Thursday, 17 October 2013

Gallifrey VI: Extermination written by Scott Handcock and directed by Gary Russell

Series Synopsis: Romana’s proud new Gallifrey is falling – the Daleks have come tbyhrough the Axis from one universe, preparing to conquer all others. Swarming through the corridors of the Capitol, the Daleks seek, locate and exterminate everyone they find – because they are searching for something, a something they believe will give them domination over the entirety of existence. And it can only be found on this particular Gallifrey. Whatever happens, wherever Romana, Leela and Narvin go, the Daleks will pursue them until they have what they want. But elsewhere, someone else in another reality has a plan of their own, and is waiting for the right moment to confront Romana. Is this salvation or the ultimate betrayal?

What’s it about: Gallifrey Fights… Having infiltrated the Axis, the Daleks have secured access to a myriad alternative realities and, with them, countless Gallifreys… every one with secrets to be plundered. As her new world falls to the might of the Dalek invasion force, Romana finds herself struggling to keep her friends alive as the Capitol collapses around her. Against all odds, there may be a way out - back to the Axis and, potentially, back home. But desperate times call for desperate measures and, ultimately, sacrifices...

Presidential Babe: ‘I wonder if it is the last time I will ever see a sight like that again. A simple, honest sunset over Gallifrey…’ Skaro was the very first world that Romana visited in her new body, this old body. Both times she was a prisoner of the Daleks, she was scared. Romana acknowledges that back in the day they were lucky because they had the Doctor and so a Dalek defeat was inevitable. Suddenly Romana is less of a maniacal dictator and slayer of planets (I still don’t know what that was all about) and pigeonholed into the role of a victim like everybody else in the face of Dalek oppression. It is a massive swing in the characters favour and suddenly she is somebody it is easy to believe in again. Operatic and tragic delusions of grandeur are not really her style, I prefer Romana struggling against an insoluble problem and having to use her wits and resources to win through. Described as an over strung, highly sensitive despot! When Romana stares out over the Gallifreyan sunset and pines for a simpler life I knew that my Romana was back, the character I fell in love with all those years ago. I like the fact that when the going gets tough, Romana is not above picking up a gun and firing hell for leather at the Daleks. And when she has a Dalek at her mercy she tortures the bastard to get the information she is after. Down and dirty Romana kicks ass. She could have ended the Daleks when she was President of Gallifrey, she could have trapped Skaro in a time loop but she couldn’t because despite what they are she knew what they were. That the universe needed the threat of the Daleks to bring out the best in others. As a whole they are necessary but one single Dalek is expendable… After everything she has been through, two decades of her life in a Dalek cell not knowing whether she would see tomorrow…nothing would please her more than to murder one lonesome, frightened Dalek. Great stuff.  Handcock is using Romana’s experiences in The Apocalypse Element to explain away the perversion of her character in the last couple of seasons of Gallifrey. It doesn’t quite wash but I appreciate the effort nonetheless. It would seem she has come to her senses now but still maintains a vicious edge. ‘Ex-ter-min-ate…’  As far as their adopted planet of Gallifrey is concerned, Romana is dead. She is back in the world that she was born on reclaiming responsibility for her actions. Just as I always wanted it.

Noble Savage: ‘Romana has always been my friend and I shall always support her…’ Leela believes that those who tell stories about the Daleks are cowards, those who watch but do not fight. She’s a survivor (thank goodness) and she has a story of her own to tell. At the end of the last series Leela was furious with Romana and parting company with her forevermore. It was an appalling state of affairs and I thought the creative hands behind Gallifrey had gone doolally tat (especially since they had also erased my other two favourite elements – K.9 and Braxiatel). However a Dalek invasion forces them to put their differences aside (which makes me wonder why it was necessary to cause such a dramatic rift between them in the first place) and look after each other. Just the way I like it. Leela was always Romana’s protector in the first three series of Gallifrey and it was a role that suited her down to the ground. If there is blood to be shed then she will be amongst it despite Narvin’s objections. Leela thought that everybody was following her because she had a plan when in reality she just ran on ahead of them. She can be used for comic relief, too. I love the role reversal for Romana and Leela when it comes to facing a helpless Dalek, the former enjoys persecuting one whereas Leela shows pity on another.

Snidey Sidekick: That’s not a nickname that Narvin really deserves anymore, but I still rather like it. He can’t regenerate ever again and he is frightened of the Daleks. There is definite chemistry between Sean Carlsen and Louise Jameson, it was one of the few positive things I found to say about series V. Leela acknowledges that Narvin is not the man he used to be and he chooses to face his death head on and fight by her side. It’s a lovely moment. Narvin is a thinker, that’s what he brings to the party and it is his determination that convinces Romana that they could take on a squadron of Daleks.

