Monday, 19 March 2018

The Conscript written by Matt Fitton and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: Cardinal Ollistra has a new tactic to persuade the Doctor to join his people’s fight. With his friends locked away, he has been conscripted alongside fellow Gallifreyans to train for the front lines of battle. Commandant Harlan has a reputation – his camp’s regime is harsh. He believes the Time Lords must adapt to win this war, but the Doctor is not easily intimidated. Can there be any place for dissent when the Time War looms so close?

Physician, Heal Thyself: The Doctor never was an easy student, they say he sent Borusa mad. I can see the logic in telling this kind of story, forcing the Doctor through punishing Time Lord military boot camp to make him military ready for the full force of the Time War. But surely if there was anybody who has been used to conflict his entire life, it is the Doctor. He’s spent his entire lives battling evil and confronting the terrible corners of the universe. He’s stakes at an all-time high kind of guy about four times a week. Surely he should be leading the training, especially in how to deal with the Daleks. He meets up with them maybe five times a week and has tackled them in every way imaginable from magnetic cores to human factor madness to ice volcanoes. I’d say he is the ultimate authority on the Daleks. Taking even all of this into account…I thought the whole point of the Night of the Doctor was to show how the eighth Doctor wasn’t ready to take on the sort of responsibilities and hardships that the Time War would foist upon him. That he was too amiable a chap. So what is the point of telling this kind of story if we already know that he won’t make it. And even taking all of that into account…this is the Doctor! The most rebellious, childish, downright anti-establishment Time Lord in the universe! Of course he is going to fight the tyranny of military discipline! Of course the Doctor starts to get people on his side against the odds…that’s his thing. That’s what he’s been doing for the past 1000 years. Although his dialogue to his fellow military cadets about not allowing the Time Lords turn them into Sontaran clones is so heavy handed. Causing a food fight? Is this really what we’ve come to?

Standout Performance: What can one say about Rakhee Thakrar? Utterly unmemorable, for a start. When you already have eighth Doctor companions that are as vivid as Liv and Helen it seems unfortunate to replace them with Bliss. She was given a few lines of backstory in the previous adventure but apart from apparently having more gumption than a scientist on a research mission should, I’m not detecting any real character or motive for her existence. Thakrar says the lines with all the lackadaisical flatness like she was still in Albert Square. I really can’t see that much of a difference. In the extras you can hear what a genuine pleasure it was to hang out with her and how lovely she was in real life and that’s just fabulous. But without handing her a gully formed character with strong motives and opinions and a personality Thakrar is just bringing audible cardboard to life.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Because that’s what it means to be Gallifreyan these days! To be part of the Time War! Forget who you were! Your staser is your best friend!’ – this cod dialogue has been ripped from any war film.
‘You’ve got thirteen lives today!’ ‘Never let a Dalek live!’ ‘When they cry exterminate!’ ‘Don’t be late Regenerate!’ – I literally cannot unhear the Time Lord war chant as they are being put through their paces. Words fail me. And bugger me if they didn’t repeat the exercise again later in the story with fresh lyrics!
‘Are you the weak link? Weak links break chains!’
'There’s no glory to dying in battle!’

Isn’t it Odd: I couldn’t take any of the dialogue that came out of the military Commander’s mouth seriously, it was so horribly cliched. I wanted to quote the entire lot in the section above but I would be writing out half the script above. Is this really the Gallifrey that was introduced in The War Games? If we look over the shoulder of those Godlike beings that put the Doctor on trial would we see a number of Time Lord guards that were driven to their absolute obedience in a Time Lord boot camp like this? I very much doubt it. Gallifrey has never felt more like Earth and less tangibly foreign. The moment the military Commander started barking on about polished boots I just couldn’t take him seriously anymore…and that was his first scene. The story is reduced to the Doctor defying authority and making a ozone detector rather than a staser canon.

Result: I want the Time War that Russell T. Davies promised me. You know, the one that could barely be spoken about the atrocities were incalculable. The one that fucked with all of time and space. The one that rewrote entire histories. That was conceptualised through nightmarish imagery like the Nightmare Child. Big Finish are happily reducing the supposed Greatest Conflict of all Time to something akin to a bog-standard war movies that depict the First and Second World Wars including innocent refugees being caught in the crossfire and our heroes being put through their paces in boot camp. I just never imagined it would be this...recognisably human. What next? A story set in a prison on the other side of the conflict or a rousing drama about trying to rouse a bunch of deserters? This isn’t supposed to be War as we understand the term but utter devastation, complete destruction, wholesale slaughter. It should be beyond my comprehension. The Conscript was very much within my comprehension, a soporific little tale that sees the Doctor being put through his paces in Time Lord military camp. Even if this story was set on Earth during one of the world wars I would find it hackneyed and obvious at every turn. The clichés pile up until I couldn’t take anymore. Matt Fitton says in the extras that because it was John Hurt’s Doctor that was close to the action that Paul McGann’s incarnation has to be shunted off to the side-lines of the Time War because he cannot have a major part in the conflict yet. Nick Briggs follows this up saying there are infinite number of stories to be told on the fringes like this. Oh God why? Because he happens to enjoy the often thoroughly boring genre of war stories, which unless they are handled with a great deal more adeptness than this can be smeared in cliché? Does that mean we’re going to visit every planet that was corrupted by the Time War? Every civilisation? Cross dimensions that the Time War threatened? Given we know precisely where this conflict is going my major questions is this…what is the point? Is this just an excuse to churn out Big Finish material with new series influences or is there a seriously valid creative reason to bring these stories to fruition? I feel like we are going to go round and round in circles being told this is the BIGGEST THREAT TO THE UNIVERSE OF ALL TIME, listen to lots of Daleks screaming exterminate, see some people sweat blood and tears and witness some temporal fuckery. But guess what…you can do all of that if you just watch Day of the Doctor! The Starship of Theseus worked because it began as a regular Doctor Who adventure and twisted into something much darker and more interesting. We saw the personal effects of the conflict. I need a justification for every story to be set in this conflict beyond making what began life as a genuinely threatening and life changing conflict into something far less interesting and mouth-watering. I think a story like this is fundamentally misguided because it reduces the Doctor’s people to something so predictable and relatable. My opinion of stories set amongst the Time Lords was already so low I thought they would have to work extremely hard to disappoint me. Apparently, I was wrong. The Doctor causes a stir amongst the ranks, people get punished for his insurrection, the Daleks show up before people are ready to fight, the futility of war is discussed, the end. There isn’t a line I could believe in, not a character that wasn’t utterly predictable, not one moment of serious characterisation or a moment where the plot made me do anything other than sigh with the sheer inevitability of it all. This isn’t my Time War: 2/10

1 comment:

Will Rigby said...

Huh that thing Sandifer predicted has come to pass.
"Necessarily, much has happened since the endpoint of any of the Eighth Doctor lines, though one assumes, as Big Finish increasingly deploys their new series licensing, they’ll claim the prize and tediously collapse possibility into something altogether more drab."

The days of the Time War being vast and big are over now aren't they?