Sunday, 9 December 2018

Warlock’s Cross written by Steve Lyons and directed by Jamie Anderson

What’s it about: It’s time the truth was told. About UNIT. About the Cybermen invasion. About the so-called ‘Doctor’. About what happened all those years ago, at Warlock’s Cross. About the man they keep locked up in a cage, in a secret prison… It’s time. Because UNIT scientific adviser Elizabeth Klein is going to help ensure the truth is brought to light. Today’s the day… that UNIT falls.

The Real McCoy:
He tries to namedrop Brigadier Bambera but nobody seems to know who she is. Klein describes him as UNITs greatest asset but he certainly hasn’t done anything at that point in the story to have earnt that reputation. I find the stories where McCoy goes solo often bring out the best in his performance, capitalising on his melancholic side. However, in a story full of odious grunts, to have the Doctor behaving in a moody and morally ambiguous way too means there is literally nobody to latch onto to like. Except Klein, and that just seems odd to me, that she should be more of an audience identification figure than the Doctor. Hopkins does ask a pertinent question about the Doctor. Given how many alien incursions he has thwarted and how many aliens he has personally killed, why should any visitor to this planet trust him? The last thing he ever wanted to be was a soldier but sometimes the threat to your life is so massive that you have to fight back. Klein admits that the Doctor uses people as pawns and sacrifices them if he has to. It’s said in such a matter of fact way that it doesn’t really make much of an impact. Klein thinks he just likes to be in control. Hopkins wonders what it will take to make this version of the Doctor ruffle his feathers and I almost wish he hadn’t because McCoy is at his least convincing when he plays at losing his temper. Whatever is being whispered in the Doctor’s head by Ship is nothing that anybody else needs to know, or hear. One man against an army, how do you beat those odds?

Nazi Scientist: I got the sense that this is in no way the character that Steve Lyons wrote for the Klein trilogy and that he wasn’t quite sure what to do with her, hence her being so sparingly used throughout. She certainly seems to have lost a lot of her bite that made her so attractive a character in the first place. Generally speaking I got the sense that the developments from Daleks Among Us were ignored (thank goodness) but what we were left was a neutered version of a character who used to keep me on my toes waiting to see what way she will jump next. Her relationship with the Doctor was always a fascinating one but it seems to have been replaced with something much less acerbic and more based on respect, no matter how much she criticises him at parts. I also felt that McCoy and Childs didn’t quite have the same acidic chemistry as before, and I’m not sure why, Maybe too much time has passed. Remember that terrific moment in Colditz (‘Built on how many corpses?’) where the Doctor angrily condemns Klein’s morality and way of life? There was nowhere near that level of fury here, but in a story that is built around paranoia and how these characters affect one another, there really should have been. Klein’s work is mostly in research these days because the 90’s is mostly quiet in terms of alien incursions on the Earth (hoho). Despite the fact that so much has happened in his life since they last met, the Doctor has no problems in remembering precisely who Daniel Hopkins is when he is placed in a cell next to him. She knows that it is Ship manipulating her but she also thinks there is some truth to the fact that the Doctor has changed her path in life. The Doctor says she has a remarkable brain.

Standout Performance: I found this to be the weakest of Blake Harrison’s performances because no real attempt to suggest the madness and loneliness that he would have felt being incarcerated by UNIT for a decade. Harrison plays the part with a detached, distant solemnity, which makes perfect sense but did not make for particularly riveting scenes. The idea of following this character’s story over three tales and to get close to a UNIT operative that was let down by the organisation in such a massive way was an interesting one. Imagine if it had been Benton or Yates? But Daniel proves a little uninteresting ultimately because it feels as though there was no real point to this journey, or that the three writers didn’t collaborate to ensure that it was a satisfying ride (which it has been so far) and conclusion. Daniel was perky and eager in The Helliax Rift and bitter and angry in Hour of the Cybermen, which both afforded Blake some decent acting opportunity. Here he’s just your standard Doctor Who nutter, without any of the emotional investment we might have given him. What does he want now? It’s been so long since it even mattered, he answered. And it’s a crying shame that he should wind up such a nebulous character.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The worst thing is how the world keeps turning without you…’ That’s a genuinely upsetting line that captures Daniel’s incarceration better than the rest of the script.

Great Ideas:
The Spa is a medical facility for the victims of close encounters (hence Klein can cause a distraction by name dropping a Krynoid infection). It is somewhere to house (hide) them whilst treatment is attempted. It reminds me of the Initiative from series four of Buffy, a place to dump all of their alien nasties and try and learn from them. Warlock’s Cross was never entirely abandoned. It was assumed that those studying an alien in the facility triggered off a biological defence. A thought powered ship, phasing between dimensions, the shock of its materialisation unleashing a deadly blast of psychic energy. A spaceship out of phase with our reality.

