Monday, 14 July 2014

The Abandoned written by Louise Jameson & Nigel Fairs and directed by Ken Bentley

What's it about: The Point of Stillness. A place the Time Lords are forbidden to go. It cannot be drawn, it cannot be whispered, it cannot be thought. And yet somebody is very keen to reach it. Deep within the TARDIS, something unusual is happening. One of the ship's oldest secrets is about to be revealed, and once it is, nothing will ever be the same again. As danger materialises deep within the ship, spectral strangers lurk in the corridors and bizarre events flood the rooms, someone long-forgotten is ready to reappear. The Doctor and Leela are soon to discover that their home isn't quite the safe stronghold they thought.

Teeth and Curls: 'Do you really think you can fly this old bucket?' I love the idea of the Doctor taking her back to ancient Gallifrey to learn from extraordinary scholars, what an incredible gift to her. The seventh Doctor did a similar thing for Ace once but put her through all manner of cruel psychological tests before hand. He has no doubt in his mind that the TARDIS can hear him and understand. The Doctor is a mass of contradictions, telling Leela that machines have no feelings and then responds to the TARDIS as though she is a living thing requiring tact, love and encouragement. Machines are only as imaginative as those who programme them and it is the Doctor who programmed the TARDIS and therefore she is at the height of creativity. The Doctor is seriously protective of the TARDIS and gets quite angry when Three starts manipulating her controls. The Doctor remembers a time during his childhood where he spent time with the Outsiders in the snow, staying for days with them. He admits that he didn't go to every class in the Academy because there were places to go. I enjoyed the illusion of the Doctor appearing to have gone completely bonkers, sawing the hat stand in half and then asking who did it. Let's be honest if you wanted to make a case for psychological instability it would be the fourth Doctor with his boggle eyes, barking laugh and random comments that you would turn to. Like all little boys the Doctor had an imaginary friend called Binka who has been actualised by Marianna.

Noble Savage: Given that this is a script of Louise Jameson's devising it makes a lot of sense that it would highlight Leela and one of the unique aspects of her relationship with the Doctor, the way in which he was always trying to educate her. The Doctor has begun the unenviable task of trying to teach Leela the basic functions of the TARDIS console, a task that she doesn't seem to be enjoying. She is the second most intelligent being that the Doctor has known in the last 500 years or so, after himself. All she lacks is education but she has the aptitude to learn. She asks intelligent questions and can spot an illogical point a mile off. She is determined to understand what he is teaching her, even if it seems like it is beyond her grasp. Leela reads the story of the old woman in the shoe and points out all the facts that don't make any sense. She finds herself talking like the Doctor when she addresses the TARDIS. The conversation between Leela and her father is given extra poignancy by the (shallow) examination of her relationship with him earlier in the season. Named after the Sevateem's greatest warrior and now she is living up to that name.

Standout Performance: Stephanie Cole is an actress that I have a great deal of time for. Not only has she appeared and excelled in several of my favourite TV shows (amongst them Tenko, Open All Hours and Waiting for God) but she also lights up the stage any time I have seen her at the theatre. She's a superb performer (and a close friend to one of my neighbours) who thinks about the part she is playing and surrenders to it completely. She does that in The Abandoned but it does seem that the role consists of asking her to scream and shout endlessly, talking about concepts we have relatively little understanding of. It is in the second episode where she comes into her own, proving to be a powerful presence within the TARDIS.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'There is something seriously wrong with the TARDIS, Leela.'
'I was bricked up, abandoned to the bowels of this grand puss!'
'Who gives a tuppenny toss?'

Great Ideas: The Abandoned features one of the strongest covers in years. The decimal point in Gallifrey's galactic co-ordinates is the point of stillness of which nobody can ever talk about. Cockroaches, bees an nursery rhymes in the TARDIS? For once it is nice to have a 4DA where all the answers aren't spelt out in front of you and you cannot predict what is going to happen next. I like the idea of more stories set entirely within the TARDIS, it is a claustrophobic environment when you cannot leave and dangers set upon the regulars within. It has been utilised well in the past (Logopolis and Castrovalva) and is sometimes not so accomplished in its approach (The Edge of Destruction, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS) but I always admire the writers for having a go. Admittedly in the first episode of The Abandoned it appeared that there were a lot of weird random goings on within the TARDIS but it does all come together to make some kind of sense. Apparently he got the hat stand from a Souq in Marrakech. Faces forming out of insects, actualising the voices in her head. A millennia ago Marianna possessed the most extraordinary weapon ever to come into existence anywhere in the entire universe. She was a nanosecond away from solving all the battles, wars, quarrels and squabbles that ever existed or would ever exist. Her power would have been unchallengeable. She went to the point of stillness and liberated the fancies and imaginings locked in her mind, actualising them. Marianna admits to having created the Horda and thus is indirectly responsible for Leela's fathers death. When she dragged herself away from the point of stillness se ran to the TARDIS and her crew tricked her into imagining a coma inducing drug and they administered it to her. Worse than dying, trapped inside the heart of the TARDIS. She wants to head back to Gallifrey now and punish those who had the audacity to imprison her and steal away all those years. The Sevateem = an unimaginable bunch of plodders? Imaginary friends that have come to life? The point of stillness is forbidden to Time Lords because it is the eye of the storm resulting from the Big Bang and it cannot be defiled. Life, the universe and everything ever known will be destroyed if that were to happen. The barrier between reality and fantasy is blurred at the point of stillness, that is what makes it so dangerous.

