Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The Neverwhen written by Matt Fitton and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What's it about: On an isolated world ravaged by battle, time itself has become a weapon, laying waste to all who live and die there. Arms and technology are in a state of flux – and it seems that everlasting war is their only option. The arrival of one battered Type Forty TARDIS inside this nightmare offers hope to the combatants trapped within. But when he discovers the truth, the horrors of the Neverwhen will shock even the War Doctor…

Damaged Goods: He insists he is no longer the Doctor but Ollistra knows that he will be true to himself and behave as the Doctor always has. He was a prisoner and makes the decision to not mention the truth about the leash around his neck. The Neverwhen is a close to Hell as the Doctor has seen in this entire war. Isn't it marvellous that he is so completely hoodwinked in this story? I think that is what sells the twist. The Doctor has such a vast intelligence but when push comes to shove he will always fight for the humans that are suffering. In this case he just didn't realise what those humanoids really were. Quantum flux equations was the one paper the Doctor achieved an A star in...on the third attempt. The Doctor thinks that Ollistra is insane to release such a terrifying weapon onto the universe that could have such devastating consequences for so many other worlds. The Time Lords are so desperate they aren't even considering the consequences. Is the Doctor naive to think he can play God and try and change a whole way of life for a race that has been bred for warfare and inflected by the biggest war of all? Probably but that isn't going to stop him from trying. For the Doctor, the Neverwhen was practically a haven inside the War, a bubble where he could behave like his old self and save the day once more. He's forgotten that these days he needs to find the most pragmatic of solutions. Turning a weapon that alters time against itself so it never existed in the first place is a devilishly smart fix to the problem. He is the Doctor after all.

Standout Performance: Because of her work in BUGS and Silent Witness and her appearance in Doctor Who last season, Jaye Griffithis' voice is an extremely recognisable one for me. She's an actress I do admire, although I have known her to give quite a stiff performance at times. On form, she's superb and she's really on form throughout The Neverwhen.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'I thought you were dead!' 'And the latest temporal distortion brought me back...' Reality is starting warp around this conflict, Time is literally hiccupping people back into existence, changing their pasts so they never died.
'War is our landscape. It is the air we breathe. The meat we eat. It is how we exist.'

Great Ideas: I love the line 'we're down to bullets', technology being diminished piece by piece in this conflict until the Time Lords are left fighting with projectile weapons. Temporal phasing causes the artillery to shift in time, grenades becoming plasma bombs in the wink of an eye. Finally somebody has remembered that this is supposed to be a Time War. I was a little taken aback when I thought about the very notion of a War Council on Gallifrey - this is a species that defined its very existence on non-interference and prosecuted the Doctor for breaking that law. But now with a council of war, the planet is spreading its poisonous influence across the whole of universe, dragging countless planets and races into their conflict. The Neverwhen Flux was a weapon created by Time Lord scientists at the very edges of temporal understanding. It was deployed in the midst of a huge assault on a world that was a strategic objective in the early days of the Time War. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers amassed on the planet and they detonated the device from orbit and everybody was sealed in together, Time Lord and Dalek. There was endless temporal flux, random and unpredictable. They fight with weapons that constant transmute and transform. It's not just weapons that mutate but physiology too. They cannot call on the help of the Sisterhood to help them regenerate, it is simply a rewriting of their DNA to a vastly different state. This is not an entirely original idea in Doctor Who - Paul Leonard's The Last Resort in the EDA range dealt with similarly shifting realities (in a very different context mind) but it is handled in a far more comprehensible and less experimental way here. It's much more entertainingly presented and is far simpler to grasp as a concept as a result. Ollistra sees the Neverwhen as an opportunity to achieve resurrection using Gallifreyan technology without having to resort to the preposterous extremes of magic. She plans to fire the Neverwhen Flux at Skaro and turn the world into a battlefield with Time, twisting it into a hideous mess of past, present and future. Ensuring that Daleks never get this Time War off the ground.

Audio Landscape: Shouts on the battlefield, static, a smoking TARDIS, telephone ringing, explosions, sonic screwdriver, a battlefield transmuting so the weapons mutate from clubs and spears to nuclear missiles, Special Weapons Dalek, the ticking weapon.

Isn't it Odd: Am I the only one who is bored with the constant 'Don't call me the Doctor' repetition? When he's behaving like the Doctor, emoting like the Doctor, solving problems like the Doctor and caring for the innocents like the Doctor then he is the Doctor. It's a constant reminder because television continuity demands that he refuses the name of the Doctor. I would have had him claim the name until the end of the audios and then have he behave in such an appalling way that he renounces it before The Day of the Doctor. It would spare us this endless discourse about his name.

Standout Scene: Oh very clever, very clever. An awesome twist and even reading reviews knowing that a twist was coming I still didn't suspect that the Doctor had not allied himself with the Time Lords but humanoid Kaleds. It's pitched perfectly and the pay off when it comes is a terrific moment. I was on tenterhooks. Maybe this story should have been called 'The Wrong Side.'

Result: 'Sticks and stones against Daleks! They wont stand a chance!' On the one hand it is astonishing that it has taken six stories for a writer to remember that this is a Time War and not just a linear cowboys versus Indians shoot em up in space. On the other hand Matt Fitton takes the idea of messing about with time a runs with it at such a sprint that it almost makes up for the fact that nobody else has bothered. Time is a malleable thing in The Neverwhen, it can be bent and warped and reshaped. The people trapped on this world are at its mercy and the War, the environment and even the people themselves are shifting, evolving, regressing. It's a terrific notion and one that gives the story a vivid hook. The script is very dramatic too with some space for its characters and debate but plenty of action as well. It's easily the most finely balanced and piquant of the Time War stories to date. Despite the fact that they were both a little too safe for my tastes it was almost worth working my way through the first two instalments of this box set so the elements could be in place for this knockout at the climax to pick them up and play with them in such a creative way. It's a great story for the Doctor too, this damaged incarnation trying to find himself again inside this isolated conflict. How the story convinces us that this wont be possible and then hands the Doctor a satisfying day after all is quite marvellous. There really isn't much to criticise here, if every story was as bold and dazzling as this we would be in very good shape indeed. Let's just say that the bar has been raised high now and all subsequent releases have a yardstick to which they will be judged by. The Neverwhen caps of the second War Doctor to box set in exemplary style, easily the finest story yet by some distance: 9/10

1 comment:

Lisa said...

I'm looking forward to see a TW story with Jonathan Morris, a writer who can play magic with time travel concepts and time stuff in a original and clever way.

During the scenes in the neverwhere where Kaled were retro-transforming in Daleks and Time Lords devolving into more primitives, I had this image on my head: Imagine one of this Time distorsions hitting the Doctor and he going aaarggggh and next we heard Paul McGann's voice and he saying whats happeningggggarrgg and then we hear McCoy's, Colin's.... well you get the picture. And onwars again until he is John Hurt again. It would be cool