Thursday, 12 July 2018

The Eighth Doctor: Time War Vol. 2: The Lords of Terror written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it About: When the Doctor takes Bliss to her home colony, they discover that the Time War has got there first. Bliss finds her world altered beyond recognition, and the population working to serve new masters. No dissent is allowed. The Daleks are coming. The planet must be ready to fight them.

Physician, Heal Thyself: I think the Doctor is often reluctant to take his companions home because he is scared that they might leave him. That stretches right back to his first companions, Ian and Barbara. If the Doctor wants to know what has been going on on any particular planet he just asks the people who are running from guards. The Doctor condemns this society from the off, refusing to accept a civilisation that treats its people like slaves and that uses fear and brutality to keep them in line. The Doctor is often at his best when he gets to butt heads with his own people (Hartnell and the Monk, Troughton and the War Chief and all the others with the Master with a special mention for the sixth Doctor in Trial of a Time Lord) and McGann has the added fury of the Doctor’s reaction to the Time War to add fuel to his fire. He struggled gamely to generate interest in the first set despite his extreme efforts but when it is revealed what Carvil has done, I was fully on the Doctor’s side and way McGann spat the dialogue out left me with no illusions of the Doctor’s extreme hatred for this kind of twisted manipulation. It’s great stuff. The Doctor knows that if he doesn’t make a stand on this planet then it will become a blueprint for a Time lord Empire so terrible and utterly devoid of mercy.

Bless Bliss: Jonathan Morris is an extremely safe pair of hands when it comes to fleshing out companions since he has turned his hand to pretty much any and every companion in the shows entire run successfully. Bliss desperately needs some backstory and substance after her almost invisible presence in the first box set and Morris does the sensible thing of taking her back to her planet and seeing the impact of the Time War on her home. It’s a great shorthand to see where she has come from, what sort of family, who her friends are, etc before letting her loose in the universe with the Doctor. Of course, this is usually done in a companion’s introductory story but the first Time War box set was spending far too much time trying to be clever and mired in wartime clichés to focus on anything important like characterisation. Let’s call this a much-needed repair job. Her home city is Capitol city, Deralobia, and she has family waiting for her back there. He takes her home one month after they left. After discovering the footprint the Daleks have left on her world, Bliss won’t listen to the Doctor anymore, she’s determined to find her family. Her house completely demolished and she fears that her family is dead. The Doctor delivers a cold blow that her family might never have been born in this version of history, the Time War has a habit of swallowing up little details like that. Does that make her an orphan of the Time War? Bliss gets a wonderful moment where she gets to confront Carvil over the fate of her world. I’m not sure Thakrar sells the moment, but I appreciate it being there all the same. It’s precisely the sort of moment that Nyssa didn’t get in the eighties every time she came face to face with her father’s murderer. To have not included would have been quite the omission. If a time storm blows across the surface of her home world it will mean that nothing will ever live there again. Is she ready to face that? The ending where Bliss gets to confront the Doctor over what his people have done is powerful, but again I’m not entirely sure the acting is up to scratch.

Standout Performance: I don’t know what to make of Rakee Thakrar because she’s clearly an actress of some talent (many a well-respected actor has made their mark in a soap opera) and yet she plays the part of Bliss as though she is still treading the cracked paving of Albert Square. It’s such a naturalistic performance and I don’t mean that in a good way because it’s naturalistic in the way that she’s crossing dimensions and hopping planets but reacting to it in such blasé fashion you might think she’s nipping from the Queen Vic to the market. Maybe I just need to get used to the style. There’s something very new series about having a modern-day outlook on these adventures, and it’s something that has worked to Big Finish’s advantage with characters like Flip. However, Bliss is supposed to be from outer space in the far future so I’m not sure why she sounds quite so contemporary.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Indoctrination through crowd psychology. Somebody’s been reading Orwell.’
‘You think choosing the lesser evil excuses evil.’

