Saturday, 25 March 2017

City of Death written by David Agnew and directed by Michael Hayes


This story in a nutshell: Marrying Douglas Adams’ comic wit and creativity to Graeme Williams’ rock solid plotting, this is as good as Doctor Who gets.

Teeth and Curls: Tom Baker spends the whole story walking the fine line between genius and lunacy and sparkles in every second of his screen time. The truth of the matter is that there really isn’t that much difference between how he is portrayed in City of Death and the two stories either side of it, it’s just that his surroundings are much more in tune with this level of madness. City of Death is crazy Tom Baker hour writ large, it isn’t a last-ditch attempt to tell a sixties Dalek story where his lunacy feels jarringly out of place of a pantomime on an alien world where his madness tips the whole thing over into farce. Everything feels precisely balanced to show off the fourth Doctor during this period at his best; his verbal sparring with Scaroth, a moral debate with Kerensky, eating away at the Countesses fears, exploring a romantic city with Romana, insulting the hired help that keeps talking with his fists. Tom Baker is elevated by the stunning performances around him, he raises his already impressive game to match them. ‘Which came first the chicken or the egg?’, ‘Duggan what are you doing... that's a Louis Kearns!’, ‘1979, more of a table wine’, ‘I've been threatened, thumped and abducted, I've discovered alien technology and been through two time slips...’ During season seventeen it is easy to laugh at the Doctor at times as he trips over and indulges in funny voices and eccentric outbursts but throughout City of Death you aren’t just laughing with him, you’re grabbing onto his scarf and dancing your way through the story with him.

Lovely Lalla: It’s hard to believe that this is only her second story in the role, both Lalla Ward and Romana seem remarkably confident for such a short stint in Doctor Who but when you are handed dialogue as exquisite as this how can you do anything but relax into it and enjoy the ride? It’s an assured turn, it is almost a shock when Creature from the Pit reveals a Mary Tamm-esque ice queen, the unfortunate result of filming these stories in a different order to how they were transmitted. This feels like the first steps of a love story that was doomed to fail, Lalla and Tom dancing through the streets of Paris together. Never mind if their marriage is short lived, at this point they were desperately in love and that spills over on screen magnificently. The chemistry between a Doctor and his assistant has rarely been more intimate. When Romana is away from the Doctor she proves that she is more than strong enough to hold up the show, forming a hilarious relationship with Duggan, working for the Count and generally behaving like the Doctor would if he wasn’t swanning off to Renaissance Italy to figure out the background of the plot. Romana treats are plentiful, her opening of the puzzle box, her quiet insistence he says ‘world’ and not ‘universe’, the charming ‘bouquet’ scene, any scene where she's gently patronising her assistant and his bunched fists, the way she bobs the torch as they run away from the Louvre in episode two...

The Good: So many of my favourite scenes appear in City of Death that it is stuffed full of magical moments you just want to watch over an again to remind yourself why Doctor Who was the best show ever. It is one of those stories where you can justifiably do that rather than sifting out the diamonds in the rough. My favourite bit is a scene that is never mentioned and yet for me it epitomises everything that is so wonderful about the Graeme Williams era, Douglas Adam's writing and Doctor Who in general. It is the scene where Kerensky enters the hidden room in the cellar and looks up at all the copies of the Mona Lisa's and stands there, aghast and exclaims ‘Mona Lisa's!’ It makes me crack up every time I watch it. Only Doctor Who could get away with something this absurd, this ingenious, this perfect. Such a simple line and yet it would seem out of place in almost any other show and every other era of Doctor Who. It’s an ‘only Doctor Who’ moment where you don’t have to make any allowances for its absurdity.

This is Doctor Who: The Movie before the Movie actually happened, except with genuine wit, surprises, character motivations and a dense plot. A story so sumptuous to look at you are disappointed to come back to the drab old world we call reality at the end. People bemoan the scenes of the Doctor and Romana wandering through Paris are padding and just showing off the location...why wouldn’t you want to do that? The material speaks for itself. Paris is a gorgeous city, full of wondrous sights. Why not put on the screen for everyone to enjoy? How the story is in no hurry to get to the plot and simply enjoy the atmosphere whilst the Doctor and Romana take a holiday is all part of its uniqueness. Michael Hayes directs these scenes with a romantic edge, letting the teenage thrill of the leads off screen relationship explode in the French Capital. Dudley Simpson provides a score that ties my tummy in knots it’s so perfect, a shattering contrast to his regular plod-plod-plodding music...did they take him along on the shoot with them and let him get wrapped up in the stylish atmosphere of it all? Along with Mindwarp it is one of my favourite scores for the show, arguably the best because it touches on every genre from comedy to drama to science fiction. Simpson strides these genres with effortless confidence, in his twilight days he reminds the audience why he has been scoring Doctor Who for as long as he has. I love it when they are walking towards the Louvre arguing about the Braxiatel Collection, I love it when they run off the subway hand in hand. I love the shot through the postcard rack. I love the high angles as they dodge the traffic. I love it when they sit outside the cafe and chat about time slips. It’s all so absurd, two Time Lords deciding to have a nice holiday instead of saving the universe... it's just so wonderful.

