Thursday, 23 October 2014

Second Sight written by Nick Wallace and Justin Richards and directed by Ken Bentley and Lisa Bowerman

What's it about: The actions of Mr Rees have alerted the Time Lords of Gallifrey, and Romana has assigned her best warrior. Independently, the Sixth Doctor has arrived on Earth. A power from the dawn of the Universe is about to be unleashed once more…

Softer Six: With the Space/Time Telegraph you never quite know who is going to turn up and Mike Yates is quite perturbed to see the sixth Doctor arrive, rather than either of the two Doctors that he is most associated with. Full of bombast as ever, old Sixie tells him he should be grateful that it is him. We get a nice insight into how the Doctor sees the universe when he revisits places that he has been to before, sometimes they thrive and sometimes they decay but they always change. Normal remains the same, even people too. At UNIT shindigs they expect people to have names as well as titles which makes the Doctor something of an anomaly. He strikes up an immediate rapport with Mike Yates and the interplay between Colin Baker and Richard Franklin is instantly listenable - impressive given they have never worked together on audio before. His skills with the TARDIS have never been in doubt he'll have you know.

President: Lalla Ward can turn up in any Doctor Who story as far as I am concerned, whether it requires Romana or not. Even when Gallifrey reached its nadir in seasons four and (especially) five, Ward always delivered a powerhouse performance and knocked my socks off. Given she hasn't appeared alongside Colin Baker since the genesis of Big Finish (way back in The Apocalypse Element) it is surprising to see them so smoothly pick up where they left off. The Doctor and Romana talk in short hand with each other and understand the severity of the situation and how to reduce the technobabble and myths to a level that Mike would understand between them. I was laughing my head off when they rushed at Leela, screaming some kind of off-putting war cry. The promises to get Romana and Leela back to Gallifrey safe and sound in no time...but there is always the question of his ability to navigate. Oh how I would love a series of adventures with Sixie, Romana and Leela.

Mike Yates: Nice to see that this is a direct continuation of the story set up in The Screaming Skull.

Noble Savage: Leela is being sent on dangerous missions by Romana because she knows that she is more than capable. This time she has been dumped in exactly the right place, right into the hands of Rees. We all know what Leela is capable of and so the thought of having Rees inside her mind manipulating her actions is quite a frightening one. She takes the opportunity to get to know her enemy, to understand him. The more she gets to know him, the easier it is to hunt him down. The Doctor understands Leela, if she doesn't want to be found she is a born survivor who is an expert at dodging her hunters.

Rees: Ultimately Rees is just a sadist who got lucky, who was in the right place at the right time and managed to extend his life through supernatural means. I rather like the idea that he is some grand super villain or God from the Dawn of Time, just a casually violent man who enjoys watching people suffer and has had the opportunity to make it happen for over a century. He likes the screams best, it isn't the same when they don't let you know how much it hurts when they die. We get a sneak peek into the past at Rees as a little boy, his mother dying, killing his father and mending the music box that she gave to him. The gift that the Doctor bestows upon Rees is probably more than he ever deserved given the terrible atrocities he has committed but it is a touching close for the character and ties up his story very satisfyingly. That is all I ask for.

Standout Performance: Colin Baker. Lalla Ward. Louise Jameson. Richard Franklin. An odd bunch to throw together but an engaging recipe for success.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'I may have cheated just a teensy weensy bit...'

