Monday, 14 March 2016

The Gift written by Marc Platt and directed by Ken Bentley

What's it about: The TARDIS deposits its crew on Earth in San Francisco, 1906. There they find an actor-manager desperate to stage his definitive production of King Lear. But a real storm is headed their way when he becomes the possessor of a mysterious psychic ‘Gift’ which is hungry for power and intent on wreaking havoc and destruction. But exposure to so much psychic activity has the Doctor becoming increasingly erratic. Can he battle his demons and save the world?

Physician, Heal Thyself: Capturing something of the Night at the Proms minisode, the Doctor talks poetically (naturally given this is a Marc Platt script) about the movement of the spheres and the noise that they make. You forget that the Doctor is connected to the universe in a very special way and it is in moments like this (and that stunning scene in Rose where he talks about the turn of the Earth). I think we could do with more of these kinds of reminders. It's also very possible that the Doctor is going crazy. He's also the worst patient ever. He knows San Francisco well, he died and was reborn here. If he were to die again here but 93 years before his last regeneration...well that would be ironic. With the right haircut, the Doctor can think clearly. Is this the point where he gets his hair shorn off? Was he the Byronesque traveller up until this point? Because there is an awful lot of merchandise that suggests otherwise. He would happily burn out his mind if it meant destroying the gift and stopping Caleera.

Liv Chenka: She's perfectly prepared to stand up to a robber, not willing to be bullied or threatened. Live trapped under rubble is a claustrophobic, frightening experience. She's not used to feeling this helpless.

Helen Sinclair: Helen is feeling guilty that Caleera got into her head and preyed on her compassionate side, convincing the Doctor to let her go. For once she is the more seasoned traveller, landing in a period only 50 or so years away from her own so she knows the correct protocol and dress code.

Standout Performance: It's not an original observation to say that Paul McGann is an emotive performer and that you can tell when he is engaged with a story or not. At his best he is one of the most excitable and imminently listenable Doctors. it's impossible not to get caught up in his wake. Of recent years check out The Silver Turk to see what I mean. At his worst he can sound flat and uninterested and it usually comes at the worst possible time - when the stories are flat and uninteresting too. It's fortunate then that he seems thrilled with the material for Doom Coalition and the companions he has been paired up with. Indeed, McGann requested to work with Hattie Morahan and that can only have added to his enjoyment. He's audibly having a great ride with these stories and the result is a riveting Doctor who delights at every turn. Whether he's lusting after adventure, suffering a funny turn or simply outfoxing the latest intergalactic foe, Doom Coalition seems to be bringing out the best in McGann. And his best is very good indeed. Mind you it is weird to hear him calling somebody 'Charlie' out of context. Check out his breathless, incredible performance when he finally acquires the gift. It's the closest to madness I think the Doctor has ever got (maybe The Twin Dilemma pips it).

Great Ideas: Sam has the gift to see into the future. Although some people might call it a curse. It amplifies reality and feeds on the resonance. It can be transferred from person to person and if you are wise you will pass it on to somebody else. It's a tangible thing and it's alive and growing in San Francisco. There are links to Caleera in the city, the gift. The Earthquake in 1906 will happen anyway but Caleera plans to make it far more dramatic for her own purposes. The gift was deliberately planted here by her to test it out. It is a weapon, a psychic device that jumps from host to host, sparks into the brain and reprogrammes the mind. Designed to amplify its power like an echo chamber. It's waiting for the earthquake so it can amplify its power and shake the planet apart. Once the Whenever there is a reward to exploit there will always be someone there with their hands out, regardless of the consequences.

Audio Landscape: A horse whinnying, the TARDIS landing, trams rolling through town ringing their bells, bar atmosphere, music winding down, a dog begging, creaking rigging, rushing footsteps, rubble falling, fire raging.

Isn't it Odd: The first third of this story is something of a mystery, with plenty of things happening but very little in the way of explanation. It's a good thing the atmosphere of this piece is so electric and the performances are such fun. I have a complaint to make about Liv and Helen. Despite coming from different times and places there is something remarkably similar about the pair of them. For me, even the actresses sound quite similar. When the Doctor, Liv and Helen share scenes there is a wonderfully relaxed chemistry between them and all is good. When Liv and Helen go off on their own (as they have done a fair amount in this box set) not only do I occasionally lose track of who is who (on audio that's a bit of a problem) but I also question whether the set requires both companions. Helen was a vital part of Scenes From Her Life, it's true but I find Liv the more relatable and personable of the two of them. Bringing in an actress to appease the main star of a project might seem like a good idea on paper (and as mentioned above Paul McGann is on fire here) but in reality I wonder what we would lose if there was only one companion. Helen is nice but nice only gets you so far in storytelling. She hasn't exhibited any great personality and she doesn't have any truly distinctive features. It's not a problem having her there (as I say, she's nice and doesn't the world need a few more nice people) but I do question the need for her.

Standout Scene: Big Finish pulls off an earthquake with spectacular style.

Result: One of the delightful things about Doom Coalition as a whole is its diversity, its willingness to play about with different styles and genres. Every story feels very different to its neighbour and that contrast provides a healthy reminder of one of the main joys of Doctor Who - it's willingness to tell any kind of story. Dark Eyes might have been ambitious but each set did have a certain uniformity about it that meant if you didn't like the tone of the piece, you were kind of stuck with it for four hours. The Gift plays out like a disaster movie of sorts, with the Doctor in the unfortunate quandary of having to save the day otherwise the location where he will regenerate in 93 years time wont ever have existed. I hear that can put a serious crimp in your life. It's one of the most crisp and clear Marc Platt scripts for quite some time, clearly he has been given some notes of details to include but he manages to weave them into a gripping tale of a curse that has blighted San Francisco and has been gathering momentum for some time. All roads lead to the earthquake and when it comes it is a truly remarkable audio experience with some serious consequences for the characters. Amongst all the drama, Paul McGann is a mesmeric presence, his Doctor not being this captivating since his earliest audio adventures. How these stories are blending into each other is seamless, one plot point taking us from one independent story to another. I have a feeling David Richardson and Ken Bentley know exactly where they are taking us with Doom Coalition and that is an exciting feeling because with each story the arc is gathering real momentum. Often the journey is more exhilarating than the destination but just this once I have real confidence that this is heading somewhere spectacular. The Gift was thoroughly enjoyable and with it Doom Coalition is become the highest scorer in any Doctor Who line in some time: 8/10


Lisa said...

McGann was a delight in this!! When he is engaged I simply love him and sometimes he desplaces Troughton and Colin as my fave. How different from the bored performances back in the dreadful Divergent Universe days! Maybe he is not as professional as Colin Baker, who always gives 100% no matter how bad the script is, but when he is engaged, he is a joy for the ears! (And I'm a bit biased because I fancy him something rotten)

Lisa said...

Btw, I find Helen way more likeable than Flip, who got on my nerve. Sometimes there is no particular reason for a companion to be in the TARDIS, in the story of the show the Doctor travels with companions and they are his friends, no need for ulterior motives. Remember the dreadful days of the NAS when Ace, Benny and the Doctor were at each other's throats? That was painful and really made me question the need to have New Ace bitching and gun totting. These three get wondefully along and Liv as a seasoned traveller and Helen as a pupil bounce each other beautifully

Ethan said...

This and Scenes From Her Life proved to me that Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor is still hitting his stride. After Alan Barnes' superb characterization of Charley and the Divergent Universe(which I, controversially, enjoyed a lot), and the success of EDA and Dark Eyes, it's no surprise that the Eighth Doctor is my Doctor! I would love to see the some of the best Eighth Doctor writers(Jonathan Morris, Lloyd Rose, Trevor Baxendale) come back for Doom Coalition or the Main Range.
Lovely review as always, Joe. This is the first time I'm posting a comment, but I've been reading your reviews for some time!