The plot is hard as nails perfect too. It encompasses much, has many layers, is bred into the very fabric of human existence itself and yet still manages to tell a hugely enjoyable adventure story in the process. The Jagorath spaceship exploding caused the birth of the human race and scattered Scaroth throughout time where he pushed the human race forwards to a point where they could help him go back in time and stop it all happening. It's so bogglingly audacious It’s Doctor Who throwing the highest concepts in the air and shrugging as though it does this all the time. It takes brilliant ideas like the Doctor popping in for a chat with Leonardo Da Vinci, the man drawing a picture of a Time-Lady with the crack through the face to explain the time slip, seven Mona Lisa's hanging out in a basement, a ruthlessly inept Detective who punches out everyone the Doctor talks to but ultimately throws the punch that saves history, a suave and elegant bad guy who is involved with a multi million dollar heist to wipe out humanity…and best of all the Doctor dodging traffic trying to hail a taxi screaming out ‘is no-one interested in history?’ City of Death is the work of incredibly skilled writers with formidable imagination and a real sense of humour. I could never hope to have a hundredth of the talent of Douglas Adams and Graeme Williams (and let’s throw David Fisher in there too for his subtle contribution). 

Duggan feels like an aberration but he’s part of the point. He’s one of those characters that turns up in Doctor Who just to complicate the plot (although he does provide a great deal of explanation in episode one). Punching out scientists, touching the laser beams, smashing a vase over the Countesses head…he bumbles from one scene to another, getting in the way and trying to keep up. The secret of Duggan is that he is not only utterly charming because of the Tom Chadbon’s marvellous comic turn in the part but the character is ultimately an ace up the sleeve on the part of the writers, the very thing that he is criticised for doing throughout the story is what ultimately saves the day. We should all hang around with somebody as useless as Duggan, you never know when he is going to be needed. 

Julian Glover is still thrilling audiences on screen to this day and it’s easy to see why he is never out of work. His controlled performance is crucial to the story's success because if he had chosen to play it up the story would have descended into a horrible farce but as it is I totally believed Scaroth's story. Menace is the key word and the thing that is missing from so many villains in this era. He refuses to be a pantomime villain, even when the lines point in that direction. Scaroth is elegant, charming, wealthy, indulgent of the Doctor’s excesses…and he will also destroy all human life on this planet just to suit his purposes. And you absolutely believe that humanity is an irrelevance to him, just a means to getting where he needs to be. What a fantastic character.

Result: It has been noted that just when you think City of Death cannot get any better that John Cleese and Elanor Bron appear. Their scene has never thrilled me as it has others because this story is simply packed with scenes as good. It’s just another to add to the list. The Doctor headbutting Duggan’s gun in the gallery. The close up of the detailed eye of the Jaggaroth mask at the end of episode one. The saxophone music that plays when the Countess appears. The centuries that divide me shall be undone. The pan across prehistoric Earth in the opening seconds. The effect of the chicken and the egg and the Doctor asking the obvious question. The Doctor’s reaction to the cold of the guard’s hands. Duggan’s method of opening a bottle of wine. The telephone book. Too much joy, too little time I guess the only bad thing you could say about City of Death is that it touches upon genius to such an extent that it leaves the majority of this season, of the era it takes part in and I hope you don’t think it crass of me to say but the remainder the of the classic series a little embarrassed to exist beside it. Ambitious, funny, atmospheric, perfectly performed, directed and scored Doctor Who. Little more needs to be said: 10/10

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The Mind Robber written by Peter Ling and directed by David Maloney

This story in a nutshell: Are we going to play this game? Okay…the TARDIS slips sideways in time, explodes and the Doctor and his companions waltz with literary characters and scenarios in their imaginations. Or do they…? 

