Sunday, 1 June 2014

Starborn written by Jacqueline Rayner and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What's it about: On a visit to early 20th Century Earth, Vicki receives a warning - if she leaves in the TARDIS, then she will die. Unable to join her friends, Vicki is given an audience by a psychic called Violet, who contacts voices beyond this mortal plain. And one of those voices is Vicki herself, who reveals what will happen at the ship’s next landing place - and what terrible fate awaits...

Alien Orphan: It is true that Vicki can tend to be fairly patronising towards Ian and Barbara and the time that they come from (suggesting that paracetamol are akin to leeches in The Web Planet, mocking the primitive educational system of the 1960s, labelling The Beatles as classical music). It gives her an air of superiority and sniffiness that raises her above the facsimile of Susan that she was originally designed to be. She's not exactly hyper rational like Zoe but Vicki was still brought up on a healthy dose of science and fed facts as a child and so the idea of indulging in a séance doesn't sit easy with her. There are simply too many ways this sort of thing can be faked. Madame Violet suggests that such scepticism doesn't suit one so young but Vicki tries to find holes in the logic of convincing performance that she gives as the Ancient Roman Crispus. Despite her objections, once Vicki learns that it is a female that is trying to speak to her from beyond the grave she automatically thinks (and hopes) that it might be her mother. She tries not to think about her too much because it breaks her heart to do so. It has been quite some time since Vicki had been with somebody her own age and she naturally draws towards younger people, anything to escape the unadventurous and occasional stuffiness of Ian and Barbara. Poor Vicki, as soon as she finds a new best friend in Annet it would seem that she is destined to lose her. Vicki is a little like Jo Grant when it comes to other beings in danger, she forgets her own safety an flings herself into mortal peril to help. She remembers her mind leaving her body and floating up towards the stars, hearing the Doctor's gentle, reassuring voice all the time. Vicki's a intelligent girl and can hunt out all the inconsistencies in her 'spirits' story but is smart enough to go along with it to find out what the wraith is ultimately directing her to do. She sees the good in everybody too, recognising that the Waneshe child did save all the stars.

Hmm: The Doctor makes his views on talking to the spirits very clear. You can imagine where he falls on this debate. He loves exploring new places.

Standout Performance: Better known as Sylvia Noble in the TV series, Jacqueline King has turned up in a number of audios now and has never failed to make an impression me when she has. Given that her voice has broken down several octaves with age, it is astonishing that O'Brien can still find Vicki's voice after all these years. It feels like she has never been away, not that she has had a 50 year break from the show.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'I like the sound of that. Perhaps it could almost be bearable losing people if you knew they were still somewhere. If every now and then you could sense their presence, even if you never hear their voices again.'
'We are the last people to understand ourselves.'
'You'll meet me again but I wont you.'
'That's one of the things I love about travelling in the TARDIS. You never know where you're going to end up next...'

Great Ideas: What an awful dilemma for Vicki and no wonder she tries to fight the idea - she is told that if she goes into the TARDIS again  and leaves this world that she will die in the near future. The only way to prevent that is to never step foot in the time ship again. Having lost her family and had her world turned upside down by Bennett, the TARDIS has become a sanctuary and its crew her surrogate family. The thought of having to lose all that must chill her to the bone. There is always a spirit guide that helps the person maintain a link between this world and the afterlife and in this case it is Crispus, an ancient Roman. Imagine the horror of attending a séance and the spirit that reaches out from the ether is you. A wraith-like visage warning Vicki of her imminent death on a bright, hot, oppressive world. This world gets all its energy from the stars and is capable of turning people into stellar objects. Living stars joined in a network that surrounded the planet. Most people on this world have star blood in the bodies but would live out their lives normally like any other but a few would transcend to the heavens. When a star fades away in the sky, a new one is born and takes their place. If the hole wasn't filled then every drop of energy this planet possess would drain away. The planet itself would die. A small amount of energy would always be released when those chosen transformed and the people on the surface would be bathed in star thought. People from all over the world would attend an ascension, both to witness the spectacle and to feel the touch of their departed loved ones. I have to say this is a really gorgeous notion, that you could look up into the sky and bathe in the glow of a departed loved one and that you could immerse yourself in the radiance of their essence, their soul, before they go. If things were that poetic on Earth I don't think we would fear death quite as much as we do. It is a very different kind of danger in this story; when the stars are bled of energy that is person that is slowly being exhausted. The wraith-Vicki turns out to be one of the Waneshe that is after all of the star energy that is trapped inside the Doctor's ring. As the Master once said for a lie to work it has to be shrouded in truth and so much of what the faux Vicki recounts is just wasn't her who stepped into the light. His ring has always seemed to contain magical properties and so find the idea of it being fit to bursting with swirling star energy a magnificent one.

Audio Landscape: Rain pouring, knocking on the TARDIS door, clock chiming, banging, a market atmosphere, Annet screaming, a roaring spaceship, people falling to their knees, a thunderclap, mirrors exploding, the screams and gasps from the stars,

Standout Scene: The conclusion has a mournful tone and proves that whilst things cannot be altered, the friendship between Vicki and Annet wasn't all a lie. Unknowingly there were three people involved and they all got something from the relationship...even if one of them was always condemned to death. You can't cheat fate.

Result: 'I have to tell you how you died...' This is a first for Big Finish and Doctor Who in adventure that is written, directed and performed by women. There has been some debate in fandom about the lack of a female presence in the ranks of Big Finish (beyond the prolific Lisa Bowerman) so this is a pretty unique experiment to see what the stories might be like if the table were turned and the ladies dominated the creative staff. Whilst I genuinely believe that the output should be produced by those who are right for the job rather favouring either sex to balance the scales, there is an undeniably genteel edge to Staborn that makes it a genuinely refreshing piece of work. There is a clever use of the framing device, a story being told within a story but not in the traditional way of the companion chronicles (which again is turned on its head at the conclusion). Appropriately enough there is an Enlightenment feel to Starborn (which was the only time Doctor Who was written and directed solely by women), in tone if not its content. A lyrical, poetic, imaginative piece, one that gets in touch with the characters feelings and takes them on a journey of discovery. For Vicki this is her most challenging adventure yet, having to face up to the horror that she might die in the near future and discovering the steps she took to reach that state. Jacqueline Rayner characterises her beautifully; naive and childish at times and gifted and plucky at others. With O'Brien and King doing the honours Starborn is delivered magnificently and the production values of a high standard too. It's distinctive little tales like this that make me mourn the loss of the companion chronicles. They deliver consistently strong storytelling in tight, easy to digest packages. It's going to be a sorry day when I put the last one into my player. Luminescent: 8/10

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