Thursday, 24 May 2018

The Thief Who Stole Time written by Marc Platt and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: A god has died. A crime has been committed. And an even greater threat lies beneath the surface. On the ocean world of Funderell, Romana has been reunited with her old friend from Gallifrey, Sartia, and the Doctor is investigating the history and religion of this strange world. But events have quickly spiralled out of control. Why is this planet of such interest to the Time Lords? What lurks in the depths? The life of more than one world is at stake. But time is running out.

Teeth and Curls: I’ve had my criticisms about both Tom Baker (who occasionally tips into self-parody when playing the part) and his range (more like the standard of writing from certain quarters) but it has to be said that when he knuckles down and gives a committed and focuses turn he is still the best Doctor we have ever had. It’s there in Foe From the Future, it was there is The Paradox Planet and it’s here in Marc Platt’s four part finale to season six. He shows appropriate concern for those around him, he’s willing to get anxious in the stressful moments, he has delightful chemistry with his companion and he smartly and intelligently tackles the problem at hand. It’s become easy to criticise the fourth Doctor on audio so I think it’s time the tables were turned a little and Big Tom was given the praise he deserves. Baker gets the chance to narrate at one point, which just goes to show what a gorgeously rich voice he has for audio. He literally makes the words come alive. How very Tom Baker to enter a scene and apologise for a recently deceased God.

Aristocratic Adventurer: There’s a spectacular moment when the usually unflappable Romana is rescued and she’s practically in floods of tears because she thought she was going to drown. We could do with a little more of that kind of danger for these two because this really feels like breaking new ground for them. You just know she is going to tear Sartia’s head off when she gets the chance. Sartia’s anger towards her makes her question if she really was that obnoxious in her previous incarnation but the assures her it was just over confidence. It’s not the most probing of evaluations of her character but I do appreciate the effort all the same. The only way that Romana could ever be tricked into letting Sartia into the TARDIS would be if she thought the Doctor was in danger. The Doctor couldn’t ask for more in a companion, that’s how he makes her feel better when she questions how everybody hated her in the Academy. It doesn’t matter who she was, it’s who she is that counts.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Anyone can do naïve! You look at me…how else am I so charming?’
‘I’ll make it dance until the stars bleed!’
‘Prydon Prejudice!’

Great Ideas: I love how the storytelling device that was employed at the beginning of the previous episode and was so unusual and off-putting is now deployed to spin the events The Skin of the Sleek and now includes the Doctor and Romana. It mythologises them, places them in a myth. You’ve got to love being exposed as a villain but not to all of the characters and so we get to enjoy melodramatic supervillain Sartia lamenting over Romana after she has just placed her in peril. Funderell’s depths and it’s great panoply of flora and fauna are all one great big entity. Too many parallel times coursing through one area of space…and Funderell is the plug! There’s a lethal conjunction of timelines at the heart of the world but the depths and creatures form a specific pattern designed to seal the anomaly in. The Time Lords knew how to build planets in those days and this one is particularly ecologically elegant. With control of the timelines Sartia thinks that she will become a God. She’s annoyed that these kind of dirty secrets are the ones that the Time Lords never reveal to their up and coming students. She’s so potty she’s willing to hand some control over to Romana and create both the Sartiaverse and the Manaverse! I love the idea of being able to grab hold of threads of timelines and weave them into a universe of your own making. It’s those sorts of brain expanding concepts that I really love Doctor Who for sometimes.

Isn’t It Odd: Given that everything was kicking off so spectacularly at the end of the last episode, the first ten minutes of The Thief Who Stole Time are very quiet and subdued. I wondered if Sartia had just buggered off and abandoned her plans. Leaving Romana for a while was a smart move though because it genuinely gets us worried about her fate. Ultimately it is very predictable that Sartia will bite off more than she can chew with this planet sized plug. I was just waiting for the inevitable to happen and her arrogance to punish her.

Standout Scene: Sartia, insane with megalomania, playing the timelines like a musical instrument and making the universe sing to her tune.

Result: ‘The universe is mine!’ I tell you what Marc Platt…you think big. It’s very rare for Marc Platt and I to have an off day together and even if I am not insanely enthused by something he has written, I always appreciate the detail of his world building, the poetry of his dialogue and the subtlety of his characterisation. Ever since Ghost Light through his novels onto Big Finish, Platt has been a trailblazer for high concept, intelligent and memorable tales. His four parter at the end of season six is no different and once again he is plunging into the depths of Time Lord history to air some of the dirty laundry. That’s how I like the Time Lords portrayed, terrifying mythical bastards who weave planets to plug holes in space time and forget about the consequences. In an audio season that fails to capture the essence of it’s intended era, I’m pleased to say that Platt and Bentley have finally managed to evoke something of season 18 thanks to inclusion of a world with secrets (Full Circle, Logopolis), an ignorant society that is part of the mythology (State of Decay) and a rogue Time Lord up to no good (The Keeper of Traken). It’s the best use of the Doctor and Romana all season too, which is generally seen the main man acting in a very frivolous fashion and the leading lady frown her way through the stories. Here they are both engaged, the Mighty Tom getting his teeth into his exploration of the planet and the Time Lord involvement and Romana facing up to the disappointments of her past in the form of her relationship with Sartia. The villainess isn’t the subtlest the series has ever seen but Joanna Tincey gets to play the part full throttle now the Time Lady’s bonkers plan is revealed. And villainesses are always fun. It’s so nice to point some positivity at this range after writing so many reviews complaining about the same points. The Skin of the Sleek and The Thief That Stole Time aren’t perfect, but they are trying very hard to be different, with vivid imagery and bold concepts. More like this please: 8/10

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