Sunday, 20 October 2013

Gallifrey VI: Ascension written by Justin Richards and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: Gallifrey Rises… Romana’s sacrifice sees Gallifrey restored to its former glory, but at a terrible cost. As the Time Lords begin to reclaim their stronghold, Leela and Narvin find themselves trapped in a decaying reality… and only K9 can help them. As old friends fight to reunite, new threats lie in wait… Because Braxiatel was right: war is coming.

Presidential Babe: Romana scoffs in the face of being elected to bring the alternative Gallifrey back up to scratch. Given recent events she has long given up any kind of delusions of grandeur and settled on a much more remedial role of trying to restore her own Gallifrey to its former glory but as an architect, as a healer. She publicly abdicates, informing her people that she is not the person that they want her to be. She has served Gallifrey for a great many years and now they need a new President for a bold new Gallifrey. It is the last thing that she needs. Even if it came to the destruction of Gallifrey, Romana would never order the murder of her friends.

Noble Savage: Leela is wise enough to recognise that there is not only calm before a storm but after one too. She’s also smart enough to realise that Romana cannot be dead because her future incarnation is still with them. Even animals know that the hunt is as much about training the body and Leela keeps herself in great condition. When Trey and Narvin are bitching and sniping at each other, Leela is the voice of reason in a cold, empty world. Leela takes an impossible decision out of Romana’s hands, pressing the reset button on her behalf.

The Other Romana: It is only when her planet in under threat that the new Romana shows her teeth, dropping the silky voiced act and barking out orders.

Standout Performance: This is your last chance to listen to the collective ensemble of Lalla Ward, Louise Jameson, John Leeson, Juliet Landau and Sean Carlsen. The one redeeming feature.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The Matrix is damaged and I am no trapped inside it.’
‘With all due respect…’ ‘That’s what people say when they are about to disagree emphatically.’

Great Ideas: Whether it was deliberate or purely co-incidental I am not sure but as we slip between the two realities in the finale the accompanying sounds just like that which greeted the shift in universes in Inferno. It gave me a fanboy thrill every time I heard it. Matthias resigned because of what he had to do, dealing with the virus at a terrible cost. Anyone that couldn’t be cured was contained. It led to civil war, the matrix damaged, corrupted and without it was the last straw for the President. Using technology forbidden since the old time he incarcerated the victims of the Dogma virus in time locked facilities – wouldn’t it have been great if we could have visited one those facilities? How creepy an idea is? Institutes full of deranged Time Lords, imprisoned by Shada technology. Talyn was the presence that everybody felt in Annihilation, an avatar created by K.9 to do his bidding within a Matrix projection. If Romana restores the Matrix to its factory settings (what a lovely, simple idea for such a complex system) then all organic components inside (Leela, Narvin) will be erased as it reboots. The projection Trey gives Leela a message for Romana, to tell her that they will meet again one day. The Daleks created the original Dogma virus and have been hiding away in the Matrix whilst it did its work on Gallifrey.

Audio Landscape: Darlington’s sound design for series VI has certainly been a step up from the previous season but I have to be honest, the impressive Dalek invasion aside, things have been pretty quiet ever since. Romana appearing out of nowhere, banging the Rod of Rassilon, K.9’s nose blaster, falling rubble, alarm systems, plague victims escaping, exterminating blasts.

