Friday, 18 October 2013

Gallifrey VI: Renaissance written by James Goss and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: Gallifrey Lies… Returning to her original homeworld, Romana finds Gallifrey to be cold and empty… the corridors of the Capitol lie silent and the wastelands are populated only by a handful of primitive monsters. Her only hope lies with the appearance of a strange young woman: a woman with a masterplan so devious it makes Romana’s own masterplans look decidedly not-devious-at-all… How far would Romana go to save her world? Would she risk the Web of Time? And who is the mysterious stranger watching from the shadows…

Presidential Babe: After many years of wandering, the Lady Romana has finally returned home. At last, this series can mean something again.  When she is nervous, Romana rather wonderfully starts having a mock conversation with K.9 (Lalla Ward’s impression of John Leeson’s metal mutt is hilarious) and speaking to him as roughly as the Doctor used to. The notion of taking Gallifrey’s correct timeline off course to ensure that the Time War doesn’t happen is a momentous decision and one that cannot be made on a whim. Leela describes Gallifrey as being ‘husband, child and friend’ to her Romana. She’s a woman of conviction and once she has made the decision to resurrect Gallifrey and stop the suns from going out (figuratively speaking) she isn’t going to change her mind about the (morally bankrupt) methods simply because Leela and Narvin pout at her. The new Romana is a portent of the future and one she isn’t quite ready to face. She looks at her and wonders when and how it will happen because she likes who she is at the moment. Leela knows who she is better than anyone and she always ignores advice especially if it is to slow down. I think Romana secretly likes the idea of being exiled from Gallifrey, of throwing off her oath of office and living as a free spirit in the vortex once again. For too long she has been bound by responsibilities and now she can truly live her life again as an explorer. She likes the idea of not having a clue where she is going to end up next. By the end of this story she is literally holding Gallifrey back together again. The last scene might be the last time we ever hang with Lalla Ward’s Romana so it is pleasing to say that the character (potentially) went out on a high.

Noble Savage: ‘What about the Lady Trey?’ ‘She is quicksilver. I prefer steel.’ So many terrible things have happened to Leela on Gallifrey Prime that she always wondered what she would feel when she saw it again. This world adopted her, could barely disguise its contempt for her and yet she had yet she had given so much to the planet that it had become familiar. Her heart gladdened when she set foot on it again. Leela practically bursts at the though of Gallifrey having battle stations. Very sweetly, Romana tries to recreate Leela’s rooms in the Citadel for her and include her furs and skins but since they are artificially created Leela cannot see the point of them (although she appreciates the effort). Showing how much Goss is thinking about how these characters tick, he allows Leela to ask the fascinating question to the future Romana: ‘Is my friend still inside you somewhere?’ That is the way only Leela would question regeneration and it is a fantastic line. She doesn’t want to know how Romana died, just that she died well. She cannot feel something for the new Romana just because she says they are old friends, those ties are built over many years of discovery and hardship as she has done with her Romana. Leela dashing into Romana’s TARDIS as she leaves for destinations unknown is an exact replica of how she slipped into the Doctor’s TARDIS just before he left her world. I wish they could have buggered off for a scene or two because that would have left room for a couple of box sets of their adventures together to come. How much fun would that have been – Leela and Romana taking the scenic route around the universe? The bravest thing Leela will ever do is stand and watch Romana die.

Snidey Sidekick: Narvin is still the greatest achievement to have come out of series four and five. Before then he was pretty much an enemy to Romana and Leela, a thorn in their side. But now they are the closest of friends and he and Leela are practically chomping at the bit to paw at each other whilst maintaining their argumentative way of communicating. I want to go back and listen to the whole series again (which I may do soon because I haven’t reviewed series two and three yet) and one of the reasons is to experience Narvin’s journey and development. To be back on Gallifrey, Narvin wonders if it was worth leaving in the first place. Whilst the results of the Dogma virus reveal that it was, thus speaks the voice of so many fans of this series. He’s not sure if he feels joy or dread to be back home. Narvin has a new job now as traffic controller, ensuring that nobody sets foot on Gallifrey that might be dangerous.

