Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Gallifrey: Intervention Earth written by Scott Handcock & David Llewellyn and directed by Scott Handock

What's it about: Times change… Romana is approaching her final term of office, and hopes to leave her world in a state of peace and harmony. Narvin is concerned about the implementation of a controversial Precog programme, one that seeks to predict the Time Lords’ future. Ace is an operative for the Celestial Intervention Agency, having learned the art of interference from one of the best… And somewhere, across the stars, an ancient force is stirring: one of the Time Lords’ greatest heroes is returning to our universe. But he may also prove to be their greatest threat. When the history of Earth is threatened, and an ancient conspiracy reaches the heart of Time Lord government, can even Romana’s closest allies truly be trusted? Time will tell… but by then, it may already be too late.

President Romana: Ditching Lalla Ward for Juliet Landau is in interesting choice. I've still not heard her companion chronicle (I think it is my only one still to review) and my own real exposure to the character was her unusual appearance in the last season of Gallifrey. I found her refreshingly different from the Romana we are used to but still expressing the same qualities that made up the first two incarnations: a haughtiness and level of self control, a respect and love for her home world and a willingness to think outside the box. Now is Landau's chance to take the reins and show the audience what she is made of. Romana makes a show of admitting that the Time Lords purpose is to observe and not to interfere...but I wonder if she ever really believes that. Her policies are more flexible these days. Romana wants to study the black hole and gather as much knowledge about it as possible, to learn who is responsible rather than blunder in cause a fuss. She's far more cerebral these days, it's quite an interesting new approach. She has her enemies, many who consider her a traitor to the history that made Gallifrey great. I was wondering what had happened to Leela and a brief mention of a betrayal that broke her heart has me intrigued. Perhaps that will be answered in the next set (where both Lalla Ward and Louise Jameson will return). I like the ruthless streak that runs through her - she admires Ace but if she is in someway threatening the safety of Gallifrey she has no compunction about having her terminated. Romana stands in the face of one of the greatest Time Lords there has ever been and admits that she would sacrifice everything for what she believes in, just as he did.

Oh Wicked: Scott Handcock is trying to do new things with Ace and given the prolific number of audio releases, books and TV stories that have made her character one of the most tired in the shows run I truly appreciate the effort. Moving her to Gallifrey (as was supposedly the aim of season twenty-seven originally as revealed in Doctor Who Magazine...or not as what played in the McCoy season of Lost Stories) was always a part of the plan, at least temporarily so it is interesting to see what would have happened had that actually been the case. What I have found fascinating listening to G:IE is how much more bearable the character is when she allowed to stand on her own two feet. Perhaps it is the relationship with the Doctor that has made Ace feel stale and tired - we've been enduring adventures with this pair for over 20 years. Perhaps it is time to see what Ace can do on her own. She can't remember the first time she came to Gallifrey. She knows the Doctor must have brought here but when that was is a mystery. All she knows is that she is a different person on this planet...and she has been given the chance to make a difference. She owns her own TARDIS now and is sent off on missions by the Time Lords but she doesn't like travelling with companions (oh, the irony). Not that they would ever admit it, Ace is the best agent that the CIA has because she has been trained by the best. The Hand of Omega and Ace go way back, which makes her the ideal candidate to extract it.

Narvin: Gallifrey without Narvin is like chip shop chips without salt and vinegar, scarcely worth thinking about. He's been with the series throughout, through the good times (for me series 1-3) and the bad (mostly series 4 & 5) and is a reliable mainstay of the range when everything else has changed. I find Sean Carlsen a reassuring presence that confirms that this is still an incarnation of the same range I have been following for umpteen years. The Celestial Intervention Agency's job is to maintain order and if they are unable to do so then Gallifrey's policy of non interference is a little more flexible. His previous infractions of the Web of Time have been forgiven, if not forgotten. Because Narvin has been wrapped up in the same regeneration for so long it is suggested that he fears change. Even his direct subordinates are starting to question his loyalty. What fascinates me about this character is that he has come full circle. You could trust him one jot in the first few seasons because he always seemed to have his grubby paws involved in some harebrained scheme or another (for the best of intentions) but one of the strengths to have emerged from the wilderness years (or the Axis seasons) was his loyalty to both Leela and Romana and how much he became the one man you could rely on. Now with a new Romana, a new threat to Gallifrey suspicion is thrown onto the character again to the point where Romana is sending Narvin's own people to investigate him.

