Friday, 27 April 2018

Wild Pastures written by James Goss and directed by Helen Goldwyn

What’s it about: Strange things are happening at the Wild Pastures Rest Home. When the Doctor calls on the Nobles to investigate, he doesn’t expect Sylvia to be the one to step up. Soon, they’re in too deep, and the Doctor and Sylvia will need all their faculties to get out alive.

Mockney Dude: It’s not that the Doctor ever went in for grand plans, especially these days but just for once he had put something together in advance. The seventh Doctor would be appalled that he has gotten out of the habit. The Doctor adores Wilf and the fun that they have together. The Doctor and Wilf share a love of naughtiness, of cute furtiveness, which is probably why they get along so well. The Doctor might be a Time Lord but Sylvia isn’t impressed, a man across the road bought himself a knighthood from the back of the Radio Times! At one moment the Doctor gives Sylvia and thousand-year stare that cuts through all that niceness and it makes her shiver. His anger flares like a wild fire even when he’s debilitated. Ultimately it isn’t Sylvia that got some rest in the car home…it’s the Doctor!

Matriarch: I said to my friend Jack the other day (a guy who I met through this very blog and who I have a debate with on practically a daily basis) that I was really looking forward to listening to this release because I love me a bit of Sylvia Noble. He couldn’t comprehend this, seeing her as the ultimate sourpuss of the Doctor Who universe. I disagreed and we went on to have quite the conversation about how she was written and portrayed, Jack taking the stance that Sylvia never truly showed any love towards Donna and me saying that that was the point. That she does love her but that love is expressed in dissatisfaction, hopelessness and general combativeness. It reminded of Russell T Davies talking about the nature of mother and daughters in a Toby Hadoke podcast from Big Finish, that eternal struggle where if only they could figure out how to work together they would be a formidable force. My mum and sister were always at war growing up, never quite finding common ground way into adulthood and so I recognise this emotional warfare between Sylvia and Donna and that how sad it is that the only way they seem to be able to communicate is through displeasure with each other. It’s sad, it’s human, it’s complex and it feels very real to me. The moment in Journey’s End when she defends her relationship with her daughter and the Doctor berates her for never praising her is key. The Doctor can’t understand it either. But Sylvia will protect her daughter until the day she dies, even if she can’t stand the sight of her half the time. Ah, mothers and daughters.

Wilf is far too much of a free spirit for a retirement home. Sylvia can complain her way through anything and the Wild Pastures retirement home gives her plenty of reason to moan, from the colour of the wall to the filthiness of the cutlery. She has standards, its clear. She thinks if anyone deserves a holiday, it’s her. She doesn’t quite trust the Doctor because he acts like he is everyone’s best friend all the time and you can’t be nice to everyone all the time. Sylvia discuses foreign workers in a ‘seen but not heard’ sort of way that exemplifies the casual racism of the middle classes in this country perfectly. That that becomes an important plot point later makes it a doubly impressive moment. There’s a moment where Sylvia thinks she has been forgotten in the care home and that she is starting to lose her marbles. It must be something that everybody goes through when they are left to rot at last chance saloon. She’s a prisoner, passing helpless days of loneliness. Other people scare but not Sylvia Noble and so whilst there had been a report of ghosts being seen in the not too recent past, she didn’t believe in them. She’s never let a man intimidate her…the bigger they come the higher their centre of gravity! I don’t think I could have loved her more at this point. She’s vicious with the Doctor when it comes to trying to rouse him at the climax (‘Don’t you ruin my life as well!’).

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You’re not dragging Wilf off to Venus, he’s not unloaded the dishwasher!’ – RTD Doctor Who in a nutshell, from the extraordinary to the mundane.
‘She always comes up here for a nap after Lorraine Kelly. She exhausts her.’

Great Ideas: The Wild pastures brochures were all about promoting a youthful way of life for the nearly dead but the reality is a bunch of institutionalised old cronies sitting around on plastic sofas watching television until their time is up. That sounds like the reality for some care homes, trying to write off the elderly. The thorns on the Saga plant contain a neuro-toxin which extracts memories and experiences as well as a lot of vicious enzymes that break down the left overs of their victims. They take the best of the elderly in the home, their memories, and then leave them a shocking blue puddle of nothing. All the nursing staff are identical clones. Low level, low intelligence and best of all, low cost. When it is suggested that humanity has not come up with a better arrangement to deal with the elderly than what Solutions offers, keeping their memories intact but draining off the useless body, it has to be said that he has a point.

Standout Scene: All the different names that Doctor calls Sylvia as his memory fades is very, very funny. Ethel indeed. Just when you think the Doctor is going to take care of the climax as he wakes up to have his big speech, he didn’t count on who is his companion in this story (or rather that he is her companion!) and Sylvia takes the reins and is more than a match for the villains. Remember it takes nuclear devastation and the loss of everybody she loves to bring this woman down. She’s terrifying!

Result: ‘Do you know what I see here? A bunch of sad old people and a company that doesn’t keep an eye on them…’ Surprisingly thoughtful and funny, Wild Pastures would have made a delightful mid-season four adventure. I wouldn’t want to lose it but this could have taken the slot of The Unicorn and the Wasp, the sort of placing before the season arc starts getting really forceful. The care home setting for this story and the subject matter that springs from it is something that is quite close to my heart. The idea of being led to one these places and abandoned, feeling trapped and without hope is something that is facing someone in my family at the moment and James Goss captured that feeling of obsolescence really well. And having it experienced by Sylvia Noble, somebody who is in full control of her faculties and can cut through crap and tell you exactly what the situation is makes for riveting listening, especially since even she starts to feel isolated and that she is losing it. What I love about Sylvia Noble here (aside from Jacqueline King’s ever reliable performance) was that the story did not need to be told in the usual companion chronicles format with an emphasis on internal narration but instead it’s practically all told through dialogue because Sylvia is never ever short of an opinion or two. In that way it is packed full of character work and we get a real insight into her stance on the Doctor (a teddy bear with a glint in his eyes), Wilf (naughtiness personified) and Donna (what’s the point?). With King refusing to shy away from her more unlikable characteristics, this story feels the most authentic of all. It leaves Dudman with less to do, but then this box set shouldn’t be a one-man performance show. As outstanding as that performance is. It provides some variety. Saying this she becomes the Doctor’s saviour before the end of the story and proves that that steel can be put to phenomenal use when she is threatened. Thoughtful in its subject matter, an intriguing alien plan, terrific characterisation and some typically smart James Goss dialogue, Wild pastures is massively enjoyable and the best of the set so far: 8/10

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