The Other Romana: ‘She is an excellent hunter, she let’s her prey build their own traps…’ Landau’s Romana comes from a time when Gallifrey is in real danger. She wants to tear down the timeline that sees Gallifrey fall to the Daleks, tear it down and start again. She can shave a good few centuries off rebuilding Gallifrey by offering her former self the rebuilt Citadel from the future in all it’s glory but in return she wants help in preventing the Time War. She’s very tactile, giving Leela a big hug when she is reunited with her after all these years and goes by the name of Trey (as in Romanadvoratreylundar). The Two Romana’s giving a speech together to the peoples of the universe is a thing to behold. Their intentions are sound but it is clear they don’t entirely trust one another. As soon as the speech is over, Romana orders her future self exiled. Discreetly. When this whole operation goes tits up, Romana chooses exile over disintegration. Almost as if Trey had arrange her removal from the Capitol all along, somewhat less discreetly. I love the idea of a scarred future Romana, running from the Time War and trying to prevent it from ever happening. I always wondered where she ended up when the War broke out and now we know. Perhaps all that speculation about River Song and others turning out to be Romana can cease now. Wistful, slightly twisted and morally ambiguous. I like her.

Standout Performance: This is the first chance to experience Juliet Landau’s exciting new version of Romana – that’s hardly a spoiler, Big Finish haven’t exactly been quiet about the fact – and on the basis of this story she is going to be a third success story in the same body. I always adored Landau as the dolly obsessed nut job Drusilla in Buffy and Landau affected a fake British accent to take on the role. It always sounded a little stilted but now I am starting to think that was all part of the character as her accent for Romana is peerless. There is something floating and ethereal about this Romana, much more of a romantic than her two predecessors but the idea of going for something completely different is the best idea.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The Two Romanas, working together’ ‘Saving Gallifrey.’
‘You have shattered the Web of Time!’ ‘Oh, I’ve stamped on it until it’s in tiny pieces.’
‘Hug?’ ‘No, we’ll send the Eye of Harmony into meltdown and blow up Gallifrey!’
‘And who knows…one day I may come back.’
‘Where are you going?’ ‘Oh, I don’t know. Once around the block?’
‘Maybe the Time Lords have finally run out of Time…’
‘When the world’s destroyed you’ll have plenty of time to get your breath back!’

Great Ideas: In the dark days of Gallifrey, in the wake of the Pandora devastations, the City of the Time Lords lay in ruins. A plague had eaten away the souls of its people, the mighty towers of the Citadel had been eaten away. In the ruins a stranger is waiting for Romana waiting for her with an offer she cannot refuse. Leela and the others are held in a chronic hysteresis, a nice nod to Meglos. The savages are all that is left of the Time Lords, the victims of the Dogma virus and the scarred relics of their former selves. I really appreciate this because it means that the sense of foreboding regarding the dogma virus in series 1-3 was entirely appropriate and the reason to depart so dramatically is justified. Had Romana and the others stayed then they would have ended up in exactly the same situation; withered, unintelligible and close to death. It is going to take Romana thousands of years just to rebuild the Citadel, restore the Eye of Harmony, re-erect the transduction barriers and cure victims of Free Time. She has a lot of work ahead of her. With nobody around to watch them, the Temporal Powers are breaking all the rules in the book. By the time the planet has been restored to its former majesty, they enter a terrible battle that they cannot win. Gallifrey falls into an abyss into which there is no way out – it would appear that the rules governing discussion of the Time War have bent a little because this is a direct reference to the destruction of the planet. The Citadel from the future erected in the past to shave years of the rebuilding of Gallifrey, everybody is standing in the middle of an enormous temporal paradox. The Temporal Powers must know that Gallifrey is open for business again, the first Ambassadors are on their way and other rogue Time Lords that fled when the Dogma virus struck will be making their way back too. They need to appear strong.

Audio Landscape: The screaming, misty wastelands of Gallifrey, ghostly whisperings, screaming TARDISes, footsteps, a type 40 TARDIS, the rod of Rassilon banging, the barriers failing, rubble crashing around their ears.

Isn’t it Odd: It occurred to me during Ascension that season five is an anomaly in every way. Apart from the speech at the end of Extermination that tries to suggest emotional ties an adopted Gallifrey that simply weren’t there, there was simply no need for the buffer year between season four and six and no purpose for an extended year on one of these worlds except to prove to the audience that it was a really good idea after all.. Without it, the year that dealt with the alternative Gallifreys would have been an entertaining (to what extent is up to you) diversion before getting back to Gallifrey Prime and getting on with the nasty business with dealing the Daleks. The protracted series in between is just a mess and unnecessary. As is often the case, les is more and Gallifrey might have not suffered the ignominy of a damaged reputation had they chosen to get back to where the series belongs (which is clearly where we were always heading) sooner. It does strike me of the Divergents Universe syndrome all over again, Gary Russell for all the best intentions in the world (to innovate and try new things) taking hold of a formula that works beautifully and twisting into something that doesn’t for the sake of a change. Perhaps if that change had been short lived it might have been potent rather than bitter.