Audio Landscape: A parrot screaming in the TARDIS, the TARDIS hum, the TARDIS responding to the Doctor's praise, screaming and wailing, paintbrush sloshing water about, the echoing stillness of the TARDIS when the lights all fade, a ticking clock, screaming and slapping, sawing, the Cloister bell, insects, mad laughter, frogs, water sloshing through the corridors, dogs barking, a hurricane breath, bubbles popping, screaming Horda.

Musical Cues: Nigel Fairs has always provided some catchy and decisive music for his stories and The Abandoned is no different. There are some sinister snatches of fairytale music (the sort he aced in The Child) and when the fourth Doctor theme kicks in it is slowed down and given a melancholic treatment that I rather liked. The flute stings also stood out and the choral screams.

Isn't it Odd: The second episode is much, much more satisfying than the first where the answers are spilled and the assault of madness of the first episode is put into context. That initial instalment can be a bit wearying at times though as you try piece the jigsaw of lunacy together. All those mad sound effect and random happenings are beautifully explained away by the power of the point of stillness that can realise anything that exist in your imagination.

Standout Scene: All the elements of delusory madness cohere at the end of the first episode to provide a crescendo of mania. It's difficult to figure out what is going on but that is the exciting part, the Doctor and Leela gripped by something that cannot be defined.

Result: 'What is the point of the point of stillness?' Brave and challenging, it's time for something completely different. There are going to be people who really don't like this kind of thing because they have a certain expectation of what they want from Doctor Who. And there will be others that adore because it is pushing the boundaries and giving a range that has surrendered to nostalgia and predictability more often than not a shot in the arm of creativity. I'm mostly in the latter category and think it is long past time that this range started displaying some individuality but I do have an issue with some elements of the execution of the tale. I did enjoy some of the TARDIS based atmospherics and Nick Briggs certainly fulfils the remit of utilising the sound effects of the ship to create an unique audio environment, playing to the strengths of setting a story entirely within its walls. The moments of random weirdness reminded me of Sapphire and Steel but the first episode might test your patience because it doesn't appear to have any structure to it and there are some moments of assaulting shrieks and laughter that encourage the application of paracetamol. As you might imagine from a script partly written by Louise Jameson the characterisation of the Doctor and Leela is extremely strong, returning them to their roots of teacher and pupil but also saying some new things about both characters. That genuinely surprised me in a period where I have come to expect little definable examination of the regulars. Stephanie Cole is one of my favourite actresses and I have always wanted her to appear in a Doctor Who story so I can cross that off my wish list. With a little binding of the script and production so that it wasn't quite as all out cuckoo, this would have been an absolute classic. As it is I would still say it is a massive leap in the right direction for the 4DAs, an attempt to try something completely exclusive rather than trading on past glories. Nigel Fairs and Louise Jameson should team up again, they are clearly full of ideas (the former brings his penchant for fairytale notions and the latter a willingness to experiment and pioneer...and Jameson certainly brings a narrative coherence that has been lacking in Fairs' last two scripts) and are invested in the characters. With firmer notes from the script editor they could produce something truly outstanding instead of something flawed but fearless: 8/10


Pink!Dalek said...

The opinions about this one in the BF forums are very bad, I haven't listened to it yet, but since I usually agree with the most of your reviews I'm gonna give it a try!

Doc Oho said...

I hope I haven't led you up the garden path! Everybody else seems to hate it...but I really liked the fact that nothing like this has been attempted before. Even if it is a little hysterical, it is full of great ideas.

Anonymous said...

I'm somewhat amused that you liked this because it has "never been attempted before". This is so derivative of every sci-fi "what happens when your thoughts become real" scenario that it makes me weap. It's the same story that is told ad nauseum in various Star Treks and hales back all the way to movies like The Forbidden Planet. In Who this may be different. The closest cousin to this is probably The Mind Robber and that's still a far way away but this is such an overused sci-fi staple.

Anonymous said...