Oh My Giddy Aunt: The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe. What a trio, so relentlessly entertaining the five episodes exhale like a breath of fresh spring air. They are like three hyperactive children, wrapped up in each other's company and living the thrill of their adventures together to the full. I can't think of any other regulars I would love travel with more. Troughton gives a masterclass in how to play the Doctor in The Mind Robber. Because The War Games might be a little too long for some this is the story that I would give to prospective actors (or actresses before I’m accused of being un-PC) to see the sort of legacy that they have to live up to. Or simply how well it can be done. Troughton gets to play the gamut of emotions from fear to anger to curiosity to humour before finally settling on righteous outrage and a formidable sense of justice. Maybe it is just because we can watch this story in full but you get a real chance to see how much he gave to the show. He is breathlessly active throughout, every line a comedic gem, every movement impossible to drag your eyes away from to see just what he will do next. Troughton never stops entertaining, you can see why he was so tired after each story what with his puffing and shouting and laughing and pouting. It’s a remarkably active performance. On any given day my favourite Doctors will change depending on what I am looking for…but Troughton will always rank high. My favourite moment? Well, I want to say his ‘string of sausages’ outrage because it leads to his sheer nervous wreck delight where he is tearing characters from literature to take on the Master’s but in reality it is his tussle with the Karkus that I love, so blissfully funny it has to be mentioned. He won’t state that he doesn’t exist because he has never heard of him…and in truth I think he is having just a little too much fun being tossed around like a rag doll. Note the quiet, understated edginess Troughton exudes in episode one. He knows that episode is different from any other and he’s relishing the chance to play something this radically different. 

Who’s the Yahoos: I’ve gone on record saying that, despite Troughton and Hines’ beautiful rapport, that I feel Jamie is somewhat superfluous as a character in season six. The Mind Robber is the exception to that rule. Hines, like Troughton, is really enjoying the chance to play something a little out there and gives a very measured turn as the hairy legged Highlander. You really believe Jamie is intoxicated at the thought that they might have landed in Scotland in the first episode and after all the horrors he has seen who can blame him? He’s up for the adventure though, scaling sheer mountains, flirting with literary characters (Jamie would flirt with anybody) and enjoying a very funny, conflicting chemistry with Zoe. I bet they were at it all the time. They would make a far more believable couple than Jamie and Victoria, they’re already indulging in martial bickering. Plus Frazer Hines is playing the role to excellent comedic effect; his face every time the Doctor tells him to shut up so he can discuss something brainy with Zoe is priceless. Despite Hamish Wilson's attempts (and gives a perfectly good performance but it is a very different kind of Jamie) to fill his shoes for an episode I was beaming when Frazer returned in part three. 

Brainbox: It’s nice to see Wendy Padbury enjoying some quality material because her previous forays into the part of Zoe have been The Wheel in Space and The Dominators, 11 episodes of Doctor Who so dreadful that for almost three months followers of the show must have been sinking into despair. Zoe is written extremely well here, it’s a script that points out her strengths and her weaknesses as a character. She was daft to leave the TARDIS in the void and to not realise that there was a leap to her death in the darkened house and even worse is her monumentally stupid moment where she walks through the castle detector beams but who could imagine the story without her and the Doctor and their delightful moments exploring the tunnels, leaving Jamie out or her hysterical moment where she comes to blows with the Karkus and leaves him in the dirt. Wendy Padbury is divine in this, her scream as piercing as they come and she is clearly full of enthusiasm for the story. Like Caroline John and Elisabeth Sladen, I feel Padbury is almost too good for the standard companion role and like Liz and Sarah, Zoe is often allowed to dominate events because of it.

Sparkling Dialogue: Basically every line that Troughton utters…whether its any good or not! 
‘That noise... that vibration... it's alien.’ 
‘No no no no no no! Not both together one at a time!’
‘Would you mind taking that pop gun away it does unsettle me so!?’
‘If we step outside the TARDIS we will enter a dimension of which we know nothing. We shall be at the mercy of the forces...’
‘I have yet to see a robot that can climb!’
‘But all the power had been used on the Soldiers and it was useless! Ooh you'll have to do better than that!’

The Good: I blame the sound FX. Huh? The sound FX? Aren't they great in this story? Just listen to the creaky, electronic hum the White Robots make... they might already by fairly menacing in appearance but with the addition of this spine-tingling noise they make an instant impression. And how about the Toy Soldiers? Brr... that harsh, gear grinding noise every time they get close... I watched it this morning with all the lights off and it really gave me the willies. Even more subtle sound FX, the alien hum that penetrates the TARDIS, the creaking door as Zoe peers inside, the Master Brain as it grips the Masters mind and gives him instructions... Sometimes a Doctor Who budget cannot convincingly wring all of the atmosphere out of the script and the sound FX and music have to give it a push, the sound design for this story is peerless and injects a lot of tension and fantasy into the finished production. It’s an oft-ignored strength of the show. 

