done before, better. Somehow the fertile ploughs of Jonathan Morris’ mind however don’t seem to have been affected no matter how prolific he has become. He began by producing novels the quality of Festival of Death and The Tomorrow Windows, a few years back his audios were the highlights of the range with cracking stories such as Max Warp, The Haunting of Thomas Brewster and The Glorious Revolution and in the past year there has been no sign of his work suffering with more terrific installments coming in the shape of The Curse of Davros, Protect and Survive and The Auntie Matter. It’s not even as though he has an in-house style because he has proven he can turn his hand to anything from traditional (Bloodtide, Ressurection of Mars) to anything but (the aforementioned Protect and Survive especially).

The opening of Babblesphere is so immediately gripping, placing the audience in the vivid setting of a volcanic planet with a replica of the city of Versailles at its centre and I immediately felt I was in safe hands. It was so clearly the confident voice of Morris. Inside rubble and wreckage is strewn through the passageways – it is a derelict, defunct location on a dead world. Storytelling possibilities are instantaneous. I love how this story parodies Twitter in such an imaginative way. In the same way that your every waking thought can be made public if you choose on Twitter and you can penalised for saying the wrong thing or expressing a ill thought through opinion, it is a way of life for the people on this planet. It shows how things could be if we take the concept too far. The hash tags are there to subtly point us in the right direction as to the inspiration. At first the Network was just a bit of fun (isn’t that always the way with these things?) so people could link their minds and share their thoughts. Ideas could be more easily discussed and consensus made on every decision – democracy in action. Skagra’s sphere is a good example of what can go wrong when you start playing God bringing together the contents of the best minds and it only takes a few moments to consider the dangers of your unguarded thoughts being exposed in the public domain. You would have to try and shield your stronger, darker, baser feelings, resist your sudden angry reactions to people – the psychological implications are staggering. Individuality and autonomy would be thrown out the window and you would just become one of the crowd. It’s a fantastic idea, with so many possibilities. As soon as some people don’t join in those that do assume they have something to hide. People refusing to take care of themselves because they are slaves to the Babble network…sounds like a few uber geeks that I know. The sick idea of a thriving, intelligent, artistic community that threw away their potential to become a bunch of brain dead non-entities slaved to a group mind was not lost on me. The rebels on this planet are a group of decadent, theatrical old women which is just the sort of idea that wouldn’t be out of place in the Williams period. A computer that wiped out the people it has been built to serve, that’s an old idea but with the charred remains of their corpses still slaved to the machine it is at least handled in a pleasingly brutal manner. For once the appearance of the eleventh Doctor isn’t the best scene (simply because the rest of the material is so strong) but its another memorable intrusion from the current Doctor all the same.

Audio Landscape: The exploding surface of the planet, walking through rubble, the blinking, bleeping robot, lasers, foil wrapping, the clunky computer spitting out computer paper, connecting to the Babblesphere, the unending voices talking endless chatter.

Standout Scene: Lost in a sea of faces and words, I can only imagine how the Doctor and Romana’s visit to the Babblesphere would have been realised in the budgetless season seventeen. On audio it is a realm of unity, rejecting existentialism and actualising the thoughts and discussions of an entire civilisation. Imagine the voices in the internet all talking around you at once, the 20% of intelligent conversation and 80% of inane, irrelevant, critical chatter. When thought of like that it is one of the most terrifying places the Doctor has ever visited. He better avoid the Doctor Who forums of the Babblesphere otherwise he may never step out of the TARDIS again. We even get to sympathise with the equivalent of a forum moderator, crying into his circuits because he has to moderate the inane babble of so many undisciplined minds. ‘On and on it goes without sense, without purpose, without end…’ Hahaha! At least it has tried to get rid of the most dreary and unoriginal of voices, the forums are rather stuck with those individuals until they make a mistake. ‘I just couldn’t bear to listen to them wittering anymore…’ As soon as the Doctor and Romana suggest recounting their adventures in the Babblesphere for discussion I was screaming my objections…they are about to kick start the first Doctor Who forum! The Doctor manages to save the day by recounting endless, boring trivia, Doctor Who and otherwise. At least there is a use for it somewhere. ‘My brain is melting!’

Result: A delicious idea, startlingly original for Doctor Who and a gorgeous parable on the dangers of social networking, Babblesphere is a triumph for the Destiny of the Doctor range and the most successful installment so far. It manages to feel both contemporary (in how it discusses the dangers and intoxication of the distribution of so many unguarded thoughts) and traditional (essentially it is a rebels versus the state story) all taking place in a vivid evoked location. The nearest bedfellow I can think of is Steve Lyons’ novel Stealers of Dreams which also built a story around outlawing a facet of humanity that comes naturally (imagination) and explored the idea in a way that amused and provided and avenue for some dark psychological suggestions. I could listen to Lalla Ward read out the telephone directory if she played it in the same way that she does Romana and I am pleased to see her enjoying material of this calibre after the dismal quality of the latest Gallifrey series. The trip into the Babblesphere is my favourite set piece of this range to date, a scathing critique of the internet (although it’s even funnier if you think of it solely as the Doctor Who forums) with no one member immune from prosecution (I am certainly guilty of some of the points raised). A poke in the eye for uniformity and a celebration of autonomous thought, Babblesphere imaginatively and intelligently tackles its concept and provided me with a great many laughs along the way. Douglas Adams would certainly approve: 9/10


Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree. This was a truly good story, much more witty and attractive than the last episode of TV-show. At other point Eleventh Doctor's cameos seems to be loosing their originality and freshness, probably they will be in every episode of series and in the last part we will find a reason behind them.

Joe Ford said...

What I really like about this slowly emerging interference in his past lives is that it isn't wholly intrusive and it doesn't swamp the stories. They will be able to exist as standalone tales and be part of a running story line. I wish the current series could get that balance right. It seems it either has to be one or the other.

Corpus Christi Music Scene said...

Im a bit new to the audios but Im loving this "Destiny" series so far. Looking forward to your review of the latest one "Smoke & Mirrors". I know that youre none to fond of Tegan but I think Feilding does a phenomenal job in it.

Anonymous said...

My fav story so far from DOTD! I visualised the Doctor and Romana in the babblesphere in the budgetless season seventeen as Tom Baker and Lalla Ward floating over a bad CSO screen (glups!)