Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Charlotte Pollard: The Viyran Solution written by Matt Fitton and directed by Jonathan Barnes

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: 'I've been to a lot of places, I've been to a lot of times and the one thing that's always there, the one constant...people die. Everyone dies.' There is an air of finality to Charley's opening monologue that speaks of this being her closing adventure. Cleverly Matt Fitton sets this up so it could be a very satisfying finale for her but also leaving open possibilities to pick this up at a later date. As far as her character is concerned there is only really one story that fully exploits all the potential of the past (The Fall of House Pollard) and the rest have been less probing and more showing how Charley reacts in certain situations. Regardless, she has been excellently written throughout and given some thoughtful moments and strong dialogue. If the idea of this set was to prove that Charley had to the ability to go it alone then I would call it a complete success. However since the events of this story also scream of closure it would have to return as something completely different.

Charley is grateful for the chance to see her parents one last time. She never knew how much she missed them until they were there in front of her. She wished she could have seen him too before the end. She's been to more places and seen more sights than most people ever get to experience in a lifetime. Charley feels as though she has lived several lifetimes, even though she is barely older than when she started. In a moment that quite choked me up Charley admits that she never got to have a child...and she doesn't know how that makes her feel. She discovers just how disposable she is when the Viyrans inform them that they have found a new human agent...and somehow I knew it was going to Robert Buchan. Charley has some understanding of temporal causality. Described as being a little bit ordinary looking (I would have thrown something back at Millicent for this but I suppose she has every right to be angry given she is Robert's long suffering wife). The bitchy tension between Charley and Millicent is delightful to listen to ('Charley to my friends. You can call me Miss Pollard...'). Her travels with the Doctor taught her that thinking that life cannot be wiped out because we are here already doesn't mean a thing - everything can change. The Web of Time can shake apart and break in a strong breeze and the Viyrans are sending a hurricane. She certainly picked up a great deal of temporal knowledge during her travels, I would say (Romana aside) that she is the most knowledgeable individual in the mechanics of time travel to have ever travelled in the TARDIS.

Standout Performance: India Fisher has come so far from the naive slip of a thing that first appeared in Winter for the Adept. I remember I leant a few of the early Charley adventures to a non fan who wanted to see what the fuss was all about with Doctor Who on audio that was worth me creating an entire blog for. She enjoyed the stories but found Fisher's performance to be a little earnest and overdone. Going back and listening to that first season I can see what she means (but I still love the character in those early days anyway). Fisher has come on in leaps and bounds, she's a remarkably sophisticated performer these days (just listen to that opening monologue) and she has the confidence to command your attention over four hours worth of material without feeling as if we have gone over old ground. And given the prolific amount of material featuring Charley that is no small achievement. I would be very open to a second series of Charley adventures, frankly after her efforts here I think that Fisher deserves another crack at the whip. Marvel in the fact that at the end of this adventure it is Fisher (Charley) versus Fisher (Viyran) and the two performances couldn't be more diverse.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'You idiots. You haven't got any idea of what the Viyrans are capable of when they're being reasonable and you've just antagonised them.'
'You don't have to go back and end all life...because it's going to happen anyway.'
'I know life can have some pretty awful symptoms; greed, revenge, fear  but there are people out there treating them. Doctors if you like. And I do what I can. But there are good symptoms too. Side-effects like joy, love, adventure!'
'I'm never serious...but I'm always shockingly sincere!'

