Friday, 20 June 2014

Charlotte Pollard: The Shadow at the Edge of the World written by Jonathan Barnes and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What's it about: Charlotte Pollard’s adventures are over. She escaped death aboard the R101 and travelled in time and space - but now in the service of the monolithic, unknowable Viyrans, their unending mission is stifling her. An encounter with would-be adventurer Robert Buchan, near the mysterious Ever-and-Ever-Prolixity, provides the opportunity Charley needs for escape… So, the adventuress is abroad once more: meeting a lost expedition in uncharted forests, solving enigmas, and hoping beyond hope to see the people she misses most: her family. But Charley cannot run forever. The Viyrans know the power of the ‘Lamentation Cipher’ and they have a solution… for everything.

Edwardian Adventuress: Jumping into the Prolixity is an unpredictable business because you could wake up anywhere, any time having to figure out precisely where you have ended up. When Charley wakes up in a hostile jungle at the end of gun she figures she may have been a little rash. She's bold as brass these days, willing to stand and fight the Slaverings even though she doesn't understand quite what is going on. Her life is in danger and that is enough. And when Turnerman starts pushing her around after she has saved them she is bolshie enough to remind her that they might need her again in the near future. Charley learnt a very important lesson from the Doctor - you have to believe that you are going to succeed in order to achieve that and never give up. When it comes to life (running away) or death (getting answers), Charley would always choose the former. She has been given an opportunity that she never thought would present itself - if she gets out of this life she can seek out her parents again. It has only been a few years since she left and despite the awkward subject of her death she can seek comfort with them again. She thinks they will have hardly changed at all but she has changed so much. Would they even recognise her anymore? Charley knows enough about this time travelling lark to ask if the Viyrans that do not recognise her are from her future or a her past...just as the Doctor would. She's already made the choice between death and a lifetime with the Viyrans before and she is not going back on that.

Standout Performance: An astonishing performance from Jacqueline King (that's Sylvia Noble to you and I) disguised in a heavy Scot's accent (which seems inspired from David Tennant's own) that makes her indistinguishable from the plummy actress I have listened to several other Big Finish audios (Bad Habits, Starborn). She's terrifying at spots and I loved her anger when she revealed what her previous occupation was. I never would have guessed.

Great Ideas: The Slaverings are described as looking like a cross between a silver backed monkey and Mr Hyde, a grisly image that matches their ferocious cries throughout the story. The Edge of the World is Scotland, where Charley has found herself. The year is 1936, just four years on from the time she left home to embark on her journey on the R-101. Emmeline might appear to be raving but just like K.9 in Warriors' Gate she is the only who can see the reality of their situation and is desperately trying to tell them what is going on. Only Charley is willing to listen but she is constantly shot down. 'We're trapped' and 'wheel going round and round' are two of the important plot points she imparts. An expedition to a forest in Scotland led by women to find a temple that was spotted from the air. A structure of impossible antiquity. Death surrounds the search for this structure, others have come looking and dozens have been lost, their minds stripped of who they were like lost children.  Mrs Turnerman brilliantly veers between being a realist and mildly psychotic; she'll shoot down the Slaverings whether they are attacking or not but is also reserving a bullet for each of her team if it comes to that. the story is punctuated by narrated scenes by Charley (that can be explained away as being written in her diary) which economically push the story onwards a lot quicker too. For a second I was disappointed by the appearance of the Viyrans, wondering if there wouldn't be any standalone stories and if they were going to swoop in at the end of every story and sort everything out for Charley (a bit like the climax to Revelation of the Daleks with the Supreme Daleks' squad). However I was pleasantly surprised when this bunch of Viyrans didn't recognise Charley...  The virus retro-evolved the earlier male members of the previous expedition and the Viyrans detected the outbreak and so they created a containment zone in the forest to keep the women of the second expedition who have been exposed to the virus safe. The virus arrived on Earth via a portal from the Prolixity.

Audio Landscape: Birdsong, screaming Slaverings, snapping off a stick, gunshots, the stillness as the Prolixity freezes the action, the light screaming and scattering the Slaverings, crackling fire, owl hooting, Slavering sniffing, scribbling in diary, the Prolixity.

Musical Cues: Nick Briggs' music during the Slavering attacks seems to be directly influenced by the 'farts of doom' Malcolm Hulke music from Earthshock. Strangely it is far more effective here, punctuating the silence dramatically.

Isn't it Odd: When a co-incidence is playing on somebody's mind and they mention two apparently separate plot points (the first all-male expedition vanishing and the appearance of the Slaverings) it is not hard to put two and two together and figure where this is going.

Standout Scene: Susan taking her life is a genuinely shocking moment. I was momentarily stunned. What awful truth could she possibly know that this is the best solution?

Result: An all female cast is almost an impossibility in main range Doctor Who (the lead character is generally a man) but I have noticed an effort to try pull this feat off in the spin off ranges of late. One of the final Companion Chronicles was a female written, directed and performed script and whilst Jonathan Barnes takes up the writing responsibilities in The Shadow at the Edge of the World it is the all female cast that bring that story to life. Charity, Susan, Emmeline and especially Mrs Turnerman are all uniquely characterised and very different from Charley herself and the acting plaudits belong to Nicola Weeks and Jacqueline King but there isn't a weak link amongst them. Placing Charley in a gaggle of strong women and allowing her to stand out shows how she has grown as a character and has found her voice. She jumps head first into the mystery of the Slaverings and is determined to find answers and keep her skin wrapped tightly all over too. Whilst this a nice little character drama for the most part (I loved the reveal of Mrs Turnerman's previous occupation and Charley's realisation that she could go home) I did feel that the conclusion was a rushed. It set up a mystery and interesting characters but explains it away with a wave of the Prolixity and suddenly tosses away these characters that we have become close to without any clue as to how they might end up. That niggle aside, this is an entertaining second outing but still the weakest of the set: 7/10

No comments: