Tuesday, 20 February 2018

The Wreck of the World written by Timothy X Atack and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: Undergoing repairs in deep space, the TARDIS is caught in a collision with the huge, decaying wreck of a starship. Zoe, spacewalking, is separated from her companions in the crash, and the Doctor and Jamie wake to find the TARDIS fused to the side of the ship. Venturing inside to rescue their friend, they discover that they are on board The World, the very first colony ship to leave Earth, lost mid-voyage under unknown circumstances. And they are not alone. A terrible suspension chamber is filled with dead, withered human bodies, and a team of gun-toting astronauts are stalking the corridors. But a far greater threat lurks deep inside. The terrifying force responsible for the scuttling of the ship is active once more - and if it can’t be stopped, it won’t just be the end of this World. It’ll be the end of all of them.

Oh My Giddy Aunt:
The Doctor is treated as an intelligent figure who is piecing together the mystery of the World, rather than a figure of fun that he could often be in his final season. You might say he dabbles in most things as often as possible. The Professor thinks the Doctor is far more calculating than his scatty exterior lets on, which is an observation I have heard thrown at the second Doctor by people who have studied his era for many years. He displays comic excesses, silent threat and masterful aptitude. His extremely chameleonic how he can segue from one to the other so fluidly. Professor Blavatsky and the Doctor form a relationship that is well worth following; distrustful and respectful of each other’s abilities. I love the scene where she asks him to tell her about the ultimate fate of humanity and how he apologetically refuses.

Who’s the Yahoos:
Jamie is a ridiculously, perhaps suicidally brave and protective young man, especially of the young girls that travel in the TARDIS with him. If there is danger to be had, he feels he is the one who should venture into it, not them. He’s ready for combat, showing that he’s learnt much from their previous adventures. Aggression seems to be his watchword in this adventure, like he has gotten out of the wrong side of bed. I suppose he always was ready to bunch his fists when the situation called for it (The Krotons, The War Games). Both Zoe and the Doctor mention how decent Jamie’s coffee is, proving that sexism is not always directed at women. It’s great for Jamie to have another warrior to interact with. At first he and Porthintus try and assert their strength over one another but ultimately they come to empathise and appreciate each other.

Brainy Beauty:
Listening to Zoe battle it out with a robot is great fun because despite the fact that she stated in The Invasion that she would not be bullied by automatons, this is precisely what she was when she first met the Doctor and Jamie, coldly logical and always in the right. It does go to show how much she has changed. She always thought the human race was at home amongst the stars and is shocked to discover that it wasn’t always the case. Zoe admits that she had to teach herself to cry, perhaps to fit in, or perhaps to feel. She should have waited until she stepped into the TARDIS, as that has given her plenty of reasons to well up. I love how capable Zoe is throughout, never once behaving like a companion of the Doctor’s but a fully accomplished scientist in her own right. There’s mention of the programming that Zoe suffered when she was attached to the Wheel, a firm reminder that in the 21st Century human beings are slaved to logic and effectiveness.

Standout Performance: I’ve always been impressed with Frazer Hines’ take on Troughton’s Doctor, and because they worked together so closely I have always found it a much more intimate portrayal than it would be had they dragged in a completely fresh actor to bring the part to life (Trelor’s third Doctor is delightful, but it lacks that sentimental touch that really sells it to me on a nostalgic level). However, I could understand in the early stories if Hines’ critics were banging on about how he simply lowered the register of his own voice and captures only one aspect of Troughton’s delivery, that ominous, gravelly delivery of bad news and moments of quiet tension. Well he’s clearly been studying Troughton’s performance because it is much livelier and nuanced these days. At points I could shut my eyes and imagine it was Troughton saying the words and that is a huge compliment for Hines to take on board.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Voice control, how adorable.’
‘Something oily suits it better. Something dripping in industry.’