Great Ideas: Oversight is a multi-national scientific project, a huge transmitter in the middle of the Peruvian rainforest that is designed to send messages into deep space. Peru? Is that what the Brigadier was up to when he missed out on the Sontaran attack when they tried to turn the planet into a clone bank? Romana sent Leela to recover the music box, containing the mind of Rees. The art is a relic from an unknowable time, a time when even Rassilon was young, an age before records and memory. A universe where the higher races strode across the stars and bent existence to their will - their power matched only by their arrogance. Some of the battles raged for thousands of years and burned galaxies and the lesser races were caught in the crossfire. Isn't it amazing that as soon as script starts talking about mythological battles from the dawn of time that the scale of the piece sudden broadens exponentially. These are just throwaway lines that add substance to the relic but I can see entire stories, entire seasons taking place in the early days of the universe, the Doctor caught up in the battles that left their footprints on time. It's ironic to hear the Doctor and Romana talking about devastating Wars that consume so many lesser races given what is coming up in their future. If only they knew how shatteringly history is going to repeat itself. The art was a defence, certain individuals developed a skill, a psychic power that enabled them to project a shield around their whole world. Gradually chaos became order and the wars ended - the art wasn't needed anymore, the ability lost. Rees has survived death by planting his mind into an inanimate object and only those particularly adept at the art would be able to achieve such a feat. Oversight not only transmits data to the stars, it also receives information too. UNIT systems receive surveillance data, using the Oversight technology to monitor every phone call, security feed, radio signal, network CCTV camera in the world. Rees can hijack that system, sending his mind along the same pathways as the data comes in to transmit his chaotic malevolent influence into every receiver. He can possess practically anyone.

Audio Landscape: Birdsong, doorbell, the polite chatter between dignitaries at a UNIT function, chaos breaking out, a full scale riot, jungle noises.

Musical Cues: Bombast gets taken to a new level when the sixth Doctor arrives and Ding Dong Bell suddenly becomes the inspiration for the most dynamic of soundtracks as all hell breaks loose. How Carter and Briggs have worked the nursery rhyme into all four stories to create a unified musical identity and yet altered the tone of the motif according to the genre has been quite masterful. It plays out in all its serene glory over the public address system and turns the dignitaries and guests into homicidal maniacs. I don't think I'll ever listen to Ding Dong Bell in quite the same way ever again.

Standout Scene: Thanks a little prodding from Mike the Doctor realises that he can head back into Rees' past and make a stand to stop him from making a terrible decision that will send him on a path of destruction. At first I thought this was going to move into A Christmas Carol territory with the Doctor blatantly manipulating the mans life to his own ends. I had a real problem with the haphazard way the eleventh Doctor tinkered with Sardick's childhood and turned him into the man he'd like him to be rather than the man he was destined to be. Rather wonderfully the writers take a much more effective stance than that and a much more subtle one. It's not that the sixth Doctor manipulates Rees, he offers him an alternative way of looking at his father and how events played out. It's not tinkering, its suggestion and that is a whole different thing. How he tenderly gives Rees his father back and encourages him to listen to the man is extremely touching. People object to Sixie being turned into a big softie but it's at moments like this when it really brings home the emotional nuance that this version of the Time Lord can tap in to. I was quite moved. When you realise the trick he has pulled off, well that's even more impressive. I love any story that allows the sixth Doctor to shine.

Result: The sixth Doctor, Romana, Leela, Mike Yates, UNIT, a trip to Peru and a fight to the death to prevent Rees from reaching his apotheosis. That's either absolute genius or the ultimate fanwank. Unlike any of the other stories in The Worlds of Doctor Who, this is less of an extended advert for their respective ranges and more a case of throwing together as many characters from the Doctor Who universe as possible and getting them to solve a big, bad problem. Given it's random approach (I have no idea why these particular characters were chosen - there is no particular reason that the 6th Doctor, Romana or Leela should be involved - the only one who deserves to be there is Mike because of his involvement in the previous story) it is astonishing that it works out as well as it does. Baker, Ward, Jameson and Franklin gel together infectiously and magic pours forth. It could have just have easily have felt haphazard and indulgent but the fluid storytelling, joyful dialogue and express pace (not to mention a great big threat that is beautifully conceived and delivered) all help to turn Second Sight into something rather wonderful. I thought there was no way that four stories worth of material could be tied up satisfyingly in the final fifteen minutes but Goss and Richards manage to pull it off, giving Rees an emotional (if ambiguous) send off and suggesting further adventures for Sixie, Romana and Leela (yes please). Overall it was a strong piece, equal to the best of the rest without pushing into the realms of the classics. The box set as a whole can be considered a huge success though, there is enough Doctor Who here to lure people in and a strong enough example of the three other series to leave newcomers wanting more. A smart move and a very entertaining series of stories: 8/10

1 comment:

MeghanL said...

Great review of this story, I loved the whole box set but this one especially. I would love to hear more of Leela, Romana, and 6 as well they work so well together.