Isn’t it Odd: When you promise that tomorrow is the day the UNIT falls you better be damn well sure you can live up to that promise. I question whether UNIT should be painted in such an ugly light as it is here. Even those within have nothing especially complimentary to say about the organisation. Their treatment of those who fall in their care are abandoned. And the people running the joint are unlikeable. The Brigadier and his motley crew who aided the Doctor in his work during the 70s would be appalled. My question is what is the point of making UNIT quite this unpleasant if it isn’t to bring this era of the administration to an end and see a new one take flight? The alternative to UNIT is to approach alien visitors without soldiers and weapons? That seems a perfectly reasonable response on the surface but I can think several hundred alien visitors that would have taken over the planet by now had that been the greeting they had received. The paranoia that this story is trying to brew up would be better served if we understood these characters with more clarity. It feels like a bunch of separate people thrown together for the express purpose of having them turn on each other, which doesn’t feel at all natural. ‘I wouldn’t say anyone here is especially trustworthy’, says Hopkins and he has a very good point. As they were squabbling amongst themselves I found myself wondering why I should care if any of them make it out alive. I think we’re supposed to hate the Colonel for threatening to flatten the facility with bombs but given that was how the show chose to end every other story in the early 70s, with the Brig calling in the big boys and so it’s hardly something we can condemn Price for. Irritatingly there is a scene featuring a much younger Daniel and Blake doesn’t seem to have adjusted his performance at all. I would have expected him to have gone for a much chirpier, energetic turn as his younger, uncorrupted self. Daniel wants the human race to suffer so agonisingly that when the Cybermen return we are begging for conversion. He’s truly lost the plot at this point. Ultimately the Ship is no serious threat at all. It’s all talk. How the Doctor stops that threat is decidedly underwhelming. You can go to sleep now. It doesn’t feel like a climax at all. This particularly ugly brand of UNIT is allowed to continue on its merry way at the conclusion, Klein brushes off her fears about the Doctor and herself, Maxwell agrees to therapy and is suddenly convinced that UNIT might be a place for her after all. It feels like the laziest end for all of these characters imaginable. ‘It hasn’t been for nothing, has it?’ asks Klein. Ahem.

Standout Scene:
The third cliffhanger, where it looks like the Doctor is going to rewrite history, promises that the climax is going to be a memorable one.

Result: I expected this to be the strongest of the UNIT trilogy, not the weakest. The seventh Doctor and Klein heading into a dangerous and abandoned UNIT facility to discover what catastrophe occurred should is the sort of premises that most Big Finish audios dream of. What should have been a gripping, claustrophobic nightmare instead turns out to be a flaccid, paceless unpleasant mess of a tale featuring no characters that it was possible to get behind or cheer for. I’ve heard complaints that the first UNIT story in this trilogy, The Helliax Rift, lacked any agreeable characters. Well whoever made those complaints had better hold onto their hats for this ride as everybody from the return of Klein and Daniel Hopkins to the Doctor to the UNIT personnel and those who oppose them is written in the same flat, uncompromising and monotonous manner. I couldn’t give a damn about any of them. Instead of the oppressive ‘trapped with nowhere to hide’ atmosphere I was expecting, the lack of anything resembling pace meant our faceless characters walk around endlessly whilst a voice whispers at them in the shadows and they discuss a whole lot of nothing. I expect a great deal more from Steve Lyons, who has been providing knockout Big Finish scripts practically since they started making audios and from Jamie Anderson, who in turn has been one of the standout directors of the past couple of years and has barely set a foot wrong. I try to head into these listens with as few preconceptions as possible but with that writer/director combination I really couldn’t help but get my hopes up. This neutered, compromising, complimentary Klein is a far cry from the cold-hearted strategist that we started out with. She’s lost her bite and that is the greatest tragedy in a story that could have seen her undo all the damage of the previous trilogy she featured in and get back to the Nazi bitch we all know and love. As usual McCoy verges between brilliant and awful but the guy needs a script with a lot more life to it to excel in (last month’s The Quantum Possibility engine, for example). In the last episode he delivers every line as though he is on the verge of falling asleep. There is the odd brilliant line or a suggestion that the story might head in an interesting direction but for the most part this is a flat drama, not so much failing to get into orbit and more like failing to move from the launch pad at all. I genuinely thought this would be the best main range adventure of the year. Instead it ranks lower than the sole Matthew J. Elliot effort. This is the day that UNIT falls? Not even close: 4/10


Anonymous said...

I was not loving this one. It did have some great moments, as you observed. I think they went to the well too much on your her previous identity. This was a bit better than the trilogy they did with Will Arrowsmith (a character that might have worked with a softer touch). I think if they go back to the story with the Dimensoneers they can figure out the right way to use Klein.

Christopher Brown said...

You *really* don't want to write about The Battle of Ranksoor Av Kolos, huh? ;) Quite understandable...

Joe Ford said...

No mate, I do. My mother died 2 weeks ago and I’m dealing with the fallout.

Christopher "Peaky" Brown said...

Ah Joe I'm so sorry. :( I hope you're well. Take care of yourself.

Urlance Woolsbane said...

Oh heck, I'm sorry to hear that. I know I'm just a random shambler on the internet, but my prayers are with you.