Standout Performance: Nick Briggs’ Dalek that is tortured by Romana. Wowzas.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Their purpose is to conquer and destroy! And if they’ve made their way to this world, if they’ve found us on this Gallifrey, then they’ve already captured the Axis. They want Dominion over every world in every galaxy, every reality even!’ – only Lalla Ward could made this line as dramatic as it is.
‘I want to know how this story ends for all of us. And if today’s the day and this is our final chapter like you say well, I’m determined to make it a good one.’
‘This is where it ends. You and I, at point blank range with a weapon I don’t have the faintest idea how to use…’
‘So the Destroyer of Worlds finally became the creator of worlds. Let’s hope I can finally save my own.’

Great Ideas: The idea of having a roll call of monologues at the beginning of the tale to introduce us to the horror of the Daleks and re-introduce us to the characters that were left standing at the end of series V was a terrific notion. It’s an arresting opening, informative and attention grabbing. Davros (via the Doctor) gave the Daleks concepts and knowledge of other worlds that they should never have had and set them on their task of bringing the rest of the universe to heel. Denying them pity, they did so viciously. Scott Handcock has been delivering some fine work over on the Bernice and Dorian Gray ranges so it is only fair that he is handed the reward of getting to play with the best toys in the box. Are the Daleks scavenging the multiverse for some kind of multiversal anomaly? They plan to make Romana’s adopted Gallifrey their base of power in this universe, a springboard to wreck havoc across the enormity of the Axis. That’s a pretty terrifying concept, Daleks spreading into every possible universe, creating chaos and slaughtering millions ad infinitum. Despite being portrayed by my good pal Peter Sheward, Castellan Slyne made very little impression on me in the previous season, he seemed to be introduced and then vanish for the length of a bible before re-emerging towards the climax. He is immediately much more striking in Gallifrey VI because rather than indulging in petty politicking (and nobody can hold a candle to Inquisitor Darkel when it comes to that) he is messing with the Daleks now, a dangerous game that he seems rather adept at playing. A squad of eight Daleks is more than enough to lay waste to an entire sector of the galaxy. Considering the use of the New Series Daleks in Gallifrey VI it is bound to generate some discussion about how this segues into the Time War (with a story about Daleks invading Gallifrey how can it not?). I want to wait and see how things pan out first. What I did appreciate was a mention of The Apocalypse Element, the Daleks’ first attempt to invade Gallifrey Prime and Romana’s involvement in that. You can take lots of steps throughout Doctor Who to guide you to the Time War; the Doctor’s attempt to avert their creation in Genesis of the Daleks, the Daleks attempt to invade Gallifrey in The Apocalypse Element, the Doctor wiping Skaro off the face of the universe in Remembrance of the Daleks…and now the events of Gallifrey VI. Experimental, underdeveloped weaponry to defeat the Daleks with? The Daleks know that the Time Lords harbour secrets in every alternative universe which they thought they would try to plunder through the Axis. There is a Dalek Co-ordinator stationed in the Axis that examines every timeline and predicts what they would encounter in each universe.

Audio Landscape: Despite the fact that I was mightily unimpressed with his post-production work on Gallifrey V (seriously, go and listen to it again), I am pleased that David Darlington is back for the final series because he was so instrumental in giving this range its aural identity when it started all those years ago. At his best, Darlington cannot be faulted and a Dalek invasion of countless Gallifreys is exactly the sort of epic challenge that he thrives on. Listen to the Daleks screaming in unison as they wipe out everybody in the Panopticon, alarms, waves of extermination blasts, plasma torches cutting through doors, firings guns and stasers.

Musical Cues: I still love the revised Gallifrey theme. It worms into your head and I find myself humming it at inopportune moments. Darlington’s organ of death that was such a popular staple of the ranges first three years gets an appropriate revival this series and I can’t think of better excuse for such a portentous score than an invasion by Daleks. The one stirring thing about Romana’s goodbye speech was the music. Good job.

Isn’t it Odd: Was Councillor Allora in the last series? I don’t remember her at all. Mind you I have tried to wipe most of the material from my mind. Anomaly or not, she is culled pretty sharply (and channels Ressurection of the Daleks for an overwrought extermination death rattle). The only note of character that doesn’t ring true is Romana’s melancholy in her goodbye speech to her adopted Gallifrey. It never felt as though she had truly settled in and made a life for herself and the majority of the audience wanted her back home anyway. It’s a perfunctory scene that had to be fitted in but I wont pretend it moved me.

Standout Scene: There’s a gorgeous moment when Romana and Leela are reunited and they practically fall into each others arms with relief. Finally these characters are back to where they need to be, as firm friends. The real life chemistry between Lalla Ward and Louise Jameson spills across into their characters and it is a joy to bask in it. ‘This is Leela, a friend of mine. My best friend.’

