Thursday, 5 April 2018

The Heavenly Paradigm written by Guy Adams and directed by Scott Handcock

What’s it about: With his plans approaching fruition, the Master travels to Stamford Bridge in the 1970s: a location he believes might hold the key to his success. But what terrible secret lurks under the stairs of No. 24 Marigold Lane? And what sacrifices will the Master make in the name of ultimate victory?

War Master: He’s deeply amused that the TARDIS materialises in the form of a police telephone box. It’s wonderful that he calls his own species one of the most terrifying in the universe. He takes delight in telling the Time lords he is visiting for purely altruistic reasons. When his motives match up with those of his peoples, he might just be worth listening to. When faced with one of his people brandishing a weapon and all he has is a cup of tea to hand he asks, ‘Are you scared yet?’ You can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs and the Master is very particular about asking Cole if he thinks it is worth doing anything, whatever the cost to change the course of the Time War. Effectively his companion was agreeing to sacrifice himself. I do love how in this set the Master is completely honest and upfront, how he behaves to a specific set of rules. He never deceives anybody. He’s perhaps more honourable than the Doctor in that respect, whilst still behaving like a complete bastard. He doesn’t want a universe in ruins. If he did he would simply step back and let the War rip the multiverse apart. He wants peace and order and stability. He wants survival and power. He wonders if he is a product of his upbringing in that respect. Mrs Wilson points out that if he dispensed with his psychotic obsessions he could be the most wonderful man in the universe. Typical really, the one time he tries to make the universe a better place and it all blows up in his face.

Cole: Is Cole a little too naïve to have fallen for the Master’s charms quite so completely? I don’t think so because Jacobi plays the part so welcomingly (just like Delgado did, to a point where it was easier to champion him than Pertwee’s Doctor at times) and because he hasn’t actually been seen to do anything quite so resolutely evil as we would expect from the Master. He’s been very careful to present himself as a bystander in the War. It’s only when Cole is attached to the Paradigm and he still champions the Master that I was a little incredulous. Cole is labouring under the misapprehension that the Time lords have a sense of morality, rather than a sense of arrogance that they should dominate…well because they should.

Standout Performance: Nerys Hughes playing the perfect suburban housewife who is actually a Time lady in disguise. I especially liked how slipped her façade so easily when Cole has been knocked unconscious, from cheerful platitudes to straight to the point threats. She’s quite the talent, Nerys, and it would be nice for Big Finish to find a regular role for her. Jonny Green for again tugging at the heartstrings so effectively. And of course, Derek Jacobi, whose every utterance is one of sublime menace. Oh wait, that’s the entire cast. In that case, bravo.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I know exactly what I am doing! There is a reason I’m not called The Apprentice, you know.’
‘Making choices is what life is all about.’

Great Ideas: Even England in the 1970s is feeling the effects of the Time War. People can change gender in a heartbeat. Great swathes of history are being rewritten as the walls of reality come tumbling down. That’s rather frightening, isn’t it? To be living your life one day after the next only to realise that yesterday you never existed at all. If the War keeps going the way it is there will be nobody left, anywhere. A facility exists in the 1970s where the Time Lords keep their most terrifying weapons. A security weapon that bombards you with things that it finds in your subconscious. It would have a field day with my head. Trust the Time Lords to aim for the mind to hurt rather than any kind of physical pain. The Heavenly Paradigm is one of Gallifrey’s most shameful secrets. Certain decisions bring positive effects in our lives whilst others lead to consequence we might wished to have avoided. Imagine there was a way you could always make all the right decisions. You would live the perfect life. The paradigm examines a personal timeline and pinpoints the moments that can be changed to achieve maximum potential. Each person, each civilisation achieves the best chance of happiness. It’s designed to minimise conflict, to give you the best possible outcome. There’s a very arrogant assumption that The Time Lords don’t need fixing and that it is the Daleks who need altering to prevent the Time War from taking place. This is exactly what the Time lords were doing in Genesis of the Daleks, trying to turn the pepper pots into less aggressive creatures. This is a fascinating way to look at the exercise though, with a weapon that could iron out the entire timeline of the species and make such dramatic changes to the Web of Time (we haven’t had that phrase bandied about in a while). Nothing provides a great dose of potential energy than the fallout of cancelled probabilities. All those changes, all those possibilities wiped out and the Paradigm is juiced full of temporal energy.

Isn’t it Odd: This story does so well what Suburban Hell failed to achieve in the 4DA line, a suburban environment hiding a deadly alien secret. The Heavenly Paradigm achieves this by dialling back the weirdness and simply presenting a Time Lord facility in a mundane setting. Most people use their under stairs cupboard to store dull things but here there is a hangar for experimental aircraft.

Standout Scene:
Imagine the potential energy that could be reaped from the death of one man who created an entire race of robotic monsters that spread across the galaxy. With growing dread we realise that the Master is going to wipe Cole from existence, and the creatures he created in The Sky Man, in order to extract that source of energy and use it to manipulate the Time War. Big, big ideas but made to impact emotionally because we have come to like Cole. It’s like eliminating Hitler, or Davros, from history. Except he’s a really nice guy.

Result: ‘This is not what I wanted!’ This is a conceptual horror, told sedately, but giving you a lot to think about. The temporal energy shenanigans reminded me of the latter eighth Doctor Adventure books, particularly Sometime Never…, and the concepts fascinated me for the same reason. I love how the events of the Sky Man play such a big part in this story, giving that tale additional weight. It’s astonishing how quiet this story is and how economical it is cast wise, and yet how far reaching the ideas discussed are. It goes to show that you can created something epic without resorting to a cast of a thousand shouting voices, Dalek porn and pointless battle scenes without pictures. It the ideas hold weight and are brought down to a human level so they are affecting, you’ve got something huge in scale but still intimate. It’s a delightful disparity. This whole set has been leading up to giving the Master the chance to play God and turn the universe to his design. The last time he had a chance to do something on this scale he wiped half of the damn universe out. This time he’s even less in control of the fallout. The sequence towards the end of the story where the paradigm is activated and the universe is constantly in flux is quite astonishing in its possibility. Bravo for tying this so effectively into the Master’s established New Series timeline. Bravo for giving Jacobi the chance to return to the role and prove what a joy he would have been had he stuck around a little longer. And bravo for making a fully fleshed out character who is honourable in some ways and completely foul in others but always quite charming in his approach either way. It’s been a mesmerising experiment, this set, and one that was very worth trying. I certainly wouldn’t object to hear more from the War Master. He’s more than proven that he is capable of driving a series of his own. Blakes’ 7 proved that it was more than possible to have an anti-hero at the helm of a series and Only the Good shows you how that would play out with one of the finest character actors in the country took hold of that responsibility and ran with it. A risky gambit, but a successful one: 8/10

Only the Good box set: 8/10

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