Even better the story seems to have been supplied with a bigger budget than usual because although the story demands a lot from the production team they manage to magic up a startling number of convincing sets, costumes and genuinely impressive FX. How can anybody forget the TARDIS snapping open in space? Or the console flying through the vortex with Jamie and Zoe clinging to edge? The sets too are extraordinarily detailed; I adore the maze set with all the flickering candles and cobwebs but they also manage to pull off an exterior fairy-tale castle with terrific scope. And all the literary characters look authentic, the BBC always excel at costume drama and creating the likes of Gulliver, Sir Lancelot, Blackbeard is a piece of cake. It seems a shame to have to applaud the show for getting the aesthetics right but the sad truth of the matter is that because of limited resources, time and money that wasn’t always the case. And season six was a point in the show where the money had definitely started to run out and so get it looking this good is something of a minor triumph. 

Or maybe it's just the way director David Maloney puts it all together, his polished direction is the icing on the cake. An A-list Doctor Who director (Genesis, Talons) with the likes of Camfield, Harper and Martinus, he refuses to let the story sink into whimsy and continually gives it a delicious edge, despite the absurdities the story throws at us we are convinced there is real danger. There are too many scenes to list that make me glow, the sheer pressure that builds inside the TARDIS before we finally see it blow, the piercing shot of Medusa in the mirror, Jamie scaling the walls of the castle, the almost gleeful sparkle in the White Robots' eyes as they destroy everything in the final episode... it is a visual treat, never failing to satisfy. The Minotaur scene is outstandingly directed, in the hands of a less talented man this could have been farcical but with only the briefest of glimpse at the costume (because it's the ONE costume that is really rubbish), scary roars and close ups of the Doctor and Zoe backed into a corner filled with skulls as a shadow grows over them...instead of being a joke it is supremely dramatic.

It would be a little unfair to Peter Ling to suggest that the hastily written first episode is the best of the bunch because his four episodes in the world of fiction are full of magic and surprises. But that initial episode is an experimental joy to be sure, one of the most atmospheric openings to a Doctor Who ever (and given episode one of any story is pretty atmospheric) and a tense exercise in working with very little. It's the old Who adage (that I’ve just made up); the imagination soars because the budget lacks. The imagery conjured up is some of the scariest in the show's history (Jamie and Zoe zombified and treated with positive/negative effects, the TARDIS swamped by molten lava, the ship exploding...) and easily the most surreal. But all the clever stuff starts in episode two and the writing is clearly the work of an extremely imaginative mind. Tricks such as the face-changing game to escape the horror of Frazer Hines going ill. The forest of words constructing sayings. Zoe trapped in jam jar! The picture writing. The unicorn... and that's just in one episode. Things get more and more insane as we meet all number of characters from fiction (my favourites being Medusa and her hissing stop animation snakes and Horsfall’s delightful Gulliver) and lots of lovely narrative tricks (‘It doesn't exist!’, ‘When it’s ajar!’). The story refuses to compromise its fantasy nature, climaxing in a classic era moment when the Doctor and the Master conjure up all manner of fiction characters to fight each other and rescue/kill Jamie and Zoe. It is one of the most unpredictable stories I have watched, once you accept that ANYTHING can happen you just sit back and let it wash over you. Maybe that is why some butt heads with it – I can imagine the portion of the audience that enjoy logic and order would have a meltdown watching this.

The Shallow Bit: Frazer Hines looking practically edible in his tight black top in episode one. Doctor Who rarely gets me feeling unmentionable, but this is one of those occasions.

Result: Every season of Doctor Who has a class act in it, one that shines above the rest despite how good the rest are. Troughton Who is a little more fortunate than the rest, in his last season he was graced with three absolute belters (but you can determine what they are) and depending on what day of the week it is depends on which I would inch just a little higher than the others. The only convincing argument I ever remember hearing that pans The Mind Robber was from somebody who truly despised the fantasy genre. Fair enough, but on any conceivable level (writing, direction, performances) this is brilliantly done. A constantly surprising, adapting, giving story that manages to thrill, scare and amuse in equal measure. Stylishly directed too, with David Maloney shooting the story in unusual ways to highlight its surreal nature. My favourite experience of The Mind Robber was with a non-Who fan friend of mine who I showed the first episode to when he asked to see an example of a black and white story. We went out and he was desperate to get back and watch the rest. Usually he laughs his head off at classic Who (sometimes with good reason – he did ask to watch Paradise Towers) but he enjoyed this immensely, and I was able to see it through new eyes. Those of you who write off this story and only praise the first episode, shame on you. If Doctor Who’s greatest weapon is imagination then this is one of the finest examples of how far that can stretch…along with the shows format: 10/10

