Friday, 28 January 2011
Terror Firma written by Joe Lidster and directed by Gary Russell
What’s it about: "Welcome back, Doctor..." Centuries ago on the war-torn planet Skaro, a great scientist created the most evil creatures the Universe would ever know… Daleks. It was at their genesis that the scientist, Davros, first met and was defeated by the Doctor. Over the years and throughout space, they fought, a fight that ended with the Doctor’s destruction of Skaro and the Daleks. Except… Davros survived. Alone. In the dark. With only thoughts of revenge keeping him alive. The Doctor is back. Davros is waiting. Their destiny is now.
Breathless Romantic: Welcome to the madness that is Terror Firma where Joe Lidster discovers everything that has been missing from the eighth Doctor’s life and squeezes it into one story! Don’t get me wrong it is wonderful to have him back in his home universe and the first episode sees him more chilled out than we have had him in ages. My one complaint is that it tries to do too much with his character within 100 minutes; joy, anger, anguish, shock, depression, joy again…it’s a whirlwind trip around the schizophrenic eighth Doctor. I loved how he totally ignored Davros and started chatting away about where to take C’rizz, he’s having a great time winding up Davros! Doesn’t he ever find it boring being so predictable? Why doesn’t he show fear in the face of Davros? He admits he wasn’t quite himself in the Divergent Universe where they had no concept of time; being back home means he can be a Time Lord again. He’s a busy man, a universe to explore, old friends to look up. In many ways he is ashamed of his own people, half of them are crazy and corrupted and the other half are duller than you can imagine and he fears one day he might grow old and return to Gallifrey to gather dust. When pushed he admits he had the right to destroy Skaro and the Daleks because he has seen first hand what they are capable of. In a heart in the mouth moment the Doctor tells Davros he is going to kill him after discovering what has happened to the Earth. He states Agatha Christie travelled with him but it sounds like one of his embellishments. His friends are what’s important to him, they make him what he is. In a shock revelation we learn of the Doctor’s companions before Charley and just what a sticky end they came to because of travelling with him. What’s unusual is how much more comfortable the Doctor seems with the brother and sister team of Gemma and Samson rather than his current companions. That might be something worth rectifying in the next few stories – I certainly think the Divergent Universe might have been more bearable if we had had Gemma and Samson as our guides. They mockingly call him dad but he would rather be the cool Uncle. He spends most of episodes three and four drowning in the guilt of what has happened to the Earth and my only thought was please let’s not go down this route again. Davros has humiliated him, taken everything that is good about him and twisted it to his own ends and yet the Doctor still chooses life.
Edwardian Adventuress: There are some very harsh criticisms of Charley in this story from both of her companions and it is almost as though the producer has read all the complaints about the degeneration of the character and is determined to address and deal with them. C’rizz tells her to stop putting on her cheerful Charley act when she is hurting and the Doctor in a moment that made me want to kiss him (and possibly slip him the tongue) says ‘don’t tell me you forgive me. Don’t tell me I shouldn’t feel bad. Don’t tell me that you love me. Don’t say anything.’ Bravo! She admits that she is out of shape and possibly the unluckiest girl alive (what and see what happens when you swap Doctors then Ms Pollard!). She rails against the unfairness of the universe where she can be spat back into it only to discover a world conquered by Daleks! I loved her shocked reaction to discovering there is a tunnel that connects England and France, sometimes we forget she is from the past and it is nice to have a reminder. Charley looks the kind of girl who knows how to enjoy life. Oddly she squeals like a little piggy when she rejoins the Doctor! Charley hates seeing the Doctor this vulnerable and is disappointed in him for that (for which Samson gives her a big cuddle).