Isn’t it Odd: When Romana ‘died’ in the previous story it wasn’t at all what anybody thought, not a regeneration but a temporal spatial shift. She fell through a door into the Matrix where nothing and nobody that she meets is real. Hang on…does this mean seasons four and five were all set within the Matrix? Or did they slip into the Matrix when they appeared to get back home in the previous story? At first I thought this was going to be one of those unreality within unreality stories where you have to decide for yourself which is the true Gallifrey and which is the projection. The whole of Annihilation was a forgery? The Gallifrey that I thought was Gallifrey Prime was a fake? Handing me everything I wanted on a platter and then snatching it away? Trey who is such an intriguing character is simply a Matrix projection of a future Romana? How is any of this a satisfying conclusion? My least favourite plot device of all time gets an airing here…the reset button. How a planet wide reset button makes any sense is beyond me but apparently Romana can wave her magic wand and make all the victims of the Dogma virus better through a quirk of technobabble. How is that a better option than the long, hard struggle route of Annihilation? A quick fix solution after all their struggles seems so…glib. I’m trying to get my head around the shock twists that take place in Ascension. Somehow the Daleks were behind the Dogma virus all along despite their involvement never being hinted at before? I’m not sure if Agatha Christie would approve of a phoney reveal like that. It seems to me like an excuse to tie this series into the Time War…but Annihilation had already achieved that with much more subtlety (it’s events all deleted as a fake now). Because the story is never entirely clear I couldn’t quite figure out whether it was saying that series four and five (the Axis years) were all taking place in the Matrix (I guess so since the Daleks of Extermination emerge from the Matrix rather than in the Axis) or not. But if so, that’s another absurd twist that has come from nowhere. You can’t just turn up at the last minute and go ‘this is what has been happening all along!’ with no foreshadowing whatsoever. Apparently Trey knew of the Daleks’ schemes all along and created a false Gallifrey in the Matrix to trap them in? Huh? They don’t even begin to explain away that one.  It’s the equivalent of a bunch of friends knowing a secret and one person being kept out of the loop and once they have been informed that person going ‘Hah! I knew that all along…I invented the secret in the first place!’ And just as plausible. The whole reason we went through the events of Annihilation was to create a trap for the Daleks…or something. Even K.9 is baffled by the news. Oh, and why mention Brax in the blurb when he doesn’t appear? Surely that is inviting disappointment? Plus there seems to be very little emotional finish to this series, it’s all plot plot plot with very little time for the characters to get a satisfying send off. 

Standout Scene: What about the random last minute twist of Narvin effectively starting the Time War by sending the fourth Doctor to Skaro in Genesis of the Daleks and kicking the whole sequence of attacks off? That strikes me of Gary Russell trying to squeeze in every bloody moment of continuity that he possibly can into this series, just like when he tried to explain away Romana’s regeneration is series two of Gallifrey. It’s so out of left field that it barely deserves comment. It feels like a last ditch effort to throw everything but the kitchen sink at this series when there is no time whatsoever to deal with the consequences of this reveal. It smacks of desperation to end on a big finish (hoho) when there is still so much of the story they have set up to unravel without adding retarded complications like this. Gallifrey was never about the Daleks but for some reason that has become the lynchpin of the finale. ‘It’s not as though you’ve just started up another temporal war after I have just averted one…’ Yes, that’s right folks. The Time War was kick started to justify a dreadful gag at the end of a Big Finish range that’s gone awry… Unbelievable.

Result: Hang on…what the hell is this? All the events of Annihilation wiped away as though they never happened? Trey was never real but a Matrix projection? The entirety of season four and five took place in the Matrix (possibly, it’s never entirely sure about the fact)? What the hell is going on? This is exactly the sort of story Justin Richards wrote for the first three seasons of Gallifrey, one which opens slowly and builds up it’s requisite ideas before exploding with twists and turns in the second half and generating a great deal of excitement from his mind-busting notions. It’s not his fault the ideas are so nonsensical, rendering the events of the second (and superior) story of this set worthless. It seems entirely appropriate to me that Richards should be brought on board to finish the Gallifrey range because to my mind he was the most consistent writer to contribute to the series and the only one to make create anything of worth during the wilderness seasons (Disassembled was the one beacon of light in series four and five). A shame then that this is easily his weakest story of the six seasons, purely because the ideas in play are all vying for prominence and none them get a chance to breathe. It is confusing as an individual story but also manages to muddy what was shaping up to be a pretty straightforward and fascinating final series. It’s a story that is trying to be too clever by half…and I rather like too clever but there has to be some kind of internal logic to hang the narrative on. Which Gallifrey is real and which is an illusion? Are we still in the Matrix? Are the Daleks the be all and end of this series all along? Did they really create the Dogma virus? Is Narvin responsible for the Time War? I don’t think it matters very much anymore. And so what looked like it was going to be a renaissance for Gallifrey turns stumbles at the last hurdle. To my mind Annihilation would have made a much more impressive series finale with the explosive cliffhanger of the previous story a much more attention grabbing final twist than the open ended climax to this story. It breaks my heart to see a range that I once loved almost get the stunning ending it deserved and plunge over a precipice into madness during its climax. The fact that the Gallifrey rises… tagline is all down to the push of a massive reset button disguised as a quirk of technobabble means that the whole of series four, five and six (aside from this one tale) has effectively been an irrelevant distraction. They should have just jumped out of the Matrix and punched the reset and we could have gotten everything back to normal in record time. And worse, the first step on the road to the Time War was made to excuse a godawful joke at the tail end of this range. It’s time to put this old dog down: 2/10

My cat can pretty much cum up my reaction to the end of Gallifrey:



rumblebars said...