Standout Performance: Landau has an unusual delivery but that rather befits a Time Lady of the highest order. She had an unearthly quality when she was playing Drusilla in Buffy too so I am wondering if that is something she brings to every part. For me, it works. Stephen Thorne manages to find the same voice he deployed as Omega all those years ago and puffs him up with the same pantomime madness and tinge of tragedy.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'So long as you remember, it survives.'
'That Doctor's name does go a very, very, very long way, doesn't it?'
'Omega shall be free!' and 'I sacrificed everything for you!' - Omega still knows how to have a good rant.
'This is our tomb...'

Great Ideas: I very much enjoyed the structure of the episodes which build in a prologue before each chapter commences, with a different character keeping the listener up to speed and giving their thoughts on the situation as it stands. It reminds me of the approach in the Dark Shadows range and is just as effective. On Gallifrey, everything changes. Every day, even your own history. The balance of the universe is in jeopardy...which means it must be a Tuesday on Gallifrey. The walls between universe are collapsing (please tell me that doesn't mean a return to the alternative Gallifrey's of old?) and the future is predicting that Gallifrey will fall. What again? This is one unfortunate planet for sure (I love the fact that Romana points out in part two that Gallifrey has enjoyed extended periods of peace and harmony in case anybody might have been wondering). History will spill into the future. A black hole has appeared and it is getting exponentially larger, threatening to gulp that somebody has engineered. It shouldn't be in this sector or space or this point in time, it is an entirely artificial construct. The Time Lords experience every second, every moment, every alternative or every instance all at once - voices overlapping, screaming, assaulting and they can make perfect sense of them all. Somebody has stolen the Hand of Omega, a stellar manipulator and is using it as a catalyst for the black hole. Pre-Cogs are Time Lords who are gifted with the power of foresight, a fantastic idea that translates quite excitingly onto audio. The CIA considers the Pre-Cog programme a fundamental misuse of the Laws of Time. You have question why Gallifrey is said to be in a Golden Age of peace when its leaders insist on armed guards to protect them at all times. Smacks of paranoia to me. The Adherence of Ohm is a secret order that is still active today with members working at the highest level of government. Like the Masons, there is a ominous threat that lingers about their activities. Whilst Arc of Infinity might not be the most gripping of Gallifrey stories, it is nice to hear Hedin get a mention because his allegiance to Omega ties in very nicely with this story. He is considered to be something of a martyr to the Adherence of Ohm, naturally so given his ties to their God. Omega is still trapped inside the universe of antimatter in a trap of his own creation. And he's caught in the ultimate Catch-22: if he escapes the universe of antimatter he will enter our realm once again, a universe that he has destroyed by escaping. This guy simply doesn't get a break. Imagine Jettisoning every other part of a TARDIS except for the console room and being trapped in a universe where you cannot exist. Trapped in one room for all eternity. Haunting.

Audio Landscape: I can always tell when Scott Handcock is directing. there seems to be extra care taken with the soundscape and the scenes slip seamlessly from one to another like they are fluid. Barnaby Edwards aside, I think he might be the strongest director on staff at the moment. Check out his outstanding Dorian Gray range if you need further proof - there are stories that will scare the living daylights out of you in that ranges oeuvre. Screaming creatures, the TARDIS sighing, footsteps, giggling, TARDIS materialising, lightning clouds, echoes of alternative timelines, a car screaming past, the cloister bell, lightning, storm clouds breaking, cocking a gun, staser, hover cars zooming by, birdsong, babbling brooks, wind whistling, stasers, rain falling, crackling fire, the TARDIS powering down.