Chameleonic Rogue: What an odd character C’rizz is. On the one hand I want to applaud Gary Russell for trying to do something a bit different with a companion and having a clearly unstable, mildly psychotic alien travelling in the TARDIS. On the other hand it doesn’t really work because whilst C’rizz was revealed to have murdered far more people than we figured in this story and ends on him chatting away with the souls of his victims, subsequent stories ignore this fact completely because they have other stories to tell. It’s a bit like the Turlough syndrome, he’s bad but only when there’s time to fit it in. And whilst Conrad Westmaas is a good actor he has been saddled with a colourless character without much humour or likeability. At this stage
I would probably say that C’rizz has more mileage than Charley but it is something of a revelation to see two stand in companions that turn up for one story making more of an impact than he has in over two seasons. He wants to be there for Charley but can only do so if she lets him. First L’da, then his father, now Charley (or so he thinks…), people that he meets tend to be exterminated (yeah because you kill them you nonce!). Is C’rizz a murderer with no reason? He slaughtered the being they meet in the tunnel with little provocation and tells Gemma ‘am I going to have to save you too?’ The Daleks creed is ‘extermination will end their pain and suffering’ which reveals that C’rizz is more akin to the Daleks than humans. I loved the scene where he railed against being sick of being told what his destiny is and he will be who he wants to be whilst kicking two tons of ¤¤¤¤ of a Dalek! He is trapped inside the Emperor casing and is assaulted by Dalek voices, does this enhance his madness? All the voices of the people he killed talk to him, so many voices…in this universe they forget the dead but he keeps their memory alive. In an inspired final twist we hear Gemma’s voice inside his head, revealing that he has murdered her too and he tells her that one day he will save the Doctor and Charley as well…
Gemma and Samson: What an brilliant idea this was, truly one of the great shock moments in Big Finish when we realise that Gemma and Samson were former travelling companions of the Doctor. Not only that but Joe Lidster takes the time to show us how they met and have snippets of their adventures together as well (I hate to be coy but once again this looks a lot more fun than the Divergent Universe stories!). You know what mum always said, nothing ventured, nothing gained. They met when Samson was at work in the library and Gemma wants to follow this hot hippy who came in asking about a mystery novel. They went to Porteus, Mergatroid, the ice caves of Shabadabadon, the court of Queen Elizabeth, Prehistoric Earth, Studio 54 and met aliens and were caught up in the maddest of adventures (‘The guitars are coming to life!’). They have knocking back the beers for Skipper’s (the Doctor) birthday and Samson the lightweight has a terrible hangover. The Doctor stupidly sent them off on their own to explore a derelict spaceship whilst he snuggled down to read their birthday present, a first edition of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Davros kidnaps them, implants them and turns them into slaves. Davros sent Samson home but linked his mind to the TARDIS so he could watch the Doctor’s adventures hence and Gemma went travelling but found only death in every continent for Davros’ virus. Davros took them from him because he had the Daleks taken from him. Samson is fine at the end of this adventure, back home with his mum but as far as they are concerned Gemma died a long time ago and the Doctor asks C’rizz to keep it a secret that she has only just died. Little does the Doctor know it was by C’rizz’s hands…?
Insane Genius: I loved the early exchange of: ‘How does one address the Emperor?’ ‘Politely!’ Davros is undergoing a Jekyll and Hyde style nervous breakdown where he breaks out into arguments with himself – one voice as Davros, piteous and begging and one voice as a Dalek, condemning and unrepentant. He keeps ranting on about the end of Remembrance of the Daleks, screaming ‘escape pod leaving mother ship!’ He’s losing himself to a Dalek personality. Davros is shocked that the Doctor would have pity for him. He has decided to plant himself into a new body, for too long he has clutched onto the remnants of his physical form as if it is what makes him what he is. He spent years with just his thoughts and decided to learn from the Doctor. Thinking back he remembered his conversation with the fourth Doctor in Genesis of the Daleks about a virus that could wipe out all living things and he decided to create such a virus and unleash it on the Doctor’s favourite planet. Davros quotes ‘while there’s life, there’s hope’ but he is alive and he has no hope. He hates the Doctor, his very existence is like salt on his wounds and so he took the Doctor’s friends and destroyed them. When he was blown away from the Dalek mothership at the end of Remembrance he was rescued by the Nekistani and as a special thank you he slaughtered them horribly – and it is on their ship that Gemma and Samson discover
him. He wanted to break the Doctor, to take everything he held precious and smash it in front of his eyes. He always knew the Daleks would come for him; he kept himself weak whilst making the Daleks too powerful and single-minded. For once we really get to see how deep his loathing of the Doctor goes and it’s frightening to witness.
