Thursday, 28 June 2018

The Sons of Kaldor written by Andrew Smith and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: Finding themselves in a seemingly deserted spaceship on an alien world, the Doctor and Leela stumble into some familiar foes - the Voc robots from the planet Kaldor - and… something else. Something outside. Trying to get in. Reviving the robot’s Kaldoran commander from hibernation, the travellers discover that they’ve found themselves in the middle of a civil war. The ship was hunting the Sons of Kaldor, an armed resistance group working with alien mercenaries to initiate regime change on their homeworld. But now the Sons of Kaldor may have found them. The Doctor and Leela will have to pick a side. Or die.

Teeth and Curls: An unusually clinical Tom Baker for this story, which makes quite a refreshing change. It feels as though he stuck to the script absolutely for this story, and that there were few nutty innovations by the main man along the way. In Smith’s hands (he has form for writing Tom obviously given his debut script for the series) he’s scientific, not senseless, urgent, not indulgent. I love his ‘how very Luddite of you’ about the idea of rounding up the robots and getting rid of them. He doesn’t have to say anything else, the historical comment explains everything. Should that Doctor be used as an expository tool like this? When you only have two episodes and this much plot…maybe. But Tom has a way of making all this gobbledegook convincing and engaging.

Noble Savage: If you factor in her TV stories, comic strips, original novels, Big Finish 4DAs, Gallifrey and Jago & Litefoot then Leela has had a mammoth amount of stories to her name. So why don’t I get bored of her like I do of Ace who has had a similarly impressive wealth of stories. The answer is Louise Jameson, one of the most striking, thoughtful actresses to ever appear in Doctor Who who continually finds interesting things to say and do with the character. She’s invested in Leela one hundred percent, you only have to listen to her talk in the extras to realise the effort she is going to find new shades, subtleties and nuances to the character. And that’s a character who is ALREADY interesting because of her nature, and her contrast with the Doctor and the universe that she is exploring. Don’t get me wrong I’m pleased we are exploring the idea of a new companion for the 4th Doctor next season but Leela continues to enthral, and it is primarily down to Jameson’s skill as an actress. Leela will say ‘about half of one hour’ instead of ‘half an hour ago.’ Leela’s relationship with V9 is beautifully done, with Leela reacting very gently to the robot because of his mannerly way. It’s like two children talking like adults.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘This can’t be all of you: Two Vocs, four Dums!’

Standout Performance: I would recognise Toby Hadoke’s voice anywhere! John Dorney provides a perfect balance of the emotionless and the childlike for SV9, a character that is up there with D84 as one of the best robots in the series. You can’t help but like him, and Dorney has a lot to do with that.

Great Ideas: Quite unexpectedly, the opening scenes are very to the point. The Doctor and Leela arrive on a dead spaceship and investigate immediately without any of the frivolities that usually plague the 4DAs. It makes for an immediately arresting opening. It feels as though Andrew Smith has refined the first part of a four-part Doctor Who story into ten minutes of urgent examination. The Voc robots have their memories wiped every two months in case they fall into the hands of the enemy. They have powered down and tried to make themselves undetectable to the outside world. The Sons of Kaldor are the enemy in this civil war. Three years ago they attempting a coup, but it failed. Then they regrouped and swelled their numbers and became a serious fighting force. Their aim is to topple the government and replace the leaders with members of the Founding Families, considered by some to be over privileged dictators. A stealth ship run by intelligence officers, fitted with camouflage technology, designed to burrow into the ground, wait and watch. Rebben Tace is the leader of the Sons of Kaldor, and claims to be from the bloodline of the Founding Families. One of the first decrees of the Second Republic was to abolish the robots, to round them up and destroy them. What would a thinking, learning robot do if it learnt that it’s kind was being culled? It would try and help others of its kind to survive.

Audio Landscape: It’s worth mentioning in a story like The Sons of Kaldor about how impressed I am with Big Finish’s ability to capture the sound effects of classic era Doctor Who stories and evoke them in your memory. It’s a particularly useful skill give the purchasers of Big Finish adventures are primarily old hats like me trying to capture out lost youth and the feeling those old stories gave us (or at least I’m assuming that is what their target audience is, especially with this range that seems to err on the side of nostalgia over innovation). I was struck by the ambiance of Robots of Death I got in the opening scenes with everything from the Voc voices to the door panels to the background noise of the Command Deck.

Result: A ruthlessly efficient Doctor Who story, and I don’t mean that as a criticism. There are some places in the dark recesses of the internet that will try and convince you that The Sons of Kaldor is a 10/10 Doctor Who classic, much like everything else that Big Finish produce. Don’t believe that kind of hype. But it is a refined piece of work, like Andrew Smith has looked at a four-part Doctor Who story and managed to trim all the fat, extract all the extraneous material not pertinent to the plot and produce a script that revels in it’s straight to the pointedness. I admire it for that because the 4DAs have an alarming ability to feel indulgent. The flip side is that lose a lot of the charm and humour that Doctor Who usually trades in for a much colder, clinical approach. Even the Doctor (perhaps unthinkable with Tom) is kept very tightly on a leash. The investigation of the setting, the discovery of the robots, the Commander in suspension, the Sons of Kaldor…the plot builds very naturally and it’s clear that Smith, one of the most concise narrative builders the series has ever known, is in full control of the piece as a whole. It’s almost a little too neat but I can’t say I didn’t get carried away with events. Episode two introduces a new perspective on the story, which keeps things fresh. By introducing the Ferelin it adds a new dimension to the Kaldor City/Robots of Death setting and much like New Earth it is an environment that was conjured originally with enough extra detail that an entire series could be set within it’s confines, and so a Doctor Who story has no trouble at all. I liked the sympathetic tone towards the robots too. Less Robots of Death, more Robots Avoiding Rest. Perhaps we could have done with a little more incident and a little less explanation, but with a plot that unfolds so much perhaps that was inevitable. If you’re a fan of Doctor Who it would be hard to actively dislike The Sons of Kaldor, even if you don’t like it’s quick about it pace and pressing tone. It’s cowboys and Indians in space with Voc robots thrown in for good measure, it recalls a Doctor Who classic and features the Doctor at his most apposite: 7/10

1 comment:

dark said...

I rather enjoyed this one. I actually get the feeling that bf are trying to wake the 4d adventures up, this is the most nostalgic of the current series, but even it covered a lot of ground and actually did something interesting with an old setting, and did so without feeling like a retread of robophobia.

Ironically for me, since I only saw the robots of death comparatively recently, there wasn't the nostalgia factor there for me about it, indeed I heard robophobia first, but I enjoyed this one for what it was, a workmanlike story with robots and aliens exploring an alien planet.

Also interesting that the Doctor didn't try to overthrow the hole government at the end either.