Friday, 14 August 2015

Return to Telos written and directed by Nick Briggs

What's it about: The Doctor reveals to Leela that they’re heading for the planet Telos. And K9 has new masters... On Telos, in the past, the Second Doctor and Jamie are exploring the ‘tomb of the Cybermen’. Meanwhile, the Cyber-Controller and Cyber-Planner consolidate their plans. Spare parts from Krelos are being used to construct a mighty Cyber army. The Doctor must be captured. Out of control, the TARDIS tumbles down a chasm and the Doctor and Leela find themselves caught up in full-scale planetary invasion.

Teeth and Curls: The Doctor knows it is bad to go to Telos because he has been there before. Baker sounds like he as lost faith in the script during the early scenes, he is running on autopilot.

Noble Savage: There is little for Leela to do in this adventure but to follow the Doctor's scarf threads and ask a lot of questions. It isn't the most responsible take on her character because aside from a few lines she could be swap with just about any other companion and you wouldn't even notice.

Standout Performance: At points it sounds like Tom Baker is trying to out-robot the Cybermen with a performance that is wholly monotonous. I think any actor would struggle with some of these lines.

Dreadful Dialogue: 'My tribe has a proverb. If too many season the pot, the food is spoiled.'

Great Ideas: The reason they travelled forward in time and missed the attack on Krelos was because K.9 was under Cyber Control. The Cybermen made them move forward in time. They have interfered with the flow of history and it is the Doctor's job to put it right. Way to spell out the plot in a clunky exposition scene. Dangerous alien technology has infiltrated Krelos and it is about cause a terrible catastrophe.

Audio Landscape: The TARDIS flying through space, falling from a great height and crashing into the mountain, filleting fish, explosions, car sirens,

Musical Cues: I'll give Jamie Robertson his due, he has managed to successfully emulate the weird sounds that permeated the Tombs of Telos and accurately sampled the voices of both the Cybermen and the Cyber Planner. Return to Telos feels very authentic on a production level. Why anybody would want to listen to something that sounds like Stephen Hawking versus the talking clock is beyond me though. Convincing it may be but it is also something of an assault on the ears.

Isn't it Odd: The wrench from Krelos to Telos is utterly jarring, because of the title and the monsters of this story we are expected to accept the leap into Doctor Who history but no explanation is forthcoming immediately and there is no natural lead in from one story to the other. It's an inharmonious dumping of the listener into Tomb of the Cybermen. 'What's the matter Cyber dog? Are the Cybermen scared of time travel?' - some lines should never make it to the recording booths. Please bear in mind that these scripts have to go through a writer, script editor, director and actor. I think that exposes the problem when one person fulfils all of those roles. I've discussed this ranges obsession with recapturing nostalgia until I am blue in the face (and until you are probably a little bored of me bringing it up) and whilst this is a chance to do something a little bit out of the ordinary (literally walking straight into a classic Doctor Who adventure reminding me strongly of the DS9 Trials and Tribbe-ations) it is going to take a writer of immense magnitude to pull off this premise and say something a different about the story it is intruding upon and fail to leave a blight on it. Essentially though, it is just the same thing. The 4DAs trading cutting edge storytelling for another wank over past glories. Halfway through the first episode, when you might expect to be immersed in an exciting adventure featuring the Doctor and the Cybermen we seemed to be obsessing over fresh fish suppers. Is it my imagination or did a fish supper cause the catastrophe on Krelos? And the link between Krelos and Telos is the fact that they are in neighbouring systems! Personally I think the disaster on Krelos should have been dealt with in the previous story, the one with oodles of time to spare on long dialogue scenes between the Doctor and Leela. It's really hard to give much of a damn about the fate of Krelos because we have only met a couple of characters from that world and certainly not enough depth to care about their existence. The end of episode one is trying to capture the cataclysmic moment the Cybermen came to Krelos and destroyed their world. Instead it sounds like a lot of god awful noise shredding my brain into a million fibres. The are a million exquisite ways that K.9 could have been taken over by the Cybermen but Jamie having brought Cyber-particles into the TARDIS from his adventure on Telos which have laid dormant until now...well, it defies belief. Is Briggs trying to boil this down to it's simplest possible level?  It's time to save the day with the particulate vacuum cleaner! A vacuum cleaner that hoovers up Cyber-particles! Halfway through the second episode I was starting to wonder where precisely this story could fit into Tomb of the Cybermen (given it is a pretty busy story to start with) and Briggs throws in a perfunctory moment where the two stories can sync up (when Haydon asks what the weapons testing room is for). I'm not in the least bit convinced.

