Friday, 8 January 2016

The Shield of Jotunn written by Ian Eddington and directed by Louise Jameson

What's it about: 2029 AD. In the desert of Arizona, billionaire philanthropist Dr Hugo Macht is trying to save the world from climate change. But his great project to "scrub the sky clean" with nanoatomic machines grinds to an unexpected halt when his diggers break into something unexpected: a Viking burial barrow containing eight corpses, a mysterious shield, an even more mysterious inscription... and a yet more mysterious traveller in time and space, known only as the Doctor. And that's not even the strangest part of Dr Macht's day. Soon, it'll begin to snow. Soon, the Doctor and his Girl Friday, Mrs Constance Clarke, will come face-to-face with an ancient horror in the blizzard. A Frost Giant, in need of a new body. In need of flesh...

Softer Six: I bet Colin Baker loved this script. Certainly Ian Eddington has captured his Doctor extremely well. At times he's a right bastard, insulting and accusing and trading wit for barbs. At other times he's warm and gentle and the most understanding man you are likely to meet. I loved the scenes where he communed with the creature because he offers understanding rather than reproach. Only the Doctor could possibly lose a kitchen but he does explain that the TARDIS is a living machine and at times its mind does tend to wander. He's supposed to be treating Mrs Clarke to a meal in the TARDIS (see Vengeance on Varos to see how well that usually goes down) but given the kitchen has gone for a wander he decides to take her out for dinner instead. It's lovely the way he is trying to charm her. Isn't it wonderful when the Doctor finds people thoroughly irritating? It really brings out the pedant in him. However he is man enough to admit when he has misjudged somebody. 'I've known comatose molluscs with more technical ability' - just don't get in his way when he is trying to save the day. The Doctor finds that as in life the good stuff is always harder to get at. 'If you choose to make yourself an enemy of the human race then you make yourself an enemy of mine. And believe me that is not a good place to stand...' I love that the Doctor says that in a very gentle way. It makes the threat much more believable. He hates having his thunder stolen in the middle of a really juicy explanation but considering it is Constance he lets it go. This time.

Constant Companion: This is the end of her first trilogy and a good time to see what kind of impression that Constance has made. I would say she has been a guarded success. She's certainly like her very much (which is half the battle with companions) and Miranda Raison has a great way of surprising with her line delivery. The Shield of Jotunn reveals a really gentle and believable chemistry between the Doctor and Constance that makes it feel as though they have been travelling for some time now or certainly long enough to adjust to each other. They have plenty of time together and some really enjoyable exchanges. However I do think that we need to plough into Constance's backstory a little more and reveal more about her than the surface 'I'm an well spoken Wren from WWII.' This story again shows more colours than the other two of this trilogy put together, especially her morality which differs greatly from the Doctor's. There's a potential for great conflict there. Let's call this trilogy the get to know you material and overall it has given her a chance to settle into the TARDIS. Now let's really start to challenge her. Certainly to anybody who says that Constance has made no impression on them at all I have to ask - have you had the sound turned down?

Her Great Uncle Jasper rattled around alone in the country and spent his days talking to the dog - he reminds Constance of the Doctor. Is she used to an austerity diet or does the thought of the Doctor cooking her dinner simply fill her with dread? Listen to how she says 'In the United States...In Arizona?' Miranda Raison has got that astonished clipped British accent down pat. Constance is no silly flit of a girl, she's straight out of the TARDIS and making observations about their surroundings that hint at where they are. Modern languages are her specialty. Constance is near-hysterical when it appears that the Doctor has been buried alive. How long have they been travelling together at this point? Constance thought they were fighting a war so the future would be brighter but now she is experiencing that future and it isn't as rosy as she had imagined. Good men an women gave their lives so their heirs could poison the planet? Constance likes nice gestures, things that are small, warm and friendly. She's not really into big gestures. When things get stressful she reminds them of the British way, calm and sober. She's known people go to war and never return or to return home to a bombed out shell in the Blitz. You can weep and wail for all the good it can do you...or you can get on with it. That's Constance in a nutshell. No matter how scary it gets flying around in time and space, it's not WWII but Constance does not consider herself a deserter. She fully intends to return one day and take her rightful place in the conflict. Except maybe the day after tomorrow. Mr Clarke is mentioned again and Constance snaps that it is personal. When it comes to dying at the hands of another, she is very much a get it over with sort of person. She barely knows the Doctor but she doesn't doubt him in the least.

Standout Performance: Louise Jameson's unmistakable voice in episodes two and three adds lustre to any production. Colin Baker and Michael J Shannon enjoy terrific scenes together, their characters initially hostile, then considerate and finally respecting one another. 