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Time Reaver written by Jenny T Colgan and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: Calibris. The spaceport planet where anything goes. Where anyone who doesn't want to be found can be lost, and where everything has its price. Where betentacled gangster Gully holds sway at the smugglers’ tavern, Vagabond’s Reach. The alien Vacintians are trying to impose some order on the chaos. Soon the Doctor and Donna discover why. An illegal weapon is loose on the streets. A weapon that destroys lives… Slowly and agonisingly.

Mockney Adventurer: I love how this series of adventures has really gone for broke in portraying the Doctor and Donna exactly as they were on television, warts and all. If you found Tennant too squeaky and shouty and Tate too brash and in yer face then tough luck because they are presented precisely as confidently and as audience pleasingly as they ever were. Fortunately, I love this team, I still think it is the golden team of the post-2005 era of the show so I was pretty much in heaven in their company. Time travellers have issues with paperwork, given the slipshod nature of their existence. The Doctor is appalled that commercialism has materialised on Calibris, he was expecting pirates not coffee shops. You would think that for somebody who calls himself the last of the Time Lords that the tenth Doctor would try and protect his heritage and keep himself save. Instead he’s probably the most suicidal of the lots and his latest foray into self-harm features in this story when he drains the time reaver by shooting himself with everything it has. There’s something to be said for his willingness to put himself in the line of fire when more than his own life is at stake.

Tempestuous Temp: Donna’s hoping for a planet where boys dance around in her pants worshipping wenches. I’m not sure about the wenches, but I knew there was a reason I could identify with her so much. She’s helping the Doctor fly the TARDIS successfully so they have travelling together for some time but she’s still not above sticking sophisticated technology in her gob instead of her ears. Donna is so good at getting close to characters in a story because she is so real. Her earthiness and honesty encourages the same in others. She gets close enough to Cora for her to explain why she stole the time reaver. It’s because she forms a relationship with her that she can give her hard advice at the end of the tale and bring this sorry affair to a close. Where the Doctor is horrified by Soren’s plan of mass suicide, Donna can see the beauty in it. Donna having a time reaver bomb strapped to her back is a fantastic way of sustaining tension and providing a laugh at the same time – she’s one of the few NuWho characters that can walk that fine line between being very funny and very scared at once. She gets a gorgeous moment when she thinks she is going to die and she tells the Doctor that she wouldn’t have missed it for the world, even though this has to be the end.

Standout Performance: David Tenannt literally seethes with anger in certain scenes, it reminded me of how volcanic he could get in his first season. All I know is I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that wrath.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I told you we aren’t going to the planet of the boys! There is no planet of the boys!’

‘I have seen Time Reavers before. I’ve seen a man kept on the brink of death for near eternity until he changed his will. A mother using them to keep her own child from leaving home. Time Reavers were stamped out! Eradicated!’

‘Time modulators in a time machine are you nuts? It’s like forks in a microwave.’

Great Ideas: Calibris is an entirely mechanical planet where you can acquire, sell or swap any kind of transport in existence. Rocket trains shoot right through the middle of it and wormholes can transport you instantaneously if you can afford it. Who hasn’t spent a day in London and wish they had a copy of the noise cancelling headphones that the Doctor deploys here? Legislation is the order of the day on Calibris but as it has proven impossible in the past, the planetoid is true to form. Crime simply thrives here and any attempt to control that is counterproductive to how the place works. The time reaver is the deadliest of weapons and it doesn’t even kill you. Outlawed in every galaxy, banned by every civilisation, this time modulator can stretch time so a moment can last an eternity. Imagine being caught in a time reaver bomb blast where you feel the pain for months. If you get shot by a time reaver when you’re happy you will crave it for the rest of your very short life. In pain, you will never recover. Every civilisation they have touched are a blasted heath. Some people try and time reave themselves and prolong happy experiences. The Time Reaver was never meant to be a weapon, the Viscinteans are a collective race and the plan was for the whole race to die watching the final sunset on their world whilst being shot with a time reaver.

