Sunday, 1 January 2017

Quicksilver written by Matt Fitton and directed by Jamie Anderson

What’s it about: It’s the telegram Constance never wanted to read: DEEPLY REGRET TO INFORM YOU LT-CMDR H CLARKE LOST IN ACTION. CLASSIFIED OPERATIONS. Those classified operations concerned a top-secret military project code-named ‘Quicksilver’. A project based in Vienna. A project with alien connections. But bombed-out Vienna is not what it was before the war – with its Strauss music, its glamour and easy charm. It's not the time nor the place for a happy reunion. As Constance Clarke is about to discover... And as the Doctor is about to discover, too!

Softer Six: ‘I don’t stand a chance against the two of you, do I?’ Sixie has been inundated with new companions of late it would seem, unable to settle unlike his early days where Evelyn was the focus. He’s been on jollies with Flip and Constance, Jago & Litefoot, we’ve hopped back to Mel and Peri…and recently skipped away from an adventure with Kate Kennedy. You might feel as though the production team are trying out so many combinations to see which ones stick but a little continuity would be quite nice now. He’s enjoyed two trilogies with both Flip and Constance and it has taken the audience a little while to warm to both. Brightly, the creative decision has been made to have them join forces at the point where they are both starting to find an audience and some popularity. The end result? A duo that rival and possibly best Peri and Erimem for sass, smartness, humour and culture clash. Things are finally looking quite bright for Sixie in the main range if we can enjoy an extended run with this trio, which is sounding extremely promising. My suggestion would be to shy away arcs (and with Constance’s backstory sown up here there is no need for that) and just let the three of them enjoy their adventures. A bit like it was for the seventh Doctor, Ace and Hex before they got bogged down in the most convoluted and ultimately hugely unsatisfying arc in Big Finish history. The future’s bright, the future’s Flip and Connie. The Doctor taking a cutting of an English rose from Constance’s garden to remember her by is very sweet. The Doctor has a wedding invite from Flip that he hasn’t answered, much to Constance’s chargin. He’s appalled at Kinvar’s blatant abuse of the laws of time, offering superior future technology to the SIS in order to protect himself whilst trapped on Earth. He understands there are stages of grief and is aware that Constance is avoiding them. Obviously, he has the highest security clearance and has exactly the right level of arrogance to get by in intelligence circles without even showing his ID. His special interest is Mrs Clarke. There’s not much that can boggle the Doctor but the sudden appearance of Flip out of time truly floors him. The Doctor playing the Lord of Time at the climax is delightful, Baker hamming it up to the nth degree. Flip’s ‘OMG!’ is perfect. ‘Ten million years of absolute power!’ indeed!

Constant Companion: ‘Constance! You are astounding!’ ‘And I’m astounded it’s taken you this long to realise, Henry!’ She feels as though she has neglected her duties for far too long. She suggests that Amar had nothing to do with her desire to return him but it’s astonishing what the fluttering of the heart can do to remind you of your responsibilities. Sometimes one feels the needs for home comforts, and she invites the Doctor in for one last cuppa for the road. She’s fastidiously tidy and can always see how any place can be improved. There is a coldness to her when she tries to say goodbye, trying to hurry the Doctor away as quickly as possible. In truth she is as bad at parting with people as he is and she’s trying to ease the pain of both of them. It’s lovely material, this friendship between them that seems to have springed for nowhere is finally giving me the feels. A character who has been strong and capable but deliberately lacking in background (because they were waiting for this story for all to be revealed), Constance has needed this kind of breakthrough story to make her truly shine. She suspected Henry’s affair before she went off on her travels with the Doctor. It’s clear from the flashbacks that there is a great deal of affection from Henry for Constance, but I didn’t feel the warmth of a husband. She tries to brush aside her reaction to Henry’s affair by offering to help the Doctor once more but she’s only running away from feelings she is going to have to deal with eventually. For somebody so reserved, Constance’s anger when she finally catches up with Henry is something to behold. She’s terrifying, thinking Henry is a serial adulterer she starts hurling things about. I wouldn’t want to be on the sharp end of her tongue. The Fillipa/Connie gag might have become annoying had it gone on for a long time – aping the Mrs Clarke/Constance affectation – but it actually serves a character purpose, showing how Constance has relaxed into her role as a member of the TARDIS crew as she’s prepared to allow Flip to soften her name. She knows that Henry isn’t a traitor to his country, even if he has betrayed her. When she first met him he turned her head in a spin because she had hardly met any men. This is the first heartache she has suffered and it’s painful, particularly when Ana is pregnant and she never can be. She can offer Henry what he wants, she can’t.

Flippin’ Heck: I felt a resistance to Flip when she first joined the Doctor from the audience, that somehow she was unworthy of him. I found her a plucky, cute young girl and her recklessness quite an adept tool at getting us to care for her (Wirrn Isle, Scavenger). The tide started to turn when she left the Doctor to go back to Jared…what’s the old saying: ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.’ Her appearance in the sixth Doctor’s Last Adventure box set was met with acclaim, pairing the Doctor and Flip with Jago and Litefoot. Now people seem ready to embrace her. Funny, I thought she was quite appealing all along, mostly down to Greenwood’s charming performances. I think the writers have just gotten better at writing for her now. I really like how proud she is to work in a Supermarket. Me too Flip, me too. She’s really gone and done it, she’s married Jared for better or for worse. She really thought the Doctor would make it to her wedding. As soon as Ana and Flip meet the eventual misunderstanding about who is Henry’s secret lover made itself clear. Strange goings on and she immediately thinks of the Doctor. She thought her trip to Vienna in the 40s was his idea of a honeymoon (minus her husband). She’s accused of being a floozy by Constance, although I’m sure she’s probably heard a lot worse in her time. Constance think that she has quite some pluck. Constance knows that Flip is a friend of the Doctor’s because she doesn’t have the slightest clue of what she is talking about. She has some grasp of history but only the stories her great-grandfather told her about the war. The wedding just sort spiralled out of control, from an idea to suddenly actually planning it and then it happening. Typical, the second she’s back in the Doctor’s company she’s running. Flip ran away from everything that was mapped out in front of her, her relationship with Jared and her job, as uninspiring as that might be. It was worth it, she saw some wonderful things with the Doctor but ultimately, she knew you have to live up to your responsibilities. Constance believes that things don’t just happen, that we don’t just drift through life without control or influence upon the events around us. Henry never trusted her enough to talk to her about his feelings and she recognises that even if he did they still wouldn’t have lasted. Saving the world is what she does now.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Self-preservation might be the purest evolutionary trait.’
‘Is it worth it? For a night of champagne?’
‘Anything off the wedding list would have been fine. But no…you had to get me the 1940s!’
‘If you want a marriage to work then you have to work at it and you stopped working at it, Henry!’