Anonymous said...

I love how Trevor Baxendale wrote for the Eighth Doctor, Dan Lee, I, too, wish he wrote more for him on audio. I miss Lucie Miller so much! I'm not a big fan of Charley but Lucie just stole my heart, she was a delight!

Rob James said...

See, I didn't think the earthquake was spectacular at all. When Liv was trapped under the rubble and the subsequent rescue with the car; I thought it was very flat. The flood of coins was also lifeless. Worst sound on the whole set.

dark said...

@Dan agreed on divergent universe and Charley, lovely in a way to have a romance that doesn't work and such a profoundly alien environment to explore with an ongoing story, only Twilight kingdom imho is truly as dreadful as most people consider it to be. Actually at risk of starting a punch up i prefer Charley to Lucy who always felt a bit too much a Rose Tyler knocoff for my liking, though massive, massive credit for how se exited the series in probably the most awesome way of any companion in who history.

@Lisa, I also agree totally about Helen just being the Doctor's friend and being more likeable than Flip, and indeed to me smply the fact of the era she came from combined with her growth as a character is what makes her interesting, particularly because I can see something bad happening to Liv. No, Helen is not ground breaking and she doesn't have any gymmics, but in a series that concetrates on story that works.

I will confess to sayign that this is probably my least favourite of the second doomed coalition series. Caleera's psychic gift just seemed rather too divorced from where she was previously, particularly why she would suddenly want to distroy earth andd why in such a random way.
I loved the scenes between the Doctor and Sam, reminded me a bit of capaldi and the tramp, though in a rather nicer way and without the inforced unpleasantness, however for me this story was a bit too much a hole in the action, and really having now finished the set it seems you could almost miss this one and the only reason it's in is to have a historical setting to tick all the boxes, as this set already has a contemporary, a futuristic (in the last story), and a weerd semi gothic in scenes from her life.

The one thing I did wonder is if Liv would make it through this story, which is why the rescue with the car felt more tense to me than it was, sinse I really don't want anything to happen to liv, for all I don't put it past Bf at this point, I also did appreciate Liv being helpless sinse she usually is so calm in a crysis, I suppose after living through a Dalek invasion and an attack by the eminance you assume you can cope with most things and being cornered by something as mundane as an earthquake is a little embarrassing.

Imho the weakest of this series, which isn't saying a bad story, just not up to the stupendous quality of the others.

Anonymous said...

Why everyone compares Lucie with Rose? They only have in common the time they come from and their age. I see Lucie more similar to Donna in personality: strong and mouthy, no nonsense but with a great sense of fun and not fancying their Doctors
Rose was a mix of Flip (background and accent) and Charley (falling for the Doctor)

dark said...

For me the similarity with Rose is more that Lucy was made of the "rose architype", ie, someone with no education, a common place background and a disfunctional family. She's one of unfortunately these days far too many companions who follow this mould rather than being characters in their own right, albeit usually even when Bf start writing a character like this such as Flip, they tend to flesh them out quite a deal more.

I do see the similarities with donna, indeed Lucy being catapulted into the tardis is almost a carbon copy of Donna's meeting with the tenth doctor in the christmas invasion, as is their spiky relationship, albeit Lucy's family troubles are rather more similar to Rose than Donna, as is the hole "destined to change the world" bit (which thankfully got dropped after season one).

Either for me it's the character type more than the similaritiy to rose. Rose was the first of that type so the type is named after her. not all characters of that type are bad of course, Donna rocks, there's no other way of saying it, although unfortunately some characters of that type really don't work (amy Pond).

Either way thankfully bf seem to be leaving the type behind which is good and moving on to writing different companions, sinse neither of the two most recent, Constance or Helen is in that style at all!