Audio Landscape: Nice to see Big Finish exploring the crazy, no budget (within reason) universe of the new series with a thriving and imaginative alien community being brought to life here. It does us well to remember that the Russell T Davies years of the show weren’t just domestic drama but there was a great deal of off world action too. And it creates a lovely contrast to the first story in the set. The crazy, busy, bustling atmosphere of Calibris, octopi alien voices, smashing glasses, an elongated scream when the time reaver is fired, a wormhole delivering passengers, the bizarre electronic whining that is passing as music where the busker has to be paid to stop, smashing through the door,

Musical Cues: Howard Carter, one of my favourite Big Finish musicians, is on hand to provide a sweeping, bombastic score for this story. Plenty of Big Finish adventures feature sweeping, bombastic scores so it is to Carter’s credit that this one stood out as much as it did. He has a way of punctuating the action in a very snappy way. Every time the Doctor or Donna ended up running I felt as though I was being dragged along with them and that was mostly thanks to Carter’s music.

Isn’t it Odd:
The very thing that makes this story so unique might be the reason that alienates a section of the audience. Whilst a pretty traditional Doctor Who story is playing out in this audio the presentation of Calibris is quite out of the ordinary. Glaringly loud and obtrusive alien voices compete with a strikingly assaulting soundscape which might just be too much for some people’s ears. Cora is remarkably na├»ve to think that people would only buy the time reaver for party’s and nice things like that. When time bending technology is up for grabs you know somebody is going to leap in and try and exploit it for nefarious purposes.

Standout Moment: It’s a fanboy moment but I couldn’t help but love the little reference to ‘there’s something on your back.’ Anything that reminds me of Turn Left is bound to put a smile on my face.

Result: Jenny Colgan comes up trumps with an engaging series four tale, sporting a great central idea and a pleasing, ‘out there’ location. There’s plenty of opportunity for the tenth Doctor to shake his fist and moralise and Donna provides sterling emotional support in a tale that looks like it is going to be all plot but has a surprisingly affecting second half. On the whole I was impressed with the immersive and creative soundscape and I applaud the choice to do something different. However, there were times when this audio was a bit too noisy for its own good and I was looking to find some noise cancelling ear pods for myself. Calibris is one of those big, bold SF locations that the new series throws into the mix to keep things interesting (think The Rings of Akhaten for colour and imagination and Satellite Five for ambience) and I really enjoyed how the setting took on a life of its own, mostly thanks to the Doctor and Donna’s differing reactions. Tennant and Tate feel as though they have never been away and they imbue their characters with such enthusiasm and clearly relish the chemistry that it is effortless to enjoy them. Some of the Big Finish new series output has lacked the spunk of the series but that isn’t a problem with the 10th Doctor box set. This is the winning filling of a very satisfying sandwich and it provides Colgan with another top notch credit to her name: 8/10

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Quicksilver written by Matt Fitton and directed by Jamie Anderson

What’s it about: It’s the telegram Constance never wanted to read:  DEEPLY REGRET TO INFORM YOU LT-CMDR H CLARKE LOST IN ACTION. CLASSIFIED OPERATIONS.  Those classified operations concerned a top-secret military project code-named ‘Quicksilver’. A project based in Vienna. A project with alien connections. But bombed-out Vienna is not what it was before the war – with its Strauss music, its glamour and easy charm. It's not the time nor the place for a happy reunion. As Constance Clarke is about to discover... And as the Doctor is about to discover, too!

Softer Six: ‘I don’t stand a chance against the two of you, do I?’ Sixie has been inundated with new companions of late it would seem, unable to settle unlike his early days where Evelyn was the focus. He’s been on jollies with Flip and Constance, Jago & Litefoot, we’ve hopped back to Mel and Peri…and recently skipped away from an adventure with Kate Kennedy. You might feel as though the production team are trying out so many combinations to see which ones stick but a little continuity would be quite nice now. He’s enjoyed two trilogies with both Flip and Constance and it has taken the audience a little while to warm to both. Brightly, the creative decision has been made to have them join forces at the point where they are both starting to find an audience and some popularity. The end result? A duo that rival and possibly best Peri and Erimem for sass, smartness, humour and culture clash. Things are finally looking quite bright for Sixie in the main range if we can enjoy an extended run with this trio, which is sounding extremely promising. My suggestion would be to shy away arcs (and with Constance’s backstory sown up here there is no need for that) and just let the three of them enjoy their adventures. A bit like it was for the seventh Doctor, Ace and Hex before they got bogged down in the most convoluted and ultimately hugely unsatisfying arc in Big Finish history. The future’s bright, the future’s Flip and Connie. The Doctor taking a cutting of an English rose from Constance’s garden to remember her by is very sweet. The Doctor has a wedding invite from Flip that he hasn’t answered, much to Constance’s chargin. He’s appalled at Kinvar’s blatant abuse of the laws of time, offering superior future technology to the SIS in order to protect himself whilst trapped on Earth. He understands there are stages of grief and is aware that Constance is avoiding them. Obviously, he has the highest security clearance and has exactly the right level of arrogance to get by in intelligence circles without even showing his ID. His special interest is Mrs Clarke. There’s not much that can boggle the Doctor but the sudden appearance of Flip out of time truly floors him. The Doctor playing the Lord of Time at the climax is delightful, Baker hamming it up to the nth degree. Flip’s ‘OMG!’ is perfect. ‘Ten million years of absolute power!’ indeed!

Constant Companion: ‘Constance! You are astounding!’ ‘And I’m astounded it’s taken you this long to realise, Henry!’ She feels as though she has neglected her duties for far too long. She suggests that Amar had nothing to do with her desire to return him but it’s astonishing what the fluttering of the heart can do to remind you of your responsibilities. Sometimes one feels the needs for home comforts, and she invites the Doctor in for one last cuppa for the road. She’s fastidiously tidy and can always see how any place can be improved. There is a coldness to her when she tries to say goodbye, trying to hurry the Doctor away as quickly as possible. In truth she is as bad at parting with people as he is and she’s trying to ease the pain of both of them. It’s lovely material, this friendship between them that seems to have springed for nowhere is finally giving me the feels. A character who has been strong and capable but deliberately lacking in background (because they were waiting for this story for all to be revealed), Constance has needed this kind of breakthrough story to make her truly shine. She suspected Henry’s affair before she went off on her travels with the Doctor. It’s clear from the flashbacks that there is a great deal of affection from Henry for Constance, but I didn’t feel the warmth of a husband. She tries to brush aside her reaction to Henry’s affair by offering to help the Doctor once more but she’s only running away from feelings she is going to have to deal with eventually. For somebody so reserved, Constance’s anger when she finally catches up with Henry is something to behold. She’s terrifying, thinking Henry is a serial adulterer she starts hurling things about. I wouldn’t want to be on the sharp end of her tongue. The Fillipa/Connie gag might have become annoying had it gone on for a long time – aping the Mrs Clarke/Constance affectation – but it actually serves a character purpose, showing how Constance has relaxed into her role as a member of the TARDIS crew as she’s prepared to allow Flip to soften her name. She knows that Henry isn’t a traitor to his country, even if he has betrayed her. When she first met him he turned her head in a spin because she had hardly met any men. This is the first heartache she has suffered and it’s painful, particularly when Ana is pregnant and she never can be. She can offer Henry what he wants, she can’t.

Flippin’ Heck: I felt a resistance to Flip when she first joined the Doctor from the audience, that somehow she was unworthy of him. I found her a plucky, cute young girl and her recklessness quite an adept tool at getting us to care for her (Wirrn Isle, Scavenger). The tide started to turn when she left the Doctor to go back to Jared…what’s the old saying: ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.’ Her appearance in the sixth Doctor’s Last Adventure box set was met with acclaim, pairing the Doctor and Flip with Jago and Litefoot. Now people seem ready to embrace her. Funny, I thought she was quite appealing all along, mostly down to Greenwood’s charming performances. I think the writers have just gotten better at writing for her now. I really like how proud she is to work in a Supermarket. Me too Flip, me too. She’s really gone and done it, she’s married Jared for better or for worse. She really thought the Doctor would make it to her wedding. As soon as Ana and Flip meet the eventual misunderstanding about who is Henry’s secret lover made itself clear. Strange goings on and she immediately thinks of the Doctor. She thought her trip to Vienna in the 40s was his idea of a honeymoon (minus her husband). She’s accused of being a floozy by Constance, although I’m sure she’s probably heard a lot worse in her time. Constance think that she has quite some pluck. Constance knows that Flip is a friend of the Doctor’s because she doesn’t have the slightest clue of what she is talking about. She has some grasp of history but only the stories her great-grandfather told her about the war. The wedding just sort spiralled out of control, from an idea to suddenly actually planning it and then it happening. Typical, the second she’s back in the Doctor’s company she’s running. Flip ran away from everything that was mapped out in front of her, her relationship with Jared and her job, as uninspiring as that might be. It was worth it, she saw some wonderful things with the Doctor but ultimately, she knew you have to live up to your responsibilities. Constance believes that things don’t just happen, that we don’t just drift through life without control or influence upon the events around us. Henry never trusted her enough to talk to her about his feelings and she recognises that even if he did they still wouldn’t have lasted. Saving the world is what she does now.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Self-preservation might be the purest evolutionary trait.’
‘Is it worth it? For a night of champagne?’
‘Anything off the wedding list would have been fine. But no…you had to get me the 1940s!’
‘If you want a marriage to work then you have to work at it and you stopped working at it, Henry!’