Standout Scene: A beat of character at the climax as the Doctor and Leela share a moment under the stars. Three seasons down, not a great deal said about their relationship and the same writers churning out the same sort of dialogue. Time to give Lalla Ward a shot, I think. This kind of material is a waste of Louise Jameson's talents.

Result: How terribly odd. The Fate of Krelos seemed to operate under the rule of exploring character with very little plot to hang it on. Return to Telos works the other way around, it spews out great lumps of plot but forgets to make the story about the characters and is an empty experience as a result. Can Briggs not marry the two and produce something spectacular? Even if he had taken the characters on an intensely personal journey in this adventure it wouldn't make a blind bit of difference - Telos seems determined to infuriate at every possible turn. This is so unutterably terrible on every level I don't even know where to begin. Is this the only story where a fish supper can spell catastrophe for a planet, where Jamie leaving his skiddy kilts around the console room can cause the possession of K.9 and where a vacuum cleaner can wind up saving the day? To say a writer seems to have made this up as they go along might seem a ridiculous statement - of course they do! But this feels as though it has been knocked together in a couple of hours with relatively little thought going into the process. If you're expecting an almighty clash between this story and Tomb of the Cybermen then you are going to walk away mightily disappointed, the Doctor and Leela don't make it into the story until the climax and even then they tiptoe through it as though embarrassed to be there. What could have been a fun clash between the second Doctor and Jamie and the fourth Doctor and Leela turns out to be nothing of the kind and there is a dearth of Cyber-action too. I don't understand the point of a story like this where it dodges possibilities at every turn and instead focuses on inane technobabble and talk of catastrophic consequences without ever putting across a clear understanding what they are. Does Return to Telos bring anything extra to the table that enhances Tomb of the Cybermen or is this just another relentless exercise in pointless nostalgia, a chance to slap the Cybermen on the cover and sell a few more copies? What do you think? When did I get so damn cynical about these things? Enough talk about bloody fishing: 2/10


Alan Taylor said...

Positively generous.

When you need to have a scene after the climax to explain what was going on at the climax then you should know that what you've written is an unutterable mess.

Tim Pollock said...

I want my money back!!!

dark said...

Well the one positive thing I will say about this story is that at least it didn't invalidate tomb of the cybermen. I do hate it when someone tries to trade off a past story and goes "oooh but wait, that story wasn't important because the timy wimy monsters were really! up to something else in my story and that other story didn't happn so forget all the good bits of the previous one you liked" (yes, Steven Moffat, integrity to previous stories, remember that?).
A shame, sinse the potential for Leela, the emotional savage and the emotionless cybermen in conflict is a great one, also I did rather like the old fellow and his carer from Krelos, a shame they were so dam pointless in the over all plot, indeed what the point of that hole business with the robot was and the actual explanation of that very poignient moment when the robot dies while fishing from the last story I don't know.

So yes, quite a stinker methinks. Though I will say I don't right the 4th Doctor adventures off entirely, sinse I did enjoy the two rocket men master stories earlier in the season, indeed as with Bf it seems to be a case of taking the rough with the smooth, so I'll hope for something decent next go around, as after all the series that produced King of Sontar, Suburban hell and White Ghosts can't be all bad.

Jonathan Burt said...

It was a bizarre one really. Briggs is simply not a good enough writer to pull off the ideas behind Fate/Return. It is hardly a surprise, most of his "one man band" audio plays are really quite poor. Sure he has had one or two successes but hardly a surprise given his output.

I was reading your reviews of seasons 13 and 14 and it just showed me how lacking the first four seasons of the 4DAs have been. They have been a big disappointment to me. Yes, you can put them on the Whopod to work for an hour and listen to a story but they tend to be quite insipid, undemanding and overly nostalgic. The fourth Doctor has SO much more potential, but I do not think Nick Briggs is able to realise even a fraction of it.