Thursday, 9 February 2017

Time Reaver written by Jenny T Colgan and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: Calibris. The spaceport planet where anything goes. Where anyone who doesn't want to be found can be lost, and where everything has its price. Where betentacled gangster Gully holds sway at the smugglers’ tavern, Vagabond’s Reach. The alien Vacintians are trying to impose some order on the chaos. Soon the Doctor and Donna discover why. An illegal weapon is loose on the streets. A weapon that destroys lives… Slowly and agonisingly.

Mockney Adventurer: I love how this series of adventures has really gone for broke in portraying the Doctor and Donna exactly as they were on television, warts and all. If you found Tennant too squeaky and shouty and Tate too brash and in yer face then tough luck because they are presented precisely as confidently and as audience pleasingly as they ever were. Fortunately, I love this team, I still think it is the golden team of the post-2005 era of the show so I was pretty much in heaven in their company. Time travellers have issues with paperwork, given the slipshod nature of their existence. The Doctor is appalled that commercialism has materialised on Calibris, he was expecting pirates not coffee shops. You would think that for somebody who calls himself the last of the Time Lords that the tenth Doctor would try and protect his heritage and keep himself save. Instead he’s probably the most suicidal of the lots and his latest foray into self-harm features in this story when he drains the time reaver by shooting himself with everything it has. There’s something to be said for his willingness to put himself in the line of fire when more than his own life is at stake.

Tempestuous Temp: Donna’s hoping for a planet where boys dance around in her pants worshipping wenches. I’m not sure about the wenches, but I knew there was a reason I could identify with her so much. She’s helping the Doctor fly the TARDIS successfully so they have travelling together for some time but she’s still not above sticking sophisticated technology in her gob instead of her ears. Donna is so good at getting close to characters in a story because she is so real. Her earthiness and honesty encourages the same in others. She gets close enough to Cora for her to explain why she stole the time reaver. It’s because she forms a relationship with her that she can give her hard advice at the end of the tale and bring this sorry affair to a close. Where the Doctor is horrified by Soren’s plan of mass suicide, Donna can see the beauty in it. Donna having a time reaver bomb strapped to her back is a fantastic way of sustaining tension and providing a laugh at the same time – she’s one of the few NuWho characters that can walk that fine line between being very funny and very scared at once. She gets a gorgeous moment when she thinks she is going to die and she tells the Doctor that she wouldn’t have missed it for the world, even though this has to be the end.

Standout Performance: David Tenannt literally seethes with anger in certain scenes, it reminded me of how volcanic he could get in his first season. All I know is I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that wrath.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I told you we aren’t going to the planet of the boys! There is no planet of the boys!’

‘I have seen Time Reavers before. I’ve seen a man kept on the brink of death for near eternity until he changed his will. A mother using them to keep her own child from leaving home. Time Reavers were stamped out! Eradicated!’

‘Time modulators in a time machine are you nuts? It’s like forks in a microwave.’

Great Ideas: Calibris is an entirely mechanical planet where you can acquire, sell or swap any kind of transport in existence. Rocket trains shoot right through the middle of it and wormholes can transport you instantaneously if you can afford it. Who hasn’t spent a day in London and wish they had a copy of the noise cancelling headphones that the Doctor deploys here? Legislation is the order of the day on Calibris but as it has proven impossible in the past, the planetoid is true to form. Crime simply thrives here and any attempt to control that is counterproductive to how the place works. The time reaver is the deadliest of weapons and it doesn’t even kill you. Outlawed in every galaxy, banned by every civilisation, this time modulator can stretch time so a moment can last an eternity. Imagine being caught in a time reaver bomb blast where you feel the pain for months. If you get shot by a time reaver when you’re happy you will crave it for the rest of your very short life. In pain, you will never recover. Every civilisation they have touched are a blasted heath. Some people try and time reave themselves and prolong happy experiences. The Time Reaver was never meant to be a weapon, the Viscinteans are a collective race and the plan was for the whole race to die watching the final sunset on their world whilst being shot with a time reaver.

Audio Landscape: Nice to see Big Finish exploring the crazy, no budget (within reason) universe of the new series with a thriving and imaginative alien community being brought to life here. It does us well to remember that the Russell T Davies years of the show weren’t just domestic drama but there was a great deal of off world action too. And it creates a lovely contrast to the first story in the set. The crazy, busy, bustling atmosphere of Calibris, octopi alien voices, smashing glasses, an elongated scream when the time reaver is fired, a wormhole delivering passengers, the bizarre electronic whining that is passing as music where the busker has to be paid to stop, smashing through the door,

Musical Cues: Howard Carter, one of my favourite Big Finish musicians, is on hand to provide a sweeping, bombastic score for this story. Plenty of Big Finish adventures feature sweeping, bombastic scores so it is to Carter’s credit that this one stood out as much as it did. He has a way of punctuating the action in a very snappy way. Every time the Doctor or Donna ended up running I felt as though I was being dragged along with them and that was mostly thanks to Carter’s music.

Isn’t it Odd:
The very thing that makes this story so unique might be the reason that alienates a section of the audience. Whilst a pretty traditional Doctor Who story is playing out in this audio the presentation of Calibris is quite out of the ordinary. Glaringly loud and obtrusive alien voices compete with a strikingly assaulting soundscape which might just be too much for some people’s ears. Cora is remarkably naïve to think that people would only buy the time reaver for party’s and nice things like that. When time bending technology is up for grabs you know somebody is going to leap in and try and exploit it for nefarious purposes.

Standout Moment: It’s a fanboy moment but I couldn’t help but love the little reference to ‘there’s something on your back.’ Anything that reminds me of Turn Left is bound to put a smile on my face.

Result: Jenny Colgan comes up trumps with an engaging series four tale, sporting a great central idea and a pleasing, ‘out there’ location. There’s plenty of opportunity for the tenth Doctor to shake his fist and moralise and Donna provides sterling emotional support in a tale that looks like it is going to be all plot but has a surprisingly affecting second half. On the whole I was impressed with the immersive and creative soundscape and I applaud the choice to do something different. However, there were times when this audio was a bit too noisy for its own good and I was looking to find some noise cancelling ear pods for myself. Calibris is one of those big, bold SF locations that the new series throws into the mix to keep things interesting (think The Rings of Akhaten for colour and imagination and Satellite Five for ambience) and I really enjoyed how the setting took on a life of its own, mostly thanks to the Doctor and Donna’s differing reactions. Tennant and Tate feel as though they have never been away and they imbue their characters with such enthusiasm and clearly relish the chemistry that it is effortless to enjoy them. Some of the Big Finish new series output has lacked the spunk of the series but that isn’t a problem with the 10th Doctor box set. This is the winning filling of a very satisfying sandwich and it provides Colgan with another top notch credit to her name: 8/10


Dan Lee said...

It's great to see you review Time Reaver this highly, so many people seem to slag it off.

david kelly said...

I'm so glad youve done a new review. Always excited for more from your blog.