Great Ideas: You might think that opening a mock-sixties Doctor Who story with Zoe space suited up and floating in space outside the TARDIS is erroneous and the sort of effects laden storytelling we are used to with the new series (think The Beast Below, which opens with similar imagery). However, the sixties and seventies was a period of massive ambition for the series, where the ideas that the writers had often outstripped the time there was to make the series and budget to realise it. And besides, The Space Pirates sported some very tasty spacewalking sequences so I believe it is a perfectly plausible and spectacular opening gambit for The Wreck of the World. A robot trundling about the wreck of the World is a direct call back to the Servo robot in Zoe’s debut adventure. A subatomic cruncher scoops particles from space and transmuting them into pure energy. Ore of this kind can be stored almost indefinitely. The World was the first and the largest colony ship to leave the Earth when the planet was about to die but it never reached its destination. The World was thought lost forever. There was an emphasis on humanoid casts in season six (for budgetary reasons more than anything) and so it’s nice to see the audios diversify and deliver the regulars a guest cast of varied origins; robotic, amphibian, crystalline and human. The computer systems on the World have been dormant for 900,000 years. Generations lived and died on the ship. For once the exterior of the TARDIS is beneficial, because it appears so small it appears that the Doctor and company cannot be on board the World to loot and thus their lives are spared. The Earth was in a terrible state; so many diseases, so many people and so few resources that there was no alternative for humanity but to spread their wings and escape. Human bodies that have been affected by something and turned into unfortunate creatures of death. One legend of the World is that it crashed on another world and was the basis of a brand-new empire, another species. Other legends speak of the ship being abandoned or destroyed. That’s the trouble with a mystery, it stimulates the imagination and is open to so much conjecture. There are 40 suspension chambers on the World, each with approximately 60,000 individuals. Corvis is a scavenging entity, a telepathic field. It seeks out worlds in a state of disrepair, worlds that are bloated and dying and deepens that downward spiral. It gets into the head and heart of a species and makes it eat more, waste more and then moves onto the next planet. It’s intensely powerful, capable of suggestion, hypnosis and it can animate dead matter. The imagery in the last episode is powerful and terrifying; thousands of sleepers coming to life, animated human cadavers twitching and jerking to the purpose of the Corvis. Imagine the devastation the Corvis could achieve if it had access to the Doctor’s TARDIS? Death is necessary for life to play its part, and the Corvis is merely playing its part. I really like that the Doctor doesn’t see this field as a destructive force for its own sake but a part of life’s grand design.

Audio Landscape: There’s a beautiful reason given for the Doctor being armed with his recorder beyond fancying a tootle on it when things get tense – and it makes for a memorable moment of sound design. At first I thought it was an alarm, but my understanding of the second Doctor made the reality click immediately. Zoe is exposed to the starkness of space and it screams back at her, Wreck brings to life the stifling danger of space travel in dramatic style. Wait for the scene where Jamie is knocked the entire length of a corridor. The sound of the army ‘cresting a hill’ is memorable, you might just find yourself looking around to see if you see them approaching.

Musical Cues: There’s an eerie, minimalist score to the early scenes that really helped to capture the vastness of space and the terror of space travel. The mock-sixties music as the history of the Earth is released and the relics are uncovered was wonderfully evocative of the time.

Standout Scene:
By the end of episode two we’ve left the claustrophobic puzzle of episode one for more exciting fare with the TARDIS spat out into space and beyond the Doctor’s reach and the animated corpses of the colonists coming to life and attacking. This would have been made around the same time as Oxygen and it shares a similarly tense and oppressive atmosphere.

Result: The first episode couldn’t be more authentic in it’s season six-ness; just the three regulars in appearance, a focus on space travel and its dangers and a rogue robot proving both menacing and cute. I love how guarded the pacing is, introducing us to the setting in a thorough, atmospheric fashion. We’d be straight in with the crew of the World within the pre-titles sequence these days and lose so much of that unnerving atmosphere that classic Who could brew up in it’s opening nights. It’s pretty much the perfect episode one; capturing its regulars intelligently, brewing up a thick atmosphere (the sort of disquiet that Lisa Bowerman excels at bringing to audio), a vivid setting, danger and a terrific mystery to unravel. What fate could possibly have befalled the World, the first and largest colony ship to leave the Earth? It’s a much more interesting than usual guest cast that joins them in pulling apart the conundrum; Timothy X Atack has written in some really imaginative and unique characters that stand out from the usual bunch of humanoids that assist/hinder the Doctor in a base under siege adventure. You have a script that thinks through its setting and allows us to explore it in detail, so by the climax you have a good idea of the scale and technology of the World, even it’s decayed state 900,000 years past its best. There are lots of elements here that you have seen in other Doctor Who stories before; you could cobble together it’s ingredients from The Tomb of the Cybermen, The Wheel in Space, The Mind Robber, The Space Pirates, The Ark in Space and Oxygen. But it’s how those ingredients are put together that is so impressive, making up a terrific Doctor Who story that refines all the elements that makes the series fire on all cylinders (big ideas, claustrophobia, exciting set pieces, colourful characterisation, scary monsters and a marvellous villain). The Wreck of the World deserves extra kudos for taking it’s time with the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe, all three of which are characterised brilliantly and a massive thumbs up to Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury who both perform a double role and capture the spirit of this memorable and popular team so well. Because I objected to the Companion Chronicles being knocked out of a monthly release it really took me a while to come around to the idea of the Early Adventures. The extended length hasn’t always worked in their favour but the better examples have really used that extra time well to add layers of depth to the characters and formulate a more complicated narrative. This is one such example. The Wreck of the World is both an authentic nod to season six and a fantastic audio story in its own right. Spot on sound design too, I was very impressed: 9/10

No comments: