Saturday, 26 January 2019

The False Guardian written by Guy Adams and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it About: Ann Kelso doesn’t like mysteries. Keen to investigate the trail of the Sinestrans, she sets the TARDIS on a new course... but flies into danger. Arriving on a desolate world that the Doctor finds somehow familiar, the TARDIS crew discover that something is wrong with time. The inhabitants of an unusual complex are experimenting at the command of their enigmatic director... somebody who has quite a strong grudge against the Doctor. Facing an old foe who was presumed dead, the travellers are soon trapped in a diabolical scheme. But is it just the tip of the iceberg?

Teeth and Curls: ‘Our business? Currently we’re trying not to die!’ K.9 has only been around for five minutes, he’s little more than a puppy. Whilst Ann is trying to be terribly sensible and organised, the Doctor enjoys galivanting about. Checking things is dull, that’s why he likes surprises. The TARDIS isn’t an old crystal set, one false move and they could be plunged into the sun. Only a fool lets a dog fly a spaceship. Anyone can point at a map but flying through the vortex without tearing yourself to pentaquarks takes skill and grace and years and years of experience. You just know the Doctor is in for a world of trouble when he starts boasting like that. There’s nothing wrong with boring in a controlled dose, the Doctor likes to look upon it as a vaccination against a life of tedium. You begin to understand the purpose of K.9, to deal with all of the exposition, so the Doctor can just get on with having fun. He doesn’t usually bother to set the HADS because the TARDIS has an annoying habit of popping off when it senses danger when he isn’t on board. He also has a tendency to set them thinking they are the heating controls. He’s a crumbling gothic mansion type himself. He’s stopped dropping into conversation that he is scientific advisor to UNIT (when he regenerated that all became a bit gauche) and instead now mentions that he is High President of the Time Lords. The Doctor ponders on the nature of the Time Destructor and how these things have a nasty habit of coming back to haunt him.

Bobby on the Beat: It’s bizarre that we’ve heard nothing about this obsession of Ann’s about solving the riddle of the Sinestran’s for the last couple of adventures but now it seems to be top priority. As a police woman I guess it’s in character for her to not like unresolved mysteries but I general feeling has been that she has moved on. She does find it difficult to take investigation tips from a man who spent most of the previous day trying to find a hat he was already wearing.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’ve always appreciated enthusiasm, especially in death. There’s all too much apathy in the universe these days.’
‘Gallifrey? I hear its nice this time of year.’

Great Ideas: A chronon is a particle of time smaller than a Sunday afternoon but bigger than a single beautiful moment when a cup of lapsang souchon is at the perfect temperature for drinking. The Varga plants are one of the nastier extremes that Doctor Who has gone to in the name of horror and it pleases me no end that they sprung from the first Doctor’s era…but then didn’t everything worthwhile in Doctor Who? In their schemes to rule the universe the Daleks did transport Varga plants to other worlds. There’s one overwhelming piece of evidence that suggests that the Daleks aren’t here and that is that they are still alive. Kembel was perfectly place as a secure location for the clinic. It is set in grounds retro landscaped from the original fauna.

Audio Landscape: I loved the sound of the TARDIS tearing through the screaming vortex. When the Varga invades your mind, so do the screams.

Isn’t it Odd: Tom Baker’s time on Doctor Who was so lacking in continuity and so rich in original content that it feels an anathema to have the Great Man himself reeling off a plot synopsis on The Daleks’ Masterplan.

Standout Scene: The cliff-hanger is a terrific moment because comes completely out of left field despite the pointers that have been raised to suggest we are in some kind of prequel to The Daleks’ Masterplan. I love the reveal of Mavic Chen’s presence even more because the title seems to be playing with our expectations after the reveal. It’s a crafty twist, the sort that promises great things.

Result: What you have here is the perfectly measured pace of the opening two instalments of a four-part Doctor Who story, which due to it being spread across two releases and being given its own title I am reviewing as an entity in its own right. After spending 15 minutes looking for a story, the story suddenly snaps into focus when the Varga plants are brought out of retirement to terrify and cause of a stir of foreboding. It’s a story where Ann Kelso is being written as a positive force in the story, very active in the narrative and bantering with the Doctor instead of trying to shoot him down all the time. This is precisely how she should have been written and played from the start. I still don’t think she’s especially memorable but I certainly have no objections to her presence this time around. The scenes between Tom Baker and John Shrapnel are great but then they are both playing madmen of one kind or another. It’s no wonder they get on. Guy Adams is very good at setting up his stories and producing something a little different in doing so and The False Guardian is a slippery thing, never quite conforming to what you think it should be. For a fourth Doctor story on audio that is something of a minor miracle. There’s an element of disquiet about this story, I always felt as though I was waiting for something truly catastrophic to break. There are two cliff-hangers that rely on your knowledge of continuity and the first one has more impact than the second, but they both pivot the story in new directions. I’m apprehensive about how this is going to end because his Sutekh two parter dive bombed in the second half, but at the halfway point this is an enjoyable, if slight set up with a palpable atmosphere: 7/10

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