Great Ideas: I haven’t been too thrilled about the covers of the main range of late…like much of its output. They haven’t been as bad as some of the copy and paste jobs that opened the range but there has been a certain lack of visual imagination. Quicksilver is different; it’s moody, dramatic and even the colours are in on the act. There are some nice links to Criss Cross, Kinvar detecting the TARDIS when it was stationary in the 1940s but arriving too late, realising that the Doctor had left with Mrs Clarke and so sticking near her house for him to return. It all makes perfectly logical sense. I’m pleased that the story doesn’t paint Henry as a villain. He’s done something wrong and it doesn’t shy away from that but love is treated as a very complex emotion. He married early and to the wrong girl and he strayed and is now having to deal with the consequences. The Doctor explains the international division in Vienna succinctly, I never knew about it so I took something away from the story. Communism, McCarthyism…the brainwashing and torture will occur quite well enough on its own without Kinvar’s anachronistic technology being added to the mix. Kinvar is a living AI, a construct, the battle computer for Quicksilver. An alien war brought to Earth in the aftermath of the Second World War. A recipe for disaster.

Audio Landscape: It’s a story with an atmospheric source and time period and Jamie Robertson does a terrific job in bringing the story to life. The cut from the 40s to the 2010s through the use of music was very stylishly done. Sirens, a metal gate screeching, planes in the sky, bombs screaming through the sky and exploding, helicopters, the TARDIS materialising, birdsong, flicking through a book, a beeping horn, knocking on the door, a whistling kettle, a chugging train, cars growling on the streets of Vienna, the dank, echoing fetidness of the sewers, soldiers barking orders, ringing telephone, keys jangling,

Musical Cues: In complete contrast to Absolute Power (but just as strong), the score for Quicksilver is subtle and emotive which befits the material. Until the aliens arrive, then it’s all bombast and pace.

Standout Moment: More like blink and you’ll miss it but make sure you pay attention during the quieter moments. Constance blatantly admits that she cannot be Flip’s grandmother and later Flip admits that she couldn’t drink during her wedding. Two female companions, one who can have children (and probably is pregnant, although nothing is confirmed) and one who cannot. Could be heartbreak ahead, or by the signs of things here, mutual support. The scene where Constance and Henry finally talk about the weakness of their marriage and he explains how he fell in love with another woman is one of the more real moments to have come out of the main range in many a year. Bravo. More like this please.

Result: ‘You’re better than that, Constance. Stronger than that.’ Quicksilver does a lot of repair work for the Sixie adventures, bringing two companions that haven’t entirely found an audience together in a triumph of a culture clash, and tells an engaging story to boot too. The first episode being so character driven it highlighted just how long it had been since Sixie had enjoyed a story heavy on character. Scavenger, The Wrong Doctors and The Widows’ Assassin, that’s about it in the past couple of years. Quicksilver redresses the balance with some style. It’s Constance’s breakout story and one that gets us closer to her than the previous six stories (including The End of the Line) put together. Miranda Raison seizes the opportunity to flesh Constance out and the result is a number of standout moments for the character, moments where this cold character is put through the emotional wringer. How the story twists from convincing you that Henry has died to much more personal tragedy for Constance really twists in the gut. Pairing her up with Flip is another great move and one that offers a great deal of promise for the future. Flip has always been street wise and Constance mannered and proficient, together they make quite a formidable pair and there’s palpable chemistry between Greenwood and Raison too. They bring the best out in each other and the second half of the story is all the more enjoyable for their interaction. There’s a fairly full-bodied in plot too, mixing history, politics and science fiction to pleasing effect. It’s ultimately little more than dramatic window dressing for all the characters to strut their stuff in but it also provides Jamie Robertson a great chance to conjure up the atmosphere of post-war depression. And it plays with some tasty notions. I really liked that there were no easy answers, no quick solutions and no daft science fiction explanations to aid Constance in her journey. Henry has betrayed her and it’s portrayed in a complex way with no easy answers, as love often is. Fitton always writes Sixie beautifully and whether he’s berating Kinvar for his anachronistic technology, comforting Mrs Clarke at the loss of her husband, trading barbs with Flip or shouting down an alien war, he’s pretty damn magnificent. Baker always gives 110% but I love it when he is handed material that is worthy of his efforts. One of the best of the year: 9/10