Saturday, 17 March 2018

Stop the Clock written by John Dorney and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: The time has arrived. Events are in motion. The end of the universe is at hand and the Doctor and his friends have one hour to save eternity. Starting now.

Physician, Heal Thyself: Given he was the Lord President once he should at least be able to slip into Gallifrey whilst the transduction barriers are up. He’s been in one or two secret cabals himself so he understands the appeal. On my oath, can you imagine the Doctor as a Time Tot gathering his ceremonial robes and wading through the incense to take his place in a secret Time Lord sect. He always was a bit of an anarchist and he’s never had a great love of Gallifrey but planting a bomb at the base of the transduction barriers might be the greatest expression of both of those yet. The Doctor would risk the safety of his world to save the rest of the universe in a heartbeat – an interesting pre-empt of the decision that he would ultimately have to make in his next incarnation. There’s a suggestion that by stopping Padrac that the Doctor has doomed Gallifrey for evermore. Perhaps there is something in that but I don’t think the destruction of the entire future of existence is the acceptable alternative. So, go Doctor. He says that dooming Gallifrey is a price that he is willing to pay.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Are we under attack?’ ‘No! Gallifrey is!’
‘I was given power and I saw our destiny. I had an opportunity and I took the only responsible course.

Great Ideas: I really appreciated the scene between Padrac and Kahlera at the start of this story detailing how they came to work together and how he effectively wooed her. It would have been useful to have been inserted before Songs of Love where that development was just dumped on us without context but it’s better late than never and does address one of my criticisms of that story. The Eleven and Padrac were both, at different times, both members of an Elite Time Lord Cabal, one for the superior intellects of the Capitol. If the Matrix predicted a threat they would eliminate the root cause of that threat, be that a small planet, a small civilisation but always in the service of saving Gallifrey. They achieved this through wholesale manipulation of the timelines. When the threat was bigger, so was the response. Padrac and his lackeys are using the Sonomancer, placed inside a resonance engine. One push from her at a precise spatio-temporal location where all celestial bodies are in alignment and the resonance of spheres will build exponentially and that will lead to the destruction of everything. I literally have no clue what this all means and nor does it matter, it has at least been set up (and in some depth given that this story is 16 hours long) that Padrac has the ability throw all the fires of hell at the future and wipe it out of existence. The Doctor wants to blow up the transduction barriers to put Gallifrey at threat so Kahlera has to choose between that and the optimum point of resonance which will end the future. She’ll choose saving Gallifrey over ending the universe because of her love for Padrac, how clever of the Doctor to exploit the very thing that Padrac used to obtain her power.

Audio Landscape: It’s very sweet that trouble on Gallifrey seems to come down to a few stasers being fired in the background. The Twin Dilemma employed a similar tactic in it’s climax (‘they’ve already started mopping up’) and it was similarly underwhelming.

Isn’t it Odd: I have to confess I have found the Eleven a bit of a pantomime villain all along. After his initial introduction was so strong he has been kept on the sidelines throughout Doom Coalition and when he does show up it is usually in scenes that assault me with lots of screaming and snarling. He’s a vital component in Padrac’s plan for sure but I never really connected with him as a character and nor do I feel that his psychological instability has been mined for it’s full horrific potential. This could have been some akin to James McAvoy’s turn in Split, a character truly chilling and unpredictable. Instead he quickly turned into a bit of a comic character where the conflicting incarnations are constantly berating each other. Saying that this was probably his best appearance since the first instalment of this series, with his character being used to further the plot in several ways with the Doctor taking on his guise to get close to Padrac and mining one of his incarnations for information. He’s so daft, mind, that he fails to realise that Padrac will have away with him one he has the Doctor in his power. It’s almost comical its so inevitable, much like the Daleks turning on Mavic Chen in The Daleks’ Masterplan. Maybe it’s the voices, but I found the scene where he was trying to decide whether to kill Helen or not very funny.

Standout Scene: How very strange that the Sonomancer, a character I have never really cared for, elicited the strongest emotional reaction out of me in the finale. It has something to do with Emma Cunniffe’s performance, which veers from terrifying as the Sonomancer (now that her powers have been spelt out) and unsure as Khalera (now Padrac’s romantic deception has been revealed). Another puzzle piece in his masterplan, she was used for ability rather than any feeling he might have for her and she gets that shoved in her face by the Doctor in a forceful and unflattering way. She’s already been deceived and is entrenched in the equipment and her life will be forfeited to bring the end of the future to bear. Bless Khalera, right up to the point that where she is about to be sacrificed, believes that Padrac’s feeling for her will stop him. Also, the twist that she is the Red Lady from the story of the same name was a well seeded surprise. That’s probably the best twist in the set. Both the first scene and the synopsis seem to suggest this is going to be a real time race against time to stop Padrac, 42 style. After the initial musical sting I never got the sense of that again.

Result: Doom Coalition comes to a conclusion with Stop the Clock and I’m pleased to say that this does a much more masterful job of concluding its story than Dark Eyes did. Whilst Matt Fitton has done some sterling work for Big Finish, I do think John Dorney has a stronger authorial voice when it comes to these sprawling epics that Big Finish keep churning out. Despite being the finale of the entire set, this is a more focused and tighter piece than the previous two which insists on nice character beats for the enormous cast of characters and which satisfactorily pays a great number of promises made in the previous 15 stories. It feels like an individual piece and not a series of events lost in the sea of Doom Coalition’s arc, which is odd given how much baggage it comes with. It feels like all the performances have stepped up a notch too, as though everybody is aware this is the finale and there is a sense of urgency about the cast that kept me rivetted throughout. I’m not quite as in love with Doom Coalition as others are, whilst I do think it is a far more engaging narrative than that of Dark Eyes. I could think of several ways that it could have been condensed down to three (or possibly even two) really excellent sets, with a lot of flab cut away because there is plenty of material that simply diverts from the main storyline or fails to affect it at all. However, some of those stories are amongst the best, so I’m not sure what that says about the central narrative. The truth be told I think you could tell the tale of Padrac and his plan to kill the future in one solidly plotted set and the only reason this takes place over four is that the writers painstakingly took their time planting the elements of the series. If it had gotten to the point a lot sooner then there is about enough plot in the assembling of The Eleven, Padrac, the Sonomancer, River, the Doctor, Helen, Liv and the Doomsday Chronometer to fill about four hours. Saying that the standard of writing across the entire set has been well above average, with some seriously decent standout tales (most of Dorney’s have been superb), we’ve been treated to some truly engaging performances, pleasing character work and the stakes have never felt as high thanks to Ken Bentley’s assured and dynamic direction. It’s certainly never been dull, and if there has been the odd duff instalment they are few and far between. I’d call this a guarded success, a confident ‘season’ with perhaps too many elements delivered at a snail’s pace but coming together quite acceptably at it’s climax, which makes the whole thing worthwhile. Saying that, this finale is perfectly entertaining without ever reaching into the upper echelons of Doctor Who’s climaxes because there wasn’t a huge emotional connection for me. It’s a series of confrontations, double crosses and twists that all come together neatly, like a perfect puzzle but it is missing that emotional wallop that meant I really cared about what was happening. Stop the Clock even leaves several threads dangling to be picked up in the next McGann boxset, which means picking those up to see what happens with those.

Stop the Clock: 8/10

Doom Coalition as a whole: 7/10

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