Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Time in Office written by Eddie Robson and directed by Helen Goldwyn

What’s it about: The Doctor's adventures in time and space are over. The Time Lords have recalled him to Gallifrey – but what he faces on his home planet is worse than any trial. Following the disappearance of President Borusa, the High Council condemned him to the highest office - and he can't evade his responsibilities a nanosecond longer... So all hail the Lord High President! All hail President Doctor! Rassilon save him. This time, there's really no escape.

An English Gentleman: He only accepted the Presidency in order to give the Time Lords the slip and get away from Gallifrey…of course High Office wasn’t on his list of career choices! It did feel like something of a missed a missed opportunity to duck out of a chance to see how the Doctor coped with the presidency that he accepted. Like much of the early eighties, it ducks the interesting possibilities for character development (see also Nyssa confronting the Master about her father’s death, Adric going through any kind of grief process about his brother, exploring Tegan failing to cope back on Earth before re-joining the TARDIS and the fallout of the suggestions between Pei and her stepfather). It would have been very satisfying to have had a story set on Gallifrey with the Doctor struggling to cope with being grounded on the planet he always longs to escape. Eric Saward’s loss is Big Finish’s gain, because this is the most delicious concept driven story in an age. Marvellously, since all of this was set up in The Five Doctors all Eddie Robson has to do is drag the Doctor’s ass back to Gallifrey and the story can begin. He likes to think he’s an amenable sort of chap, especially compared to his recent incarnations. The Doctor attended the Academy and describes it as a decidedly mixed experience. He’s a cheeky one, undermining the social order of Gallifrey in his first act and forcing the elite class to work harder and giving the lower classes fresh opportunities. It’s his chance to iron out the issues he has with his home planet. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to cross some things off his list. ‘We can be home in time for tea and scones!’ – you see now why I give the fifth Doctor his title heading. It’s a little tricky when you have been at this time and space travelling lark as long as the Doctor and then you take up the mantle of Presidency, it means you may very well wind up causing a diplomatic incident when one of your previous adventures comes back to bit you in the ass. Apparently, the TARDIS is not as complicated to pilot as the Doctor lets on, he just likes to do all the driving himself. As a boy the Doctor never could resist bringing strange creatures home with him (that’s not a very nice way to describe Leela, mind). The Doctor returning to the Academy is an idea that holds some dramatic weight, but this isn’t really the story to explore that. Time of Office is much more interested in pointing out what a naughty little boy he was. Tegan and Leela have a good laugh at the Doctor when he performs a catwalk wearing the robes, sash and staff of Rassilon. Bling bling. Hearing the Doctor say ‘hello, old fella’ to his new TARDIS is just plain weird and Davison plays the line with the right amount of uncertainty.

Mouth on Legs: ‘I’m not worried, I’m cross!’ which is her default setting. Tegan nearly goes the way of Jamie and Zoe, her memory of her time with the Doctor excised. It would have been ever more gutting for me because it would have meant that we endured those three seasons with her, and only the audience would be saddled with the memory of it. Tegan implies that her time away from the Doctor wasn’t the best of years and so when the Time Lords are looking to excise her memory, she asks them not to bother letting her keep that one. Ambassador Tegan? I suppose it’s better than saddling some poor Gallifreyan with her hand in marriage. She takes her role seriously and it’s really amusing to watch her, well researched, know just as much about certain Gallifreyan rituals as the Doctor. If she was made president of Earth she would close the gender pay gap, revise aboriginal land rights and force her cousin Scott to admit he had a thing with her cousin that summer. Nice to know she has her priorities straight. She does start to get a little bored on Gallifrey and accepts a date with Scandrius. She doesn’t realise that involves stealing a TARDIS and heading out to a bar somewhere in the universe but it’s nice when a guy makes an effort to impress. Tegan realises on her date that she doesn’t want to gallivant around the universe with a tribute act but the real thing. Do you know I fear that might be the first time I have heard Tegan fight passionately for the idea of travelling with the Doctor? How refreshing. Although, somewhat amusingly, the next trip would turn out to be her last.

Noble Savage: From a lost human colony on a distant jungle planet, it’s as concise a description of Leela’s origins as I can remember. During the mopping up of the Death Zone on Gallifrey, Leela brought down the Raston Warrior Robot and has its head mounted on the wall in her kitchen. That nearly made me spit out my coffee. In a fit of pique, Leela attempts to tender her resignation and completely forgets that she doesn’t have a job. When the Doctor gives Leela carte blanche to destroy the controls of his new TARDIS you can hear her screaming and causing havoc for the rest of the scene! It’s like a rabid dog has been let off the leash.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Is this the water feature of Rassilon?’
‘You can’t be called President Doctor!’ ‘Why not?’ ‘It’s two titles!’
‘But the people who disagree with me on this are idiots’ – the template for the rigid visioned Doctor Who fan
‘Gallifrey is ready to follow you, Doctor!’