Standout Performance: For making me shiver with fear when he started laughing manically in the first scene, Terry Molloy.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We need you to find Davros!’ – which isn’t a great line in itself but its rather wonderful coming from Davros himself!
‘France was one of the first countries to fall. Quelle surprise.’
‘Welcome home, Doctor. Welcome to the home of 8 billion Daleks!’ – the Earth!
Great Ideas: An eighth Doctor adventure that features the TARDIS and our universe – that’s a great idea! The new Dalek home world is the Earth. Episodes one and two both start with flashbacks of Gemma and Samson leaving the Doctor and exploring the ship, which perfectly pre-empt that excellent second cliffhanger. It was clever to pair up Charley with Samson and C’rizz with Gemma to make a comparison. The whole world is covered in a metal shield except Folkestone, which is where the Dalek underground base is. Viruses are all the rage these days so this one was just ignored but it got bigger and more deadly…Davros offered his help to America and suddenly it went silent. He turned the mutated humans into Daleks and used them to subjugate the world. Whilst we know that Gemma and Samson travelled with the Doctor before Charley the revelation that their abduction takes place immediately prior to Storm Warning was a great shock and allows to look at that story in a new light (its very clever how they took the dialogue from the pre credits and weaved into this story). Harriet is revealed to be a resistance leader – who ever saw that coming? The French resistance are Daleks who want to overthrow Davros and put C’rizz on the throne!
Audio Landscape: A top dramatic production with some very impressive sound effects. Davros’ laughing bleeds unforgettably into the music, Daleks scream insanely, the Cushing Dalek control room is heard again, extermination blasts, explosions, a horrid ring tone, rain slashing down, heavy breathing, a bubbling laboratory, thunder, a montage of old clips which is hypnotic and disorienting, the tinkling ice caves of Shabadabadon, the Doctor reading Christie by the fire, a heartbeat, seagulls, busy bees…
Musical Cues: The jazz score during the part scenes is very nice.
Isn’t it Odd: The party scenes in the first episode are extremely odd, they cut into the real drama taking place between Davros and the Doctor with alarming frequency. Juliet Deakins’ uber camp Harriet hardly convinces as a military genius. Unusually for Doctor Who the first episode is probably the weakest, a confusing and schizophrenic opening, which saves all its revelations for later. Gary Russell’s continuity obsessed fingers are all over this story (you can read in the sleeve that he was originally down to write the story and handed a ton of notes to Joe Lidster to fulfil). He desperately wants to explain what happened before Storm Warning and what happened after Remembrance of the Daleks, plugging every single gap in continuity until it is one drab cohesive whole with no mysteries left unexplained and no ambiguity. How does the Doctor go from feeling the weight of 8 billions human lives as his responsibility to larking about in Blackpool with Charley within ten minutes of running time? It seems that all the horror is just…forgotten.
Result: Less of a well structured, coherent story and more of a collection of fantastic ideas, Terror Firma is a cluttered, brilliant, insane mess. It’s the polar opposite of The Council of Nicaea, which told a simple story well; Joe Lidster’s drama is undisciplined throughout but raging with dark imagination. The revelation about Gemma and Samson is one of the ultimate Big Finish surprises and beats at the heart of this story but it’s not quite strong enough to ignore the unfinished, schizophrenic characterisation of both the Doctor and Davros. They both have terrific, thoughtful moments and their relationship is given a thorough once over (with some nice innovations) but the story just sort of fizzles out, forgetting the Doctor’s guilt or that he wants to kill Davros and forgetting that Davros did all of this to hurt him. Add points for bringing all these points up but minus more for failing to bring them to any kind of conclusion. There are lots of crazy and wonderful ideas whizzing about and you will be entertained throughout but I definitely feel Terror Firma needed one more revision to tighten up its narrative. Flawed but fascinating: 8/10
Artwork by Simon Hodges @ http://hisi79.deviantart.com/