Great Ideas: Bliss’ home world has been attacked by the Daleks; they attacked the cities, positioned the air and polluted the seas. It’s expedient for the population to believe that they are under constant threat and so the government make it so. In truth the Daleks attacked 20 years ago and haven’t been back since. Turning the people into a slave race through propaganda and you can get them to build you a huge rocket. Carvil came to Deralobia for the specific intention of turning it into a war machine. You have to feel sorry for a planet that has been duped into thinking it had a devastating attack by the Daleks 20 years ago…now having to suffer an attack by the Daleks! Because the Time Lords are symbiotically linked to their TARDISes, they will self-destruct if their operators are murdered. So those pesky Daleks better watch out if they feel like nipping a Time Lord with an exterminating blast.

Audio Landscape: The sound of gunfire terrifies when you realise that anybody is fair game. The sound designer makes no secret of the fact that these bullets will tear their victims apart. Hooray for the Cushing movie sound effects that play during the control room scenes.

Musical Cues: I still adore the War Doctor theme tune. I do a crazy little dance when the staccato drums start banging. Let’s hope the second season lives up to this twisted version of the regular Doctor Who theme tune.

Isn’t it Odd: Notice how a few Daleks dance about unobtrusively on the covers whilst the actors taking part in this story take centre stage. At this point in the various Time War releases the Daleks’ are no long any kind of draw, and their quiet inclusion on the cover feels like tokenism to their continued presence. Am I really complaining because the Daleks feature in a Time War release? No, I’m bemoaning the fact that Big Finish had flogged the Daleks to death BEFORE they started playing about with New Series continuity. Having characters chant ‘Death to the Daleks!’ in defiance of the oncoming taskforce is not only familiar, those exact words have already been chanting several times over and it was even the title of a previous releases. What else is there to say about these creatures that hasn’t already been said a million times over? ‘Given we are at war, certain moral compromises are an unfortunate necessity…’ – it’s unoriginal dialogue like that that hung around the neck of the first series. Even the Doctor states that it all sounds very rehearsed.

Standout Scene: There’s a glorious moment where we venture out onto the planets surface and it is revealed that there are other city domes, all building their own rockets. A fleet is in the making, one that has been constructed through fear attacks that never happened.

Result: ‘Then they would know that their protector was a puppet with a Time Lord pulling the strings…’ Trust Jonathan Morris to give the Time War a dash of emotion so the audience can actually feel something about the bibbly bobbly slimey blimey events that are taking place. It was something that was irritating me like a rotten tooth in the first box set – the lack of feeling for anything that was happening which made it feel like a bunch of hoary war clichés that was impossible to give a damn about. From the off Morris takes a strong character approach to the Time War, showing its impact on the Doctor’s new companion Bliss which has the twofold strength of handed her a personality for the first time and making this world one that I can connect with emotionally. It’s not just another casualty in the Time War, another number, it’s the world that gave the Doctor his latest friend and it has been raped and twisted by the Daleks. I love the idea that the problem (the Daleks attacking) and the solution (the revolution and their rocket) are already set up when the Doctor arrives. This feels like a dangerous world, a bit like Earth in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, where people behave in abominable ways because they are scared of the Daleks. The approach is really intriguing, it shows the emotional reaction to an attack rather than focusing on the attack itself. The twist is a brilliant one, that nothing is quite what it seems from the point of view of the people and that the Time Lords have behaved abominably badly, which is usually the most interesting thing that any writer can do with them. What’s interesting is that there isn’t really an original idea in this story; the Time Lords are usually right bastards during this era, people have reacted badly to threat of the Daleks before and the Doctor has fought against the twisted schemes of his own people countless times. And yet to take such a psychological approach to the Time War it feels like we are ploughing fresh furrows because it gives the Doctor something meaty to rail against and a moral attitude backed up by fire. The resulting scenes where he vows to bring this torrid affair to an end feel fully justified and for a time I couldn’t tell where this story was going to end. That’s a really nice feeling. So is the fact that the Time Lord responsible for all this given a solid character motive for his actions. Is there dramatic mileage in the Time War? Before I listened to this story I would have said it was doubtful, so I’m very pleased to have been proven wrong. Thank goodness for Jonathan Morris. For once the Daleks attacking is a moment of delicious irony: 9/10

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jonathan Morris should have written for the New series on TV