Great Ideas: Nice to see that there are news anchors, even on Gallifrey, that attempt to manufacture conflict between the people they interview simply to make a good bit of telly. Truthfully there is a gap where the Doctor and Tegan can have an adventure on their own between stories so Eddie Robson shoves his tale into the journey they take in Frontios to drop of the Gravis. If that’s how we can do this sort of thing now there are all kinds of diversions and side stories that could be placed. Big Finish need never stop churning out stories within stories. Mind, the continuity reference at the beginning of the story feels very Eric Saward (enforced by JNT, as is implied). Chancellor Flavia retired because people blamed her for bungling the succession. Borusa’s reputation was too powerful for the people to be told the truth about his betrayal, so it was quietly side-lined. The Black Files (anything official and Gallifreyan deserves capitals, don’t you think?) officially un-exist and you can only by visiting an office at the heart of an asteroid in a pocket dimension, which is the only surviving remnant of a redundant timeline. Typical over complicated Time Lord bureaucracy. You get the sense that the Doctor is taking the piss in spectacular style when he coins a battle TARDIS a ‘WARDIS.’ The Doctor ‘accidentally’ left his room in temporal stasis and so it is still present for his trip to the Academy, a small piece of his past perfectly preserved. Gallifrey fully understands harnessing the power of block transfer computations to erect great structures in no time at all. Imagine all the pomp and circumstance that goes with opening a spanking new Capitol building on Gallifrey? Fluid sculptures are a terrific idea, monuments that shift from regeneration to regeneration of important Time Lords worth commemorating. The Citadel shifts between a building and a humanoid machine – just imagine how that could visualised today? A living TARDIS posing as a building that gets up amongst the cities of Gallifrey. Astonishing. Vorena is offering the Doctor the power to do what he does best, to spread his personal brand of interference throughout the universe but with all the power of the Time Lords behind him in a sentient TARDIS. I’m not sure ideas like that should be dealt with in ten minutes, but it’s still a insanely ambitious notion.

Isn’t it Odd: There is an argument that could be made about wasting so many potentially dramatic ideas on a romp…but I can’t be bothered this time because I simply had too much fun with this one.

Standout Scene: I was wetting myself in the first episode as Crex tries to outfox the Doctor who outfoxes him, so he has a second plan in place, which his own organisation outfoxes. It’s twist and counter twist all the way in a farcical scene that tickles and delights. The reveal that the entire Capitol building is a TARDIS is a doozy of a revelation, too.

Result: What would have happened if the Doctor had been forced back to Gallifrey after The Five Doctors and expected to fulfil his role as Lord President? Eddie Robson has a blast with the idea, using the umbrella theme of a year on Gallifrey to tell four stories that tackle the idea. It’s the best anthology release yet because it isn’t really an anthology at all, more a serial with loosely shaped mini stories buried within. It’s a good thing, because I’m not sure any of these stories would have held up as adventures in their own right but hung on the eclectic framework of the Doctor in charge, Tegan as Ambassador of Earth and Leela as their protector and guide, the whole piece comes together as deliriously entertaining. Add in more great lines than I could recount, some very pleasant character work, zesty ideas and some terrific direction that gives the whole story a light touch and a sense of occasion, you have a Doctor Who set on Gallifrey that I can finally hold up and recommend. Bravo. This isn’t much like the Gallifrey series that Big Finish has been putting out for donkey’s years now, which at its best mixed high concept science fiction with political drama to riveting effect. Eddie Robson is interested in mining the fun out of ‘the Doctor running Gallifrey’ and not deal with any meditative angle on the idea (thank goodness he has Tegan and her catty commentary on everything to provide such a wonderfully human perspective then). And why not? There’s nothing wrong with pure entertainment, especially when it is as pleasurable as this release. Another shout out for Janet Fielding as Tegan, an actress I have never rated that much because of her struggles in the series in the eighties with a role that was inconsistently defined and one note. In Time in Office Tegan is funny, warm, smart and extremely engaging company. I can’t think of another character within the Doctor Who universe that I have take such a 180 with. Another bravo, both for Eddie Robson and Big Finish. I would compare this release favourably with The One Doctor, Ringpullworld and Robson’s own Situation Vacant, a story that isn’t looking to probe deep but one that delights for it’s entire running time, and leaves you with a huge smile on your face. It’s good to remember that Doctor Who can simply offer a bloody good time: 9/10

No comments: