Sunday, 18 March 2018
The Starship of Theseus written by John Dorney and directed by Ken Bentley
Physician, Heal Thyself: Having just listened to the Dark Eyes and then the Doom Coalition sets back to back for the eighth Doctor it is refreshing to have an adventure at the start of another set that is a story featuring the eighth Doctor and his companion simply materialising somewhere, stepping out and having an adventure. This particular Doctor has been embroiled in long, protracted arcs for so long I had forgotten the unassuming thrill of having him just travel. I realise this is another densely arc ridden set but for the moment let’s enjoy this simple pleasure. He’s like giddy little child discovering that he is on a space liner and the news that they are passing Vulcan means he can wax lyrical at Sheena. It’s a glimpse of the puppy dog eighth Doctor of old, it looks as if some of the pre-Neverland eighth Doctor returned after all the trauma of the Lucie, Molly, Liv and Helen years. It feels deliberately cruel to see some of the sunshine back in his smile when we know that is about to be cruelly ripped away in the face of a universe-devastating Time War. But dramatically speaking, it’s an excellent approach. Just act like you own the place, it always works for the Doctor. He’s sure he’ll get a holiday one of these days. As a Time Lord the Doctor can sense the shifting timelines but such is the strength of the fallout of the Time War he can only really sense that something is wrong rather than remember specific details of the alterations. He’s always had an air of self-sacrifice about him and the Doctor offers his many remaining lives so the refugees can escape. That sounds like a very Doctorish way for him to give up his life. He thought he had left the Time War behind, pushing away all the possibilities that he was involved and opting for a much simpler life of travelling…but it’s coming to get him anyway. He already has a reputation as a renegade, one who betrays his people. When its suggested if he keeps flying the way he does he will break every bone in his body he responds ‘been there, done that.’
The Shifting Companion: The first time the Doctor called Sheena ‘Emma’ I thought it was a continuity error for a script that had been through one or two major rewrites and was about to lambast for poor script editing! As much as I appreciate that Big Finish are trying to create their own universe within the Time War with the War Doctor sets, it always felt like conventional science fiction warfare to me rather than the temporal combat and dimensional madness that Russell T Davies alluded to in his tantalising mentions of it during his tenure on the show. What happens to Sheena (if that even is her name) strikes me as one of the first times that I felt Big Finish (or rather John Dorney) had started to explore the ramifications of fighting a Time War on people, how their lives could altered, rewritten or deleted from the timeline altogether. So, she begins this adventure as one character, shifts into another discreetly as the story continues without anybody noticing (why would they, that’s how it’s always been?) and before long vanishes from the time stream altogether. The fact that the Doctor doesn’t even remember her because he never met her in the first place is horrifying, but it does stress how unimportant these details are in the wake of the devastation to come and the consequences of igniting the flame that would cause this sort of thing to happen to entire star systems. It’s also a brilliantly creative device, and dramatically satisfying with the unfairness of it all. The moment the Doctor says ‘I came here alone’ my blood ran cold.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Your sister’s dead. Sorry, I probably should have built up to that.’
‘It’s like I’m feeling ripples. Ripples in time washing against us, reality changing all around me every time they hit. Ripples are becoming waves, crashing on the shore. Something wicked this way comes…’
Great Ideas: Blink and you’ll miss it but the ship transforms from a deluxe space cruiser to a desperate ship full of refugees instantly and the audience simply has to catch up. How naive is one character when she hopes that the Daleks wont attack neutral non-combatants. With all the alterations in the timeline taking place, the Doctor’s TARDIS is snatched away from him and leaving him stranded in this shifting time zone. A regression weapon that forces things back down the evolutionary ladder.
Musical Cues: The dramatic, punchy War Doctor title music is being used for this set and that delights me, it’s easily one of the best pieces of title music that Big Finish has created for any range. There is a steel to the music that is darker and more combat driven, which is very appropriate for a series set during the Time War.
Standout Scene: The approaching war TARDISes give the story a truly epic feel and for once the use of the Daleks is perfectly justified, and their appearance brings on real feelings of dread.
Result: ‘I don’t think anyone can escape it, not really, not alive…’ A brilliant premise, dramatically presented and with very little concessions for those not paying full attention. I like it when a Big Finish story treats its audience with intelligence like this and expects a high level of awareness of the details of the story in order for it to make sense. The last time something like this was done in Doctor Who (with details changing from scene to scene) was The Last Resort for BBC Books and I really loved it there as well. But that isn’t all there is to love about The Starship of Theseus, which begins the Time War box set on a confident and memorable note. At the beginning of the adventure it’s like the War hasn’t even happened yet but by the end its clear that it has long since started and the effects are reaching out to catch up with the Doctor, whether he wants it to or not. The point where the Doctor realises what is happening proves extremely ominous indeed, I was utterly gripped at that point to realise that the Time War had him in his grasp and he was unable to struggle free. Paul McGann is on fire, clearly psyched up to be taking his part in the Time War and delivering a performance that is energetic and engaging. The tone shifts from enjoyable escapism at the beginning to sheer desperation at the end, and John Dorney makes that journey a seamless one. Whether or not you think the War needed to be further elaborated or not, The Starship of Theseus proves that it can be mined for dramatic and creative purposes. In both cases it is a sense of inevitability but it takes some skill to pull off a story that kicks off a series called ‘Time War’ and manages to package the approach of such a conflict as something unexpected and terrifying: 9/10