Musical Cues: One of my favourite innovations of the 4th, 5th and 6th series of Gallifrey was the superb rendition of the theme tune. It was bombastic and catchy. I can still hum it now where plenty of other theme tunes for Big Finish spin offs have disappeared somewhere to the back of my cerebral cortex. The version that has been knocked together for Intervention Earth is perfectly fine...but it doesn't really stand out.

Isn't it Odd: Whilst I wouldn't call any of the material bad, I reached the 40 minute mark (almost halfway through the story) and the pace and content could hardly be said to be aiming to thrill. I was expecting something a little more action packed and a little less cerebral from the trailer and interviews they released beforehand. I can understand why this approach was taken, Handcock is having to re-establish Gallifrey after the confusion of the last couple of seasons. Taken in that respect this is more like set up for what is to come but it does provide an alternative and far more interesting setting as a result. The first bit of real (physical) action comes at 45 minutes, until then it is all talk about the dangers on the horizon. You might feel a little short changed about the lack of Omega too, he only gets one line in the first half. Has the development of Omega in the audio of the same name been completely undermined by this story? Romana truly comes into her in the last few scenes...why did it take so long for her to get there?

Standout Scene: There is something rather wonderful about Romana, Ace and Narvin working together tackle the will of Omega simply because a group of characters I could ever imagine locking horns.

Result: In some ways a chance to re-invigorate the Gallifrey line and give it a chance to move on from the tangled web of the last three seasons and in other ways a disappointment that doesn't quite live up to its promise. The former is so rewarding that it almost renders the latter moot. On this occasion, but I am expecting a much more rousing follow up to Intervention Earth. If you were expecting Romana III, Narvin and Ace to team up and face the wrath of Omega in an epic spectacular full of action you will be heartily underwhelmed. They only come together in the last fifteen minutes. And Omega barely features if I am brutally honest. The story seems to dodge dramatic situations rather than embrace them and ruminate rather than engage. It is only in the last third that it even remotely becomes the story that it suggests on the cover. As a chance to recreate Gallifrey the setting and introduce some new characters as a stage setter for what comes next, however, it gets a thumbs up from me. Bizarrely (despite all my gripes about her overuse) Ace works rather well in this setting and I still want to hear more from Landau's Romana because I don't think we have had the best of her yet. Outstanding sound design deserves recognition after so many Big Finish releases and the aural atmosphere brewed up in Intervention Earth deserves a huge round of applause. Scott Handcock directs with much more vigour than he writes on this occasion. This isn't the Gallifrey of the first three seasons, political machinations and complex scientific ideas. Or the Gallifrey of the Axis seasons, alternative universes and character perversions. This a new cerebral Gallifrey that wants to think about things but one that can build to a rousing finale (as is the case here). And the closing scene promises great things for the future with the return of an old, old friend (my favourite character in two ranges no less). Overall, a prologue to something more substantial next time around but with a job to do that it performs admirably. Looking at the cast list for the next box set I am at a loss to see how the two stories will tie up: 7/10


Tim said...

Hi Joe, you mention in this review that Juliet Landau's companion chronicle is the only CC you've yet to review; however, it appears The Sleeping City also awaits your attention. Hope you get round to it sometime. Always a pleasure to read your reviews!

Joe Ford said...

Hi Tim,

I had completely forgotten about The Sleeping City. I have to get around to that one of these days too. I still really miss the companion chronicles.

Liam Morrell said...

Are you going to review the early series of gallifrey? I thought series 2 was fantastic

Joe Ford said...

Hi Liam, it's a range I have been meaning to complete for a while, especially in the wake of Lynda Bellingham's death. Your reminder has pulled this range up the list. Thank you.

Liam Morrell said...

Great! Thanks for the reply.