Tuesday, 3 July 2018

The Demon Rises written by John Dorney and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: A killer has been uncovered, but the mystery is far from solved. The Doctor, Leela, K9 and their friends are on the run, pursued from all sides. All the clues point to one place - but getting there alive may prove impossible. Something horrific is happening on Chaldera… and it has been happening for longer than anyone could possibly have realised. Now every life on the planet is at stake. Bar one. The dark secret at the heart of this world is about to be revealed.

Teeth and Curls: Maybe his encounter with Mr Shift is what gave the Doctor the idea to flush the Master out in Logopolis. The Doctor condemns the President for his actions but the criticism lacks foundation because the Doctor hasn’t had a scene with him before this and has learnt very little about him. Neither has the audience. The Doctor gets very uncharacteristically nasty at one point (‘Control yourself…or do I have to get K.9 to stun you?’). I wouldn’t mind seeing a little more of his teeth like this, a bit like his outrageous rant in The Pirate Planet or his denunciation of the Deciders in Full Circle. The Doctor has no compunction in telling Chaldera that it has no right to continue procreating until all life in the universe is consumed. He speaks for the validity of the lives of everybody else this monstrosity will devour. It’s an interesting debate and one that I wish the story had more time to explore. Had The Mind Runners not spent its entire running time pretending to be a completely different story we might have gotten to this discussion a little quicker and been able to have Genesis of the Daleks level of moral debate. The Doctor does what he does best, start a revolution.

Noble Savage: Trust Louise Jameson to tap into something as extraordinary as suggesting that actors are doing a form of mind running when they performing and taking on a new persona. They are taking hold of a character that the writer has created and fill their mind with their own thoughts and feelings on that particular person. It’s a fascinating notion. ‘A man on water is invisible in rain…a man on water can pass between locked doors…’ You see, that Leela procedural drama is being set up even as we speak.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘All the Kings horses and all the Kings men couldn’t put Pritchard together again!’

Standout Performance: Hurrah for Andy Secombe who imbues Mr Shift with a camp menace that sets him out from the rest of the cast, who are playing their parts with absolute earnestness. I'm glad he makes it out of this story to live another day.

Great Ideas: It's suggested that K.9 has quite a bite. I love it when he gets the chance to do a spot of acting (think The Armageddon Factor) and his turn as one of the Digitals is very enjoyable. If you can alter your atomic state like Mr Shift you would be practically indestructible. His experiments weaken the molecular bonds within him leaving his individual particles without cohesion. Every part of him was torn apart, including his mind. That makes Mr Shift one of the more threatening of psychopaths that the Doctor has encountered. It takes an enormous strength of will to make himself coherent…but since he can control his own atoms he can literally do anything he wants, be anything he wants, get anywhere he wants. The notion of the President betraying his own people and clearing off while they are forced to stay and suffer sounds pretty accurate in today’s political climate. The fact that his betrayal is paid in kind is very satisfying. Chaldera started off as one original settlement, which right where they built the rocket. The people didn’t build the city of Chaldera, the city built the people. The Founders were grown in incubators. Chaldera grew to dominate by absorbing every other settlement on the planet. Absorbing and consuming. Chaldera is a living carnivore of unusual malignancy. The Night Mind is Chaldera itself.

Standout Scene: The twist that reveals what happened to the people that built the rocket who have gone missing is worth waiting for. It’s a disgusting notion, and one which is that features in a memorably grisly sequence because the Doctor and Leela experience the horror of it first hand (see, show don’t tell).

Result: I have never known a Doctor Who story that started off running in one direction and ended up double backing on itself and starting a completely different race. From where we begin to where we end…the two simply aren’t reconcilable. From a Blade Runner-esque crime drama to b movie attack of the blob, it’s certainly not a Doctor Who story you can predict. Murder, a missing scientist, mind crime, a sentient puddle, digital nasties, a rocket construction, a malignant entity…the last time I felt there was such a shopping list of ideas I was being dazzled by Steven Moffat’s Forest of the Dead. It’s worrying that John Dorney is script editing this range and yet seems incapable her of bringing all these ideas together coherently. He’s a proven talent, but all the same this script is like a circus juggler throwing lots of lovely notions in the air but with no idea how to catch them all satisfactorily. I think it’s the characters that are a big part of the problem. I’ve always said that the characters are the way for the audience to experience the story. That’s why I can always enjoy a Russell T Davies era story, almost without exception, because no matter how bad the plot is, the characterisation was often very relatable and engaging. However, I never felt kinship with anybody from Chaledra; they fret and threaten and squabble but that ability to empathise with people from another world is completely absent. As a result, I was listening to a lot of this story omnisciently rather than experiencing it intimately. Which is a damn shame because the strengths in part two were even more apparent than part one; some genuinely disturbing moments, Leela completely out of place in a SF procedural drama and yet proving her worth and then some, the addition of a political angle that sketches in a little more of this world, the application of the ideas introduced in The Mind Runners in some imaginative ways. Chaldera is a vivid world and Nicholas Briggs and Jamie Robertson (always a terrific combination) have given it life on audio in an immersive way (I especially love the persistent rain). It’s a story that demands you pay attention, which will lose a third of the audience already for those of you who prefer an audio story that simply washes over you (I don’t mean that as a criticism, just that focus on the details are important. I’m not sure if this is supposed to be a murder mystery, a disaster tale (the rocket building), a clash of the titans (the Doctor versus Chaldera), a social commentary (bored youths seeking entertainment in mind running) or a moral debate (the food chain argument)…it winds up being all of those things. Just because you have the extra time in a four-part story, it doesn’t mean you have to exploit quite this much to the full. Intelligently grounded in smart ideas, The Demon Rises is as frustratingly disjointed as it’s predecessor but containing too much that is novel for this range to write off. I’ve never experienced an audio quite like it, where I cannot entirely praise or condemn: 6/10

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