Saturday, 6 June 2015

The Unwinding World written by Ian Potter and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What's it about: Office life is tough, the commute is a grind, nothing works quite as well as you'd like. Vicki seems to remember things being better once, before the little flat. It’s time she put some excitement back in her life. It’s just a shame the Doctor can’t help.

Hmm: The Doctor genuinely thinks you have to know where you are now in order to know where you are going next. I wonder if he is talking geographically or spiritually? Sometimes Vicki thinks he knows more than he is letting and other times she is sure that he doesn't. She doesn't understand the nature of the Times Lords and thinks the Doctor is a genuinely old man rather than the aged youth that he actually is. He can be difficult at the best of times but on this world he is all fury and rage, obsessed with his work. He likes to ally himself with the best of human nature, to fight for truth against oppression. When he says he thinks it is time that some hard lessons are learnt I can imagine William Hartnell baring his teeth and letting the Doctor's subversive side take over. How awesome is the idea of the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan living in a small flat together with the Doctor madly scribbling on the walls as he makes more and more observations about the culture they have found themselves entrenched in.

Alien Orphan: Vicki is not short of an opinion or two when pressed for one and she will gladly point out the flaws in any given society. She has picked up some unusual phrases from Ian and Barbara, 20th Century terms such as wobbly which mean nothing in other times on other worlds. She doesn't think the TARDIS is supposed to be the shape that it is. They didn't want to come to this world to start a revolution just to stretch their legs. I loved the moment when Vicki revealed what she was really up to, why she was really chatting to the system. You realise that this teenage girl is a lot smarter than she looks.

Standout Performance: Maureen O'Brien's voice, when modified properly, sounds just like it did when she was in her early 20s. How does she do that?

Sparkling Dialogue: 'You'll best understand history by those who've lived through it.'
'It's choosing not to choose.'

Great Ideas: A bit of paper never freezes and loses your work - never was a truer word spoken given the problems I have been having with my laptop of late. Losing the TARDIS is something of an occupational hazard during this period of the show. It's if it doesn't happen when things seem odd. The Bureau of Correction is where serious threats to the system are dealt with. Why would dissidents use the image of the TARDIS as their symbol of revolt? There is something rather wonderful about the Doctor teaming up with a bunch of old dears to take down the system and return this society to a less sophisticated way of life. I really enjoyed the unusual device of the system lip reading the Doctor's conversation in the nursing home, it means that we cannot be certain that the slip ups are the computer struggling with the words or a classic Billy fluff. Also having Vicki being forced to watch events that are occurring in real time means that we get to experience her reaction whilst they are happening, rather than after the events looking back as is so often the way with the companion chronicles. I really enjoyed the brief conversation about graffiti and how can tell you an awful lot about a civilisation, it's artistic forms, propaganda and aptitude. Vicki uses Pompeii as an example but I would love to hear Sherlock Holmes go to town on some modern day graffiti - I bet he could pretty much sum up our entire culture by its content. Imagine a world where people cannot imagine things getting any better because they have forgotten that things have gotten worse. Some kind of fluid is being sprayed on the food and drink that makes the populace forget certain key things, that allows the world to wind down and nobody to remember it being any different. The idea is that the fluid interacts with the level of flicker on the view screens - so those in charge can control what people are reading and watching, unpicking the subject in their minds. And apparently, the people on this world have a lot to forget. Over the years I have seen for myself the sort of adverse effect that media can have on people, how it can shape prejudice and encourage inflammatory and reactionary voices so I can well believe that whoever is controlling the media in this society has the people in the palms of their hands. Some people like to make up their own minds, others like to have their minds made up for them. We are an inherently lazy culture these days. The people of this world thought they were ready to make contact with an alien species but they were hopelessly out of their depth and the ensuing war saw them systematically wipe out the alien species in unforgivable carnage. The aliens body language and physique was different and provoked hate - relations were never going to be possible. The system is going to unpick human progress for three centuries in order to make the next first contact process smoother and successful. Ian Potter is about to tell you that what Vicki and her friends are doing is anything but what the people of these world did to the Kenosians all those years ago. I love the fact that there is a question mark hanging over events, a black mark on this revolutions. Will they become better people for remembering the horrors of the past? 