Great Ideas: Many species are now converging on the Prolixity and require decontamination. Original Amethyst strains have adapted and mutated. The Viyrans are drawing all viruses in whilst tracking them to their source. Not the Amethyst Station or even the war that the Viyrans were created to tidy up after... The Viyrans are convinced that they can complete their mission to destroy the viruses without moving from the Prolixity since they all seem to be converging here. They also think that the Lamentation Cipher is something that is inside Charley and it frightens them. The Viyrans created the Prolixity. When a aggressive strain of virus escaped the laboratories it made for the Prolixity, having developed some form of sentience. They captured it inside a containment field and decided to detonate an incendiary within the field. As a feature of the time virus, the Viyrans can now travel in time. In the Prolixity they can traverse time through a portal via the power of thought. When the containment incendiary was detonated the virus attempted to avert its own destruction backwards through time. The virus is the Prolixity, a tear in space-time extending back as far as can be measured. That might be one hell of an info-dump told in a fashion that if you haven't been paying attention in the previous stories (shame on you) then you will be completely lost but it does at least find a clever way of clearing up how the Prolixity came to be. The Prolixity provides a window on history, one where they can analyse and track every virus back to Amethyst and beyond. Many viruses were dispersed further back in time, beyond the beginnings of this galaxy. One virus escaped beyond the beginnings of life in the universe...and that is the new Viyran mission. A self proliferating, self replication virus...that we happen to call life. Evolution, the constant capacity for change, that is the infection. I think this a rather clever development because it uses the rather cold and clinical backdrop to this series to generate a serious threat for Charley to deal with. The Viyrans are just about obsessed enough with their work to be willing to wipe out all life in the universe to ensure they have stamped out every virus, especially if life itself happens to be one. The unique Viyran amongst their number is from pre-pre-history, the time when the Masters first sent the Viyrans out in the universe. If necessary, the Viyrans will deploy deadly force to ensure that their work continues...as Robert Buchan learns when his men are all eliminated. The Viyrans were frightened that Charley would terminate their mission by summoning the Pre-Viyrans. Charley is being used as a carrier of a virus that will take the Viyrans back to the same condition as they were in the early days. Bert Buchan features in one of the more disturbing deaths in an audio for some time...screaming as he melts away to nothing.

Audio Landscape: Stomping Viyrans, the eye that hums backwards and forwards, Cylon style, slaps as Mr Buchan enjoys his massage, drill, screams, walking on gantries, shuttle taking off, Viyrans shooting people down, stuttering, infected Viyrans, the ship falling to pieces, the Prolixity exploding.

Isn't it Odd: You would have had to have been paying very close attention to the rest of the set in order for The Viyran Solution to make any sense. It is almost entirely plot driven and has a great many expository moments that push the series towards its epic climax. On criticism of the series would be that it seems to have split its stories into two categories; plot and character with two stories revelling in the former (the opening and conclusion) and two focussing on the latter (the two stories in the middle). Whilst there are elements of both in all stories I wouldn't say there is one adventure that has an equal amount of both, like all the best stories.

Standout Scene: Matt Fitton opens with a revealing speech and a dramatic set piece featuring Charley about to open an airlock and commit suicide. After the title music we are several hours in the past and the entire story is about to lead up to this conclusive decision. How on Earth did Charley get to this point?

Result: 'All in all it's been...rather marvellous.' I think I realised a long time ago (around about the time of The Apocalypse Element) that I really enjoy stories that stress big ideas, especially when the plot itself and the explanations are dense and thoroughly explored. Brotherhood of the Daleks is one such example and there were plenty more in the first three series of Gallifrey.  You can add The Viyran Solution to that list, a series of complicated explanations that might bring out those who enjoy light and fluffy adventures in hives but manages to  pull together all the intelligent ideas that have been generated by this set and create a dramatic and universe-wide threat to be overcome. This is conceptual storytelling at its most striking, posing some insane concepts such as asking you to consider that life in the universe sprang into existence accidentally as a consequence of temporal tinkering at the other end of time. It's bat shit crazy, but it works and what Barnes and Fitton have done is to carve out a fascinating new corner of the universe for more Big Finish stories to be told in. I loved the further exploration of the Viyrans (although I still think there is more to be done with them...I would like to meet the Creators), I have loved the chance to tie up so many loose ends from Charley's time in the TARDIS and I have really loved the opportunity to be reminded of what a great director and musician Nick Briggs is. This timey wimey (shudder) epic wouldn't be half as good if it wasn't for the stunning production values. My one complaint about The Viyran Solution is that it seems to be building to a real crescendo but it lacks the biting climax that four hours worth of storytelling demands. I was expecting something a little more dramatic (although it does end on a big bang). Let's hope that means there is more to come...to tie up the spanking new loose ends that have been left hanging. I was a fool to question the integrity of this series, it has far exceeded my expectation by being above average at worst and excellent at best: 8/10


Anonymous said...

Never been a fan of Charley myself, I have always prefered Lucie any day. A Lucie spin-off would have been great!
But it seems by your reviews that these series are worth a try. So, do you recommend them?

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