Monday, 9 December 2013

The Awakening written by Eric Pringle and directed by Michael Owen Morris

This story in a nutshell: Two episodes too short...

Open Honest Face: Davison seems a lot more confident in this story than he did earlier but that’s what three years in the role will do for you. He said that come his last season he felt he had a greater handle on the part and had he been blessed with these stories than some of the non entities in his second season that he might have stayed on for a fourth. There is something of the angry, slightly jaded hero about him, a man who left the Sea Base littered with corpses in the last story and who would go on to be bullied and pushed about for the rest of the season. Much like stories such as Black Orchid, Time-Flight and Terminus, throughout this story he is stuck with having to relay all the alarming exposition (via Jane Hampden to the audience) so rather than being able to enjoy the atmosphere of the story and its setting he is stuck explaining away every plot point to the secondary characters. The one saving grace is his chemistry with Will which is really sweet and shows you just how charismatic and engaging it could have been during the Davison era had they jettisoned Tegan and brought in somebody with a little charm.His chemistry with Jane is not a patch on the last time he had a Liver Bird in his wake.

Acidic Aussie: We're approaching the end of her time on the show (thank goodness because I've run out of negative terminology) and she is still bringing down the tone of every single story with her bad attitude and adding very little of actual worth to the narrative. Whether it was JNT or Eric Saward who kept her around because they thought she was popular I couldn't tell you but it is clear from her non-existence in the past two stories that she has long outlived her welcome. The first thing that comes out of her mouth is a complaint that they have landed in the wrong place (which is as predictable as me complaining about it). Bellyaching about her mistreatment. Hysterical about her Grandfather. Pissed off about her (hideous) handbag being stolen. Doesn’t like the carving in the church. Screams at the naff projection. Rants at Sir George. ‘Let me go!’ ‘I wouldn’t dream of putting you to so much trouble!’ ‘I’m not in the mood for playing silly games!’ ‘Thanks for nothing!’ Tegan is just vile. She finally smiles for the first time ten minutes before the end of the story. Frankly she’s only good for a May Queen burning these days.

Alien Spy: Wasted. Again. Turlough is lost amongst a huge cast and is only really actively doing something when he is locked up with Verney. Otherwise he runs about the village, with little dialogue and even less point. I quite like Turlough, his  slyness was a welcome touch of character in the frequently stilted 80’s companions but after his introductory trio of stories he was merely a cipher, Frontios and Planet of Fire excepting. A huge waste of Mark Strickson’s talents.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You speak treason!’ ‘Fluently!’
‘The toast of Little Hodcombe…’

The Good Stuff: The ideas holding the story together are great and I can (almost) see why fans of this story are sold on them alone as they are so quintessentially, gorgeously Doctor Who. An isolated village, war games being enacted, an ominous crack in as church wall unleashing an ancient evil…it sounds like a marvellous story but unfortunately much of this is told through dissertation rather than action and all the relevant setting up pieces are missing. It feels like we are coming in at the end of a story having missed all the best bits. The derelict church set is really convincing and I love the little splash of colour in the stained glass window. A English village kissed by sunlight affords the story a few moments of sublime location filming. Will Chandler is charming, emotive and likable and feels like a an authentic person, he really shows up the current companions for the vacuous nobodies that they are. The idea of the Malus ‘having a war in him’ is really scary. I have to compliment the lighting, which is steeped in shadows and appropriately moody - not a compliment you can level at ever 80’s story.The soundtrack is memorable too, more a series of dramatic vignettes than whole pieces of music but snappy and attention grabbing ones nonetheless. Nice church explosion.

The Bad Stuff: You have to question why Eric Pringle was allowed to bring in two substitution companions for the fifth Doctor (Jane and Will) when the two he has are given absolutely nothing to do. Is it an indictment of how badly they have turned out that they need replacing? Polly James, the other half of the Liver Birds is as unconvincing and melodramatic in this as Nerys Hughes was persuasive and gentle in Kinda. There isn’t one convincing piece of dialogue in the first TARDIS scene, either in the script or the delivery. Willow bugs me more than many villainous characters because he is such a crawling mincing old ham and was willing to attack people, burn Tegan and generally behave in an unacceptably violent way and yet at the story’s conclusion they are all shaking hands with him saying ‘No recriminations?’ Get off! He should be arrested for his actions and punished and it is typical of this story not having enough time to deal with things adequately. The cliffhanger features the longest ever ‘Doccctooooooooooorrrrrrrrrr!’ on record. What’s annoying is how you can see how a lot of these scenes could be worked into a longer, more comprehensive and atmospheric story with some real tension and atmosphere. Its almost as though somebody has edited all the exposition scenes together without any of the mood or scene setting. The psychic projections sequences have replaced plot development and are full of empty tension. One character states that the events here will change the future of mankind but there is no context and no substance for such a grandiloquent statement. Frankly it would be more than a little embarrassing if this pageant led to the end of the world. The Malus projections in all their guises are static and nonthreatening. There is hardly a single scene that doesn’t feel truncated in some way and they fail to flow naturally into one another. Why does the Doctor take so many people into the TARDIS at once? And why do none of them have any kind of reaction? Time was when it genuine changed how people viewed the world, now it's a quite 'Strike me Pink!' and on with the plot. What exactly do we know about Sir George, Willow, Jane, Woolsey or Verney at the story’s climax besides their occupation and their function to the plot? These aren't characters, their ciphers. The cast is so huge that many scenes feature people standing about with no dialogue. The casual explanation that the Malus was a precursor to an invasion is a shocking revelation in all the wrong ways, condemning this story as an unimportant prelude to the drama that is to come.

Result: The Awakening features a rushed plot that desperately needs another half an hour or two to sort out a lot of its problems. It would allow the plot to breathe, to set up the story rather than dumping us in the middle of it and leave some time for convincing character development (or simply some characterisation at all). The story pretty much sells itself on its location and the menace of its ideas but there is no substance or texture to the story to hold everything together. It’s a lot of running about, a few idle threats and a dozen psychic projections before everybody piles onto the TARDIS and the story is wrapped up in a bow of technobabble and screaming. This is probably the most frustrating Doctor Who story ever because I can see precisely how this could be worked into a truly phenomenal four parter. Some call it economic and pacy, I call it an empty exercise in time wasting: 4/10

1 comment:

David Pirtle said...

In Tegan's defense (never thought I'd type that), after what's happened to the rest of her family, I don't blame her for being upset about her grandfather having gone missing.