Great Ideas: I haven’t been too thrilled about the covers of the main range of late…like much of its output. They haven’t been as bad as some of the copy and paste jobs that opened the range but there has been a certain lack of visual imagination. Quicksilver is different; it’s moody, dramatic and even the colours are in on the act. There are some nice links to Criss Cross, Kinvar detecting the TARDIS when it was stationary in the 1940s but arriving too late, realising that the Doctor had left with Mrs Clarke and so sticking near her house for him to return. It all makes perfectly logical sense. I’m pleased that the story doesn’t paint Henry as a villain. He’s done something wrong and it doesn’t shy away from that but love is treated as a very complex emotion. He married early and to the wrong girl and he strayed and is now having to deal with the consequences. The Doctor explains the international division in Vienna succinctly, I never knew about it so I took something away from the story. Communism, McCarthyism…the brainwashing and torture will occur quite well enough on its own without Kinvar’s anachronistic technology being added to the mix. Kinvar is a living AI, a construct, the battle computer for Quicksilver. An alien war brought to Earth in the aftermath of the Second World War. A recipe for disaster.

Audio Landscape: It’s a story with an atmospheric source and time period and Jamie Robertson does a terrific job in bringing the story to life. The cut from the 40s to the 2010s through the use of music was very stylishly done. Sirens, a metal gate screeching, planes in the sky, bombs screaming through the sky and exploding, helicopters, the TARDIS materialising, birdsong, flicking through a book, a beeping horn, knocking on the door, a whistling kettle, a chugging train, cars growling on the streets of Vienna, the dank, echoing fetidness of the sewers, soldiers barking orders, ringing telephone, keys jangling,

Musical Cues:
In complete contrast to Absolute Power (but just as strong), the score for Quicksilver is subtle and emotive which befits the material. Until the aliens arrive, then it’s all bombast and pace.

Standout Moment: More like blink and you’ll miss it but make sure you pay attention during the quieter moments. Constance blatantly admits that she cannot be Flip’s grandmother and later Flip admits that she couldn’t drink during her wedding. Two female companions, one who can have children (and probably is pregnant, although nothing is confirmed) and one who cannot. Could be heartbreak ahead, or by the signs of things here, mutual support. The scene where Constance and Henry finally talk about the weakness of their marriage and he explains how he fell in love with another woman is one of the more real moments to have come out of the main range in many a year. Bravo. More like this please.

‘You’re better than that, Constance. Stronger than that.’ Quicksilver does a lot of repair work for the Sixie adventures, bringing two companions that haven’t entirely found an audience together in a triumph of a culture clash, and tells an engaging story to boot too. The first episode being so character driven it highlighted just how long it had been since Sixie had enjoyed a story heavy on character. Scavenger, The Wrong Doctors and The Widows’ Assassin, that’s about it in the past couple of years. Quicksilver redresses the balance with some style. It’s Constance’s breakout story and one that gets us closer to her than the previous six stories (including The End of the Line) put together. Miranda Raison seizes the opportunity to flesh Constance out and the result is a number of standout moments for the character, moments where this cold character is put through the emotional wringer. How the story twists from convincing you that Henry has died to much more personal tragedy for Constance really twists in the gut. Pairing her up with Flip is another great move and one that offers a great deal of promise for the future. Flip has always been street wise and Constance mannered and proficient, together they make quite a formidable pair and there’s palpable chemistry between Greenwood and Raison too. They bring the best out in each other and the second half of the story is all the more enjoyable for their interaction. There’s a fairly full-bodied in plot too, mixing history, politics and science fiction to pleasing effect. It’s ultimately little more than dramatic window dressing for all the characters to strut their stuff in but it also provides Jamie Robertson a great chance to conjure up the atmosphere of post-war depression. And it plays with some tasty notions. I really liked that there were no easy answers, no quick solutions and no daft science fiction explanations to aid Constance in her journey. Henry has betrayed her and it’s portrayed in a complex way with no easy answers, as love often is. Fitton always writes Sixie beautifully and whether he’s berating Kinvar for his anachronistic technology, comforting Mrs Clarke at the loss of her husband, trading barbs with Flip or shouting down an alien war, he’s pretty damn magnificent. Baker always gives 110% but I love it when he is handed material that is worthy of his efforts. One of the best of the year: 9/10


Ethan said...

Dang, I should really pick up on the Sixie/Constance 2016 trilogy. I haven't had the chance yet, but judging by your reviews, they're more than stellar releases.

Ethan said...

Peter Capaldi has officially announced that he would be leaving in Series 10. What are your thoughts on that? Personally, I hoped Capaldi would break the record as the longest-running Doctor.