Standout Scene: When the plans of the two Romanas come out into the open it is clear that only one of them will be staying as President and the other will be exiled. It’s a race against time to see who gets there first. ‘Gallifrey gets the President she deserves and I guess it wasn’t big enough for the both of us…’

Result: A fascinating listen and pretty much everything I have wanted since the end of series three. Renaissance provides a foothold back onto Gallifrey Prime in a way that keeps everybody happy; those who wanted the series to pick up after series three can pretend that series four and five never happened because that is pretty much what this story does. And yet those who did like the two interim seasons have their faith justified because we witness the devastation on Gallifrey Prime and see that it was absolutely necessary to leave for a time to escape a terrifying fate. Win/win. James Goss is rapidly becoming one of my favourite of the current Big Finish contributors because he seems to understand the audio medium perfectly, that this is a world of dialogue (of which he has a good ear for memorable lines) and ideas (his imagination seems to be boundless). These were always Gallifrey’s strengths as well so handing him this assignment seems to have been the perfect union of series and author. Justin Richards is the other perfect Gallifrey writer, a man whose creative juices have been flowing in the Whoniverse for nearly two decades and guess who is writing the finale? Goss also understands that we cannot have an emotional connection to the concepts without relationships that appeal, excite and frustrate and characterisation is tops too. Leela and Romana haven’t been written this well in many years. Renaissance is the first opportunity to experience the new Romana that Big Finish are introducing and I am pleased to report she is a delight. Freshly played by Juliet Landau and hugely different from her predecessors, Romana III is a tactile and slightly kooky incarnation and all the more intriguing for it. With kisses to An Unearthly Child, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Three Doctors, The Face of Evil and Logopolis and daring to look forward to the Time War, this is both nostalgic and innovative. It builds to a climax that gave me goosebumps in a move that promises to change the fate of one character forever. What is so sad is that after flouncing around for two season that Gallifrey is coming to end in the next story just when the range has really found it’s groove again. Still at least they can say they went out on a high. Finally the events mean something again: 9/10


TF80 said...

Hello Joe

I'm a folower of your blog since about one year ago :) I love your critics and since I usually agree with them, now that my economy isn't all buoyant, I tend to buy the ones you mark high and give a positive review ;)

About the Gallifrey series, I have never listened to any of them, I was scared away by them by the fear of how dull and boring I usually found Gallifrey was in DW stories.
It didn't atract me, but I would like to give the an opportunity, Do you recommend them?

thank you and keep with your amazing reviews!

Regards from Spain

rumblebars said...

I was going to comment yesterday after I finished part 2, but with that WOW! of a cliffhanger I thought I'd have to listen to part 3 to get it in perspective.

However Part 3 didn't turn out to be anything like I expected it to be! (not in a bad way though)

Still, part two was great, and again, I'm glad you're enjoying Series 6.


Joe Ford said...

Hi TF80,

What a lovely comment to leave. Thank you for saying such kind things about the blog. I find Gallifrey stories dull and boring too but the Gallifrey series doesn't really mimic their tone in the slightest, think more of The West Wing in space with the political intrigue and imagination that would go with that. It's true that I loved the first three seasons (and I thought each subsequent season was better than the last) and that I thought seasons four and five were a dreadful diversion (although others have enjoyed them, the general feeling is that these two years don't really live up to the first three seasons). Season six however is looking to be the best yet and a great trio of stories to go out on. I would definitely recommend trying out the first year and seeing what you think. If you don't like that, then there's a good chance you wont like the rest and I think you can obtain the debut series at a pretty low price as well.

Have a great day,


Audrey the Leviathan Vampire Girl said...

Where does that photo of the gorgeous Juliet Landau come from?

As for the play, this is first time in a longtime that I’ve so thoroughly enjoyed a Gallifrey audio. The last time was ‘4.1 Reborn’. I have to agree with you, the decision to stay in the parallel universe for so long has been a massive blunder for this series.

Joel Aarons said...

I picked up a lot of Logopolis references, even in the music cues. Peoples of the universe speech was almost a rip off rather than an homage. And I half expected the mysterious stranger ghost to be a Watcher. Although I haven't listened to part 3 yet. Loved this one! Best Gallifrey has been in an age!