Holy Cow, I never expected this review to be this low.


With one (fairly big exception) I did like this capper to Season 6. I totally wasn't bothered about the things you were...

For the last year plus, I've ONLY listened to Big finish dramas during my 83-mile drive to work, and often, my expecations haven't been that high - really, all they need to do is keep me sane/awake while I drive the barren plains of eastern Wyoming...

But for this final episode, I finished part 2 as I arrived at home. So... soon after I got home, I had to go and put my MP3 player back in, and go for a walk around the town, in the dark listening to the story. I just had to continue onward!

A couple of days ago I said that some things must rub you the wrong way compared to me, and Wow, I think this is another example. I was captivated, entranced and drawn along this story.

However, I will repeat a comment I made on the Big Finish message boards:

"I loved the ending as well.

...Then I started thinking about it.

Okay, so Narvin was the one that instigated sending the 4th Doctor to Skaro for Genesis of the Daleks. That implies that the timeline this whole Gallifrey series comes from is one in which the 4th Doctor did not go to Skaro, and that he's created a new timeline. However, our Romana has already been effected by that timeline! Lalla Ward's first adventure was in the sequel to Genesis, one in which she meets a Davros that knows the 4th Doctor... Sorry, my brain is starting to hurt here. "

And that is my main nitpick with this. It is totally illogical. I've been a huge fan of the sci-fi author Harry Harrison over the years, and in numerous interviews he said his approach to sci-fi fiction was "backplotting" - he would start with the ending of the story, and the write it backwards to the beginning, his goal as an author was to build the story in a way that both "worked" and led to that ending, but fooling/surprising the reader along the way. Well... this story certainly has a feel that the ending was written first. But then the leadup to it was not at all developed to lead into it. A totally Harrison-style Fail here, which annoyed me.

But for that I think the episode was good. No problems with acting or sound design (and something of a "sound designer" myself, I feel I have a valid viewpoint) So it's down to the illogical twist that brings this one down for me. I'd give it 7/10...



Joe Ford said...

I thought the sound design and music were rather sparse and ineffective, personally. I write reviews, but I wouldn't lay claim to have any superior knowledge in that field because I do.

I thought this was a complete diversion from where this series was heading and loaded with bizarre shock revelations that had no foreshadowing. It also offered no closure to the characters whose exploits we have followed for six seasons. It was the very did initial of a damp squib ending for me.

I'm not sure where I thought Gallifrey would end up...but it wasn't here.

rumblebars said...

I think we're actually on close to the same wavelengths here... Just your level of "hate" for most of the final episode far exceeded my own. My own temporal headache nitpicks didn't displace my liking for the rest of the story as much as it must have for you!

I have to ask - did you bother to listen to the "behind the scenes" disc? I did today (no, yesterday), while doing yardwork. I did think it was nice to hear both comments on the entire series, plus ones regarding these final episodes. And the Mary Tamm tribute at the very very end was very nice indeed.


Audrey the Leviathan Vampire Girl said...

Oh dear! And it was all going so well. I was expecting a cop-out regarding Romana's regeneration. There was no way Lalla Ward as Romana wouldn't have played a major role in the final episode.

Anonymous said...

And the cat on the background is still in the big shock and haven't fully recovered yey. :D

Anonymous said...

Nice cat. It should go on one of those Big Finish covers, maybe right next to a Dalek. Why? Because cats make everything better.

Alan Taylor said...

You might want to re-read the last sentence and fix the typo...

Apart from that, I pretty much agree with you.

Joe Ford said...

It has been pointed out to me already but it tickled me so much I decided to keep it... :-)

rumblebars said...

I didn't catch that typo til now... hilarious!

Peakius Baragonius said...

Awwwww! Cute kitties! The characters should have whisked them out to defeat the Daleks instead of whatever the heck happens here. (Haven't listened to it).

Anonymous said...

I think you didn't actually follow this story at all. They only entered the matrix when they left the gallifrey of Slyne. Narvin started the time war because that's what he always did. Now we just know why the timelords acted so out of character as to send 4 to skaro. That's what always happened. It never made sense before - now it does.

Joe Ford said...

Not so much didnt follow as beaten into submission by the extreme plotting, technobabble and crazy ideas.