Saturday 25 April 2015

Gallifrey: Intervention Earth

I listened to the first series of Big Finish's Gallifrey spin-off, but after that I had not followed this range. However, when I saw the incredible cover of this audio, with the new Romana, Ace and Omega in his original costume, I had to buy it. As it turned out, I had no problem enjoying it having heard only one Gallifrey season. I'm sure Doctor Who fans could have enjoyed it without having heard any previous releases.

In this story, we see Ace with her own TARDIS, working for the Celestial Intervention Agency. I have always like the idea of Ace becoming a Time Lord; it made sense of the way the Seventh Doctor seemed to be testing and preparing Ace for some unknown task. Ace is not a Time Lord here, but she is obviously moving in that direction. I'm not sure Sophie Aldred pulls of this massive character development, but I'm glad she's here.

The big treat here is the return of Stephen Thorne as Omega. I simply adore his bombastic vocal performance as Omega in The Three Doctors. Sadly, we don't get to here him as much as we might have hoped and he does not get quite as angry as he did the first time around (You have angered me!)

The story follows The Three Doctors quite closely in plot. This actually makes it the second attempt to re-write the Three Doctors after The Infinity Doctors. One problem is that though we go into the anti-matter universe, the sound effects do not really convey any sense of what this place is like. They could at least have given us Omega's wibbly-wobbly Gell Guards!

I really do like the new incarnation of Romana. Juliet Landau really does bring something new to the character with a much more seductive and understated performance than we got under Lalla Ward. I'm very much forward to hearing more of her. There seems to be quite a bit of debate among fans as to whether the Juliet Landau Romana, known as 'Trey' is the same as the Romana III in the BBC books. Her creator seemed to suggest she was not, despite other voices in Big Finish to the contrary. I am very much of the opinion that she is the same Romana III who becomes War Queen of Gallifrey. Her appearance clearly resembles descriptions of the character, even down to the outfit she wears on the cover. Furthermore, she has the ruthlessness and seductiveness of the novels' Romana III. Her interest in the future of Gallifrey reflects the interest of Romana III in the coming War of Heaven, though I doubt Big Finish will be exploring that continuity minefield, even if Lawrence Miles did give them permission.

I don't think this audio quite lives up to the explosive cinematic looking cover, but it is enjoyable and promises exciting things ahead. The upbeat musical score, included as a separate track, as usual, is impressive too.

Friday 10 April 2015

Frontier in Space

Frontier in Space is by no means the greatest of Doctor Who stories, or even the greatest of Pertwee era stories. Yet it certainly feels unique. In large part this is because it pursues the genre of epic planet-hopping Space Opera far more than any other serial. In this story we visit no less than three planets, as well as the moon and various spaceships. In this modern era, when Doctor Who stories are set on Earth, particularly in Twenty-First Century England, this stands out a lot. The mood of this story also feels different, with the rich political intrigue and the heavy political overtones, even if these are a little heavy-handed.

Most significantly, more than any other story, Frontier in Space makes the future feel like a real place. So many things contribute to this, such as the news reports, with their accounts of Finland and Japan. We get the delightful scene with the female president getting a massage. We get buildings that are seen from outside and which therefore do not feel like television sets. We get some nice costume designs, most notably the decision to put Jon Pertwee's Doctor in a prison uniform. This small costume change is such a massive dose of realism. We see the Doctor locked up all the time. We are used to seeing him threatened and in danger. Yet we seldom see him stripped of his visual identity as the Doctor.

The story has other things going for it; a visually interesting set of aliens in the Draconians, a script that plays to Pertwee's strengths and some fantastic performances. Chief of all of these is the superb last appearance of the Delgado Master. Sadly, Delgado would pass away in an automobile accident not long after this was made, but he had saved his best for last. Here we see the Master as the ultimate cosmic manipulator, trying to control events on a galactic stage, but doing it with an ever present sense of humour.

Unfortunately, Frontier in Space does have some significant weaknesses, particularly relating to its plot. Most obviously is the common complaint that Jo and the Doctor spend so much time in this story locked up in one jail cell after another. This feels almost parody of the Doctor Who staple of capture and escape routines. This would probably have been less obvious to the original viewers who saw the seven episodes over a considerable period of time, but it is irritating to those watching the DVD in one sitting. The conclusion is also disappointing and fails to give the Master the send-off he deserves. Yet despite these and other small faults, Frontier has a tremendous sense of grandeur that sets it above many other Doctor Who stories.

This is a story that tends to get overlooked in assessments and overviews of the Pertwee era. Phil Sandifer has pointed out at least once that most people who talk about the Pertwee era don't really appreciate its richness. People tend to view this era through the lens of Season 7 and forget how often the Third Doctor left the Earth. The BBC Wales Doctors have all spent far more time in England then Pertwee ever did.