The Creator: I want to talk about Gary Russell. Because it might appear to some on this blog, even to Gary himself, that I have some beef with the man. When that isn’t the case at all. I do have some criticisms of his creative choices from time to time but considering this is a review blog and that he has been responsible for a great many creative choices for Big Finish over the years then that was inevitable. Nobody gets it right for one person all the time. I wont make any secret that I wasn’t a fan of Gallifrey IV or that I thought Gallifrey V was one of the weakest things to have ever come out of Big Finish Towers (go and read the reviews if you want to find out why I think this). Doctor Who Magazine gave it a similar trouncing and the general consensus online was that it was pretty poor. I certainly wasn’t alone in my criticism of the way the series had developed, I was probably just a little more vocal than others. I found Gary’s reaction to my reviews on the Big Finish forum quite interesting because he accused me of not liking change (nothing could be further than the truth – I loved the new direction Jago & Litefoot took last season as just one example) and that if they hadn’t fiddled with the formula and pushed the series on I would have been complaining that it was same old/same old. Again wrong, if a formula ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Innovative on occasion but stick to what you are good at; the Companion Chronicles are a fantastic example of this, generally sticking to the same formula but every now and again doing something completely different. Now Gary is perfectly entitled to his opinion (although I found it amusing that the very night he was finding my criticism hard to swallow he took to Twitter to publicly slam Doctor Who Magazine in quite a vehement fashion – although to his credit he did publicly apologise the next day but it just goes to show we are all guilty of saying what we feel about things out in the open) and it did make me consider my position a little. It didn’t change my opinion on Gallifrey V at all, but it did make me think. It also made me think about Gary’s work in general and everything that he brought to the party when Big Finish begun and how much I owe him in that respect as a fan of Doctor Who audio drama. He introduced one of my favourite companions (Evelyn Smythe). He gave me the eighth Doctor back. He took hold of my favourite Doctor and completely revolutionised him in the eyes of the wider audience who pretty much despised him. He produced three incredible series of Gallifrey. He directed some awesome stories. I have a great deal to thank Gary Russell for. If I’m not fond of his writing style then that is my prerogative and I make no apologises for it (as a former editor for Doctor Who magazine Gary probably understands better than anyone that you can’t like everything) but he more than compensates for that with his other talents. He might have written some of my least favourite Doctor Who stories but he has directed some of my absolute favourites. I didn’t intend to dribble on for this long but I wanted to engage on the subject of Gary who is wonderfully creative and wonderfully flawed, a contributor to Doctor Who that creates waves as much as he creates great pieces of work. I raise my glass to him as Gallifrey comes to a close.

Result: That was…good. To say I had my reservations about Gallifrey Series VI is an understatement but despite my allergic reaction to the last two seasons I was still excited to learn that the final trilogy of stories had been released. Obviously a lot of my earlier love for the range hasn’t dissipated as I thought. I harped on about the Daleks being dragged out by Big Finish once again in my recent review of The Final Phase and my witterings about the conclusion of series V of Gallifrey. Whilst I do think they have been overused to the point of exhaustion, this is clearly the sort of dramatic threat that Gallifrey has needed for some time now to pull all the characters together, make them forget their differences and curtail the bizarre character development the regulars have been forced to endure (Romana – the destroyer of worlds?) and get on with telling some stories with a punch. And that’s what Extermination (great title, I wonder why it hasn’t been used before?) has in spades – energy, drama and conviction. As mentioned, another huge plus in it’s favour is the characterisation of the regulars who have gone from a disparate bunch of barely recognisable anti-heroes from the previous year to a beautifully formed unit of characters working together to fight a common enemy. Leela and Romana are the best of friends again, Narvin surprises at every turn, Braxiatel is back and even some of the original guest characters from Gallifrey V are starting to emerge as ones to watch. Handcock has a terrific grasp on all of them, it feels as though he has taken on board a lot of the complaints from the previous year (not necessarily mine before you think I’ve got a God complex) and decided to wipe the slate clean and return the characters to their (previously successful) factory settings. Or maybe things were always heading this way. Whatever, it is such a leap in the right direction I could kiss the man. Topping off a nourishing first part to this trilogy is the larger development within the series that sees the adopted Gallifrey (which never took off for me) fall to the Daleks before rising high and the series return to its proper time and place. Extermination isn’t the best Gallifrey has ever been (it is still is set on the one of the alternative Gallifrey’s) but it is the best it has been in a long while, a massive return to form for a range that I thought had lost the plot and offers a lot of hope for the rest of the concluding trilogy: 8/10


rumblebars said...

Hey Joe - Good review, I learned about this release with just enough time to d/l and stick it on my MP3 player for the commute to work this morning.

I seldom go as extreme as you do in your depths of for bad stories (case in point, I rather enjoyed this last Klein trilogy which I listened to a few days ago) and I also thought Gallifrey 4 and 5 were OK - not great but not nearly as bad as they rubbed you. So I was interested and surprised to find the review up so quickly! I am glad you liked it.

The one bit that I didn't like was the docile-ness of the Daleks when the guardsmen start shooting. It's not like them to have that kind of patience - sure it's explained that it was a strategy to separate the captain from his troops, but to me, for them to sit there... ... ... ... just seemed WRONG.

That was my only nitpick, I loved the rest of it.


Joe Ford said...

Extreme? Yeah, I suppose I do rant a bit. But I'm so happy when a range turns a corner like this, especially Gallifrey, which was always one of my favourites.