Thursday, 22 February 2018

The Outliers written by Simon Guerrier and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: The TARDIS takes the Doctor, Ben, Polly and Jamie to a flooded underground town on an alien world. The streets are empty. The houses are bare. Not a trace of life. The miners working here are vanishing. And it isn’t long before the time-travellers are suspected of being responsible for the disappearances. But even the authorities haven’t fully realised the scale of the problem. There’s something else on this world. Something dragging people away. And it won’t stop until it’s taken them all.

Oh My Giddy Aunt: The Doctor is becoming adroit at waiting for whoever is holding the guns to drop who they were expecting and then take on that persona. Plus, he still has that shiny ‘examiner’ badge from Power of the Daleks on him. It’s nice that for once the second Doctor cannot simply bluff his way through the authorities, this time if he pokes his nose where it isn’t wanted it will be shot off. The Doctor doesn’t find it in the slightest bit ridiculous to talk to the sea. He doesn’t have a tiny, insular human mind and can imagine all forms of life existing. Frazer Hines plays that scene beautifully, the Doctor almost childlike and apologetic as he reaches out to a new alien life. When everyone is treated to seeing the very thing they want more in the whole wide world, the Doctor sees people he misses, people that he will never get the chance to see again. Many people have fallen into the tentacles with the creature but the Doctor is only one who has managed to successfully communicate with it.

Lovely Lashes: Polly angrily takes on the system and refuses to have her opinion silenced; the people that worked here all had shares in the mining and knew that people were disappearing and they were willing to cover it up to protect their assets. She’s indignant in her criticism, morally outraged. In the future women are treated equally much to Polly’s amusement when Jamie tries to be chivalrous.

Able Seaman: Ben gets the chance to stand at the prow of a ship once more and it exhilarates him. This is an ideal world for Ben to visit, one where he can command water vehicles and adeptly navigate the many waterways. He's an action hero through and through; protective of Polly, quick to arm himself and fully of energy and ability.

Standout Performance: Anneke Wills has been chosen as the narrator for this series of Early Adventures and it is easy to see why. She paces are narration brilliantly, relaxing during moments of scene setting and speeding up when things get dicey. Wills has a lovely voice to listen to; clipped and British, very clear and never uninteresting. And her narration very different to how she plays Polly, with a higher register and imbued with warmth and emotion.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If it’s connected to the tides…it must be in the water.’

Great Ideas: You can’t ask for a more arresting opening to a story than a body floating down the river in the middle of a dead town. It’s exactly the sort of macabre image that Terry Nation deployed in The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Android Invasion. An underground town, devoid of life. Simon Guerrier has a knack of getting your attention immediately. Never lived in…or long abandoned? It’s an impressive mining operation done on a huge scale, leaving them with huge tunnels that they fill with houses for people to live in. There is a great demand for homes and this hollowed out city is one option they have considered viable, a side product of the mining. One person every two hours has gone missing, for a decade. They are mining Arconite, a mineral compound the delivers a spectrum of consumer needs. It’s the active ingredient in robust planetary cleansing, a weapon that obliterates entire worlds. The creatures seems to communicate through emotional rapport and clairvoyance. Ben dreamt that he was in the Tropics, Polly at London Airport and Jamie back at the Highlands of Scotland, everyone seeing things that they wanted. That’s how these creatures communicate, by trying to figure out what makes people tick. Much like Creature from the Pit, I just love the idea of an unknowable, humungous monster that can be perceived as threat but is just so fundamentally different to what we consider life that we can only distinguish it that way. It’s a sea creature that is desperately trying to understand humanoids in the only way it knows how, prying into their dreams and ambitions, and pulling them apart to see how they work. The creatures have a form of reverse biology, starting life as sentient sea creatures and transforming into the barnacles on the rock to make way for the young to be born in the sea. The barnacles serve as a warning system, not so much seeing what is going on but reading the emotions of the people that are digging out the rock and sending warnings down to their young to protect themselves. They can see into the future but they have foreseen a terrible catastrophe involving the Arconite, or at least a potential one. Guerrier describes the lake full of creatures dying from Arconite poisoning with real beauty, it’s the sort of visual that fires the imagination and you can see vividly in your minds eye. In a moment of horrific subtlety, the Doctor, Polly and Ben come across the vivisected corpses of the miners that the creatures have pulled apart to try and understand them. They escaped the same fate because they talk with time and they travel through it.

Audio Landscape: The ever-present burbling of water reminds us constantly that we are in this underground world and when the horror seems to be coming from the water makes it even more omnipresent. Experience the claustrophobia of being dragged beneath the water with Ben (why is it always Ben that ends up wet…sorry is that just in my head?).

Standout Scene: The whole set piece of the advancing sea creature is beautifully done. First with Jamie heading under the water and being whisked away, then the advancing movement on the scanner and finally the appearance of the beastie itself. ‘It’s here!’ Lisa Bowerman deserves a great deal of kudos for pacing the tension so effectively, gathering fantastic momentum and dragging me into the dangerous situation with the companions.

Result: Simon Guerrier, in contrast to Justin Richards who provided the recent The Morton Legacy, I have come to expect great things of. The shining star of the Companion Chronicles, firing off one memorable novel before they were cancelled and taking over the Bernice Summerfield range when it was flailing and beating it into shape, Guerrier’s name is one I have found synonymous with thoughtful characterisation, memorable settings and original, dramatic ideas. He writes a more significant episode one than Richards manages in the entirety of the following story. Very often in Doctor Who stories things are not quite what they appear and the Doctor wades in and throws off the narrative dust sheet to reveal whatever malevolent scheme is in action. I like Simon Guerrier’s approach here, letting the audience know early on that something is afoot with the mining operation and waiting for the Doctor and company to catch up. It adds an extra layer of suspense and gets your imagination pumping. I like how the story takes it’s time to unfold too, not throwing everything at you in episode one but letting the situation deepen gradually and continually. We don’t always have to get to the dramatic meat at the end of part one because sometimes that doesn’t leave you with anywhere to go after that. It’s a four-episode story with four episodes worth of material, which is more of a rarity than you might think and the pacing of the revelations means that you have to be patient and see the story through to get the full picture. I was very impressed with how the companions were handled here; Guerrier isn’t interested in lifting stereotypes from season four (the dolly bird, the aggressive sailor, the out of his depth Scot) but instead puts Polly, Ben and Jamie to work on the mystery of the disappearances, treating them all intelligently and barely allowing them to digress from the plot for character asides. The Doctorless episode three might have been a problem if there wasn’t three engaging companions to continue the investigation, and Wills, Hines and Chapman really pick up the slack effortlessly. It’s a great companion line up. I like that both sides of this conflict are painted in shades of grey; the humans ignoring the death count because of corporate greed and the creatures choosing a truly horrific method of trying to understand the people that are threatening them. In fact, I’m not even sure if it is a conflict, just two sides doing what comes naturally to them (the human race acquiring, the creatures protecting themselves) which don’t fit comfortably in the same location. That’s Simon Guerrier, offering a refreshing new slant on a Doctor Who story, making the audience question and debate. The Outliers is a superior Early Adventure, and the sort of story that endorses the range: 8/10

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

heheh you are on fire with those reviews, please don't stop! <3

Dovid M said...

I agree with this anonymous comment. I love the fact you've begun to update a bit more consistently. Please keep it up as best you can! I always love earring your thoughts.

Cindy@showboxbuzz said...

‘The Outliers’ overall is a wonderfully scripted, acted, and directed story that continues to present further layers to what seems like a familiar concept while easily capturing the tone and feel of the Second Doctor era.