Sparkling Dialogue: 'The hand of man -' 'And woman' 'And woman will reach out and touch every star in the sky.'
'I'm trying to save the world. After all, it's where my best customers live.'
'Isn't this Arizona? I thought they gave them away with breakfast cereal!' - the Doctor on guns in America.
'80's nostalgia. I was born too late. I can't say I'm sorry' - Macht's reaction to the TARDIS! 'This is a type 40 TARDIS' 'Well I'd hate to see what the other 39 look like!'
'To save a world and to live in the world you've saved' - a philosophy that both the Doctor and Mrs Clarke both believe in.

Great Ideas: An artron energy source detected on Earth? That can only mean trouble. A Viking burial pit is not the first thing you expect to find in the United States. The Doctor has seen some terraforming machines the size of moons so the one that is being deployed here seem quite a modest effort. It's a story with some lovely imagery - I love the thought of snow drifting down in Arizona and the storm whipping up and forming into a savage creature. I dread to think how that would have been achieved at the time but nowadays they could go to town. However there is no better realisation of effects than your imagination. Go wild. A geo-engine that is transforming the local climate - hardly a poetic explanation but at least it is a rational one. This is one of those stories where there is no clear villain, just people with good intentions stumbling upon something that causes a shitstorm. A ghost in the terraforming machine, trying to build itself a new body. The Talesh are unique, a techno-psychic race that could react with machine intelligences. Imagine thinking your instructions into a computer instead of typing them. It could interact so easily with the terraformers mainframe because of it. They wanted to take the Earth's sun and replace their own with it, to create a new energy source for their race. Their world is the inside of a Dyson Sphere, a whole world re-engineered into a hollow technological sphere with a sun at its centre. Thanks to the Doctor's meddling they can create bodies out of the elements themselves. Creatures gestating inside a tornado - that's a fantastic image. A thousand years ago another Talesh emerged to terrorise the Kingdoms of the North but it was defeated by relative primitives. The Talesh aren't the only people who can be reconstructed by the terraformer - the Doctor uses it to bring forth a bunch of slavering Viking warriors baying for blood.

Audio Landscape: Footsteps in the TARDIS, the Ship buffering, the TARDIS landing (is it possible to ever get bored of that sound?), a digger crashing through the wall, crunchy snow, a snowstorm, something smashing through the roof suddenly, battering a door with a tractor, walking on glass, a vicious Viking battle of screams, whinnying horses, clashing steel and tearing flesh, the gnashing teeth of the creature, birds screaming, flying through the sky, carts on gravel, whispering voices, shapes and shadows forming in a tornado, Viking warriors stomping onto the scene.

Musical Cues: Jamie Robertson has been at this game long enough now that he knows precisely how to guide you through practically any kind of audio Doctor Who adventure. I especially liked his dynamic score during episode two as the characters were on the run from the sinister snow storm.

Standout Scene: I thoroughly enjoyed the narrated fable of the Vikings attempting to best the demon. Narration works a treat on audio to transport you to another place and the soundscape during this sequence was incredible. The flashback gives the current day events much more relevance, too.

Result: 'Welcome to the New Ice Age...' Things that impressed me about The Shield of Jotunn; Louise Jameson's fresh and exciting direction, the immersive soundscape, the gorgeous scenes between the Doctor and Constance, the escalating sense of threat, a juicy narrated section that offers some dramatic backstory, a fine antagonist for the Doctor to spar with and ultimately respect, epic SF ideas from a comic book writer and a real sense of a cast gelling very well and thoroughly enjoying their work together. One problem: it's too long. You could quite happily excise about a third of the material and the story would play out just as strongly, just with a lot less running around and a few less dramatic altercations between the characters. It was a problem with the main range around the 50-100 mark that the stories would bloat out of control with a bizarre feeling that the writers were being left to their own devices and nobody was looking over their shoulder to tighten the stories up. You can only stretch a piece of elastic so far and it starts to get so thin that breaks start to show. It works the same with a narrative. Ian Eddington attempts to work around this by shifting genres with effortless skill, from mystery to horror to end of the world madness. The story continues to develop throughout and so if it does take longer than it should, it's always heading somewhere worthwhile. And the slack is mostly taken up with some fine characterisation and that can never be a bad thing. I certainly was left with a strong impression of the small cast of characters in Jotunn. Lot's to recommend and enjoy, just condense this down to three episodes worth of material and it would be much punchier. I would probably dispense of the cliff-hangers and moments of jeopardy they bring altogether, this plays out like a movie and it would be quite nice to see the whole piece edited into one. An enjoyable tale, one that isn't out to change the world but to provide you with a rollicking good time all the same: 7/10


Rob James said...

It was a really fun episode and I agree that Mrs Clarke is really gelling. I see her as being an Evelyn type companion. Skip You Are The Doctor if you value your sanity.

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