Audio Landscape: Punching in buttons, screaming, a vehicle in descent, a hover scooter rushing by, security robot sirens, explosions. 

Standout Scene: What seems to be a city being oppressed for much of this story's run time becomes a city that asked to be oppressed. And that is a very different thing. And far, far more interesting. The moral of the story is that it is alright be ashamed, that everybody has done bad things in their life and that is something a lot of people need to hear. You have to remember because it allows you to learn, to become better people.

Result: There are some actors that I simply love to listen to. It helps that the stories are strong but there is something about the way they narrate that has me absolutely gripped every time. William Russell is one, Peter Purves another and Maureen O'Brien completes the set of first Doctor companions that always provide thoughtful and winning commentary. She has tapped into that youthful exuberance that Vicki had in spades but brings her more mature acting skills for the moments of drama and exposition. She reads beautifully and that gets The Unwinding World off to a flying start already. There's a good reason for this story to be narrated too, a conversation between Vicki and an operating system that they are trying to bring down. Things begin amiably enough with Vicki explaining about their arrival but it soon becomes clear that the system is aware of their subversive activities and that's where things get very interesting. And when it becomes clear that the people were once aware of the systems systematic unravelling of their society and three centuries rewind, things become even more gripping still. This isn't a action romp or a nostalgia fest, it isn't a thoughtless exercise. Ian Potter is setting out to make you think. What really appealed to me about this story was that it made the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and especially Vicki extremely smart and capable, it showed that they could out think an oppressive regime if they all work together.  There have been eight seasons of companion chronicles before this and there has never been a story quite like this one before. It's unique and I really like it: 8/10

1 comment:

dark said...

I really! liked this one, as a satyr of the way that our own culture is controled by the system and the way that people really do in reality do a good amount of what the food aditives and thought control do here.
Maureen O'Brien is lovely, particularly with her turning the tables on the system, and I absolutely adored the sound design of the tinkly easy listening piano that backgrounds her interview changing gradually over time and becoming more and more disorganized as time went on.

Sinse our own world isn't so different in the way that systems so often crush individuals and the very burocratic apparatus we have in place to help so often is used to hinder, the moment when Vicky told system that the Doctor had been trying to extracate his Tardis from the buro but had given up actually made me tear up slightly, it's like seeing the Doctor defeated by the worst dehumanization of our own society especially when System rubs it in with the "Old people often get confused comment"

Of course, we learn later the Doctor was doing far more than just tracking the progress of his various appeals and that the system is trying to minimize the eldily for a reason.

I find the question mark over the story interesting, particularly with how the Doctor's eldily conspirator ends with "We sorted those machines like those Kenosians" very ambiguous stuff but definitely welcome, particularly sinse oppressive society stories are often always one sided.

The only point that I felt a little off over was that it felt somewhat jarring to me that the system was being used to supposedly improve humanity by removing tendencies to judge what is outside preconceptions, yet in reality it's those very preconceptions, the belief that people who look or speak or seem to be different are worth less that is very part of "the system" we have (if you don't believe me just consider how disabled people get treated by councils, companies and parts of our own system).

This felt a little backwards to me, and while of course this is Doctor Who on an alien planet not the one we live on, in something which felt a little too satyrical in places it seemed a rather odd reversal of trends, just as if it had been revealed that the Inner party in 1984 were actually all rabbid individualists at heart.

Still a great story that made me think which is always good, and one with some fantastic narrative tricks and devices that felt far more like a full cast radio play than most of the Companion chronicles do despite basically only having two performers.

I was also really amused at the evil library crushing shelf stacks. It's been a comment my friends and I have made ever sinse we first saw the university library which has stacks of shelves that can be moved together that they'd make a great trap device in an Indiana Jones type of wall crush escape, so it was great that a story actually did it.