It can generally be said about the Doctor Who television series that it rarely, if ever, made the relationship between the Doctor and his companion the focus of the stories. Occasionally, some companions would undergo a limited amount of character development, but on the whole, the series was more concerned with telling science fiction, fantasy and adventure stories, and the companion served primarily as someone to whom the audience could relate as they were thrust into the alien world of a time travelling eccentric who pitted himself against monsters and megalomaniacs on a regular basis. The novels changed all of that; with more room available to them, the authors began to develop the characters more fully and explore their relationship with the Doctor, and the ramifications of his actions, alongside the main fantasy-base plot. Nowhere was this more evident than in the development of Ace in the New Adventures, and it has continued as long as the novels have been published.
Big Finish have picked up on this and attempted much the same sort of on-going character development, most notably with the companiosn created for the audios, including Erimem and Charley. And with 'Arrangements for War', we get a story set upon an alien planet with an impending alien invasion on the horizon, but which is, ultimately, about relationships. 'Arrangements for War' deals with the aftermath of Cassie's death in 'Project: Lazarus' and shows the strain placed upon the relationship between the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn. It opens with Evelyn obviously traumatized by the death, and tearfully telling the Doctor, "I've spent the last few hours just… thinking about things. About Cassie, about what happened to her, and about your manner" before adding, "You've had more experienced at this kind of thing. I can't just switch my emotions on and off." The Doctor tells her, "I'd hate to think there was anything irreconcilable between us" and he's obviously distraught by her reaction and rather upset that she wants to go off on her own for a while. What follows are four episodes of reflection and reconciliation as both travellers form new relationships on Világ, lose people, and ultimately gain a greater insight into how the other feels. It could have been awful, but the combination of Big Finish newcomer Paul Sutton's thoughtful script and the performances of the actors makes it work extremely well.
As soon as we hear Suskind and Leesley bickering about politics, it seems that 'Arrangements for War' will be, as the title implies, about a war, in this case between neighbouring nations. In keeping with the title, there is a greater threat, as more fearsome invaders lurk "off-camera", the Doctor noting, "In about a month, a race called the Killorans will invade the planet unexpectedly." Világ is a planet with "a single landmass, which at present is divided between three countries" and we learn of the new kingdom alliance between once-warring states. The Doctor also explains that "With the formation of the Alliance, Galen and Melendia will have stopped fighting each other and will stand together to sling-shot the Killorans back into space." This is simple world building, with largely symbolic monarchies in good old British style, but it proves to be an effective set-up. The Doctor's wisdom in bringing Evelyn to a planet that will shortly be engaged in a bloody war is rather questionable, but the events on Világ provides a suitable backdrop to the more prominent issues on display here, including of course Evelyn's relationship with Rossiter.
'Arrangements for War' is Evelyn's story. We're reminded of Evelyn's heart condition, following on from 'Project: Lazarus', as she notes, "Plenty of things are reminding me of my age at the moment" and later confesses to Rossiter, "I'm having to adjust to a great change in my life. You see, I'm dying." We gain more insight into why this relatively unconventional companion enjoys travelling with the Doctor, as she explains that everything she has experienced with him is so strange that she forgot about her condition. We also learn that she dare not tell him about her heart because she's worried he'll take her home. Rossiter's role in the story is to emphasize just how important her friendship with the Doctor really is to her, despite her current distress; the relationship between them is very mature and touching, especially during the poignant scene in Episode Two in which they discuss the nature of grief on the lake, with Rossiter talking of his wife, and Evelyn telling him about Cassie and also Jem (from 'Doctor Who and the Pirates'). This allows us an insight into Evelyn's reaction to these events in a natural way, since it is perfectly natural for her to discuss these issues with Rossiter and avoids unnatural-sounding exposition. Significantly, whilst discussing Cassie, she tells Rossiter, "He let them die" before correcting herself, "WE let them die", indicating that her anger with the Doctor is perhaps more a result of her own guilt than the fact that she actually blames him for their fates. Sutton provides a turning point for Evelyn, as she grows closer to Rossiter and he tells her, "I love you Evelyn. Stay with me. I'm asking you to leave the Doctor." This gives her a compelling reason to depart from the TARDIS, and it becomes obvious that she won't give up the wonder of her travels, much to Rossiter's obvious disappointment; before she actually tells him that she can't stay, she is already musing of the Doctor, "Neither of us is going to change, we just have to work out a way we can live together."
Part of the reason that 'Arrangements for War' works so well is due to Gabriel Woolf's performance as Rossiter. Having played one of Doctor Who's most chilling villains in 'Pyramids of Mars', he here gets to play an entirely different character and he is utterly convincing. Rossiter is thoroughly likeable, from his early line, "Charmed to make your acquaintance madam", which sounds totally sincere, to his touching faith in Evelyn's character, as she advises him on courses of action concerning politics, with foreknowledge of the Killoran invasion that she simply can't tell him about; he tells her, "I believe you. I believe there is a fundamental sound reason that I should send my country to war" and adds "I'll go to war for you, Dr. Smythe." Evelyn's inability to explain her reasons places her in the Doctor's shoes when, as a result of Suskind's schemes to destroy the arranged marriage by getting evidence about Reid and Christina, she finds herself under house arrest. She gets very agitated and frustrated, shouting at Rossiter because she knows about the Killorans but unable to explain herself to him, a position in which the Doctor often finds himself.
Meanwhile, the Doctor finds himself in Evelyn's shoes; he gets very attached to Princess Krisztina, and after she gets wounded by Pokol and holds Pokol at gunpoint in return, he tells her, "You're one little hero I couldn't bear to do without." This makes Krisztina's eventual fate rather predictable, but Sutton structures his scripts like a Shakespearean tragedy, and it works extremely well (Krisztina's impossible, doomed relationship with Reid recalls Romeo and Juliet, although the situations are obviously different). By placing the Doctor in a situation where he finds himself prioritizing human relationships over the bigger picture, Sutton allows him insight into Evelyn's view of the world; thus, the Doctor manages to get Reid assigned to Krisztina, so that they can be together surreptitiously and in order to do so the Doctor barges in and advises Reid to do what he needs to be with the woman he loves. He convinces Reid, and the Doctor is left speechless when Reid decides to take his advice, even if it leads to war, which forces the Doctor to reflect at the end of Episode One, "If they're found out, then the arranged marriage will be called off, the alliance will break up, the war will start again, and when the Killorans arrive they'll tear this planet apart. And it'll all be my fault!" Inevitably and tragically, Reid dies saving his world, resulting in a tearful ending for Krisztina, who herself then dies, throwing herself in front of the Doctor when an enraged Pokol tries to shoot him. As a result of this, Evelyn realises just how much the Doctor does care about people, as he cries, "They're dead Evelyn, they're both dead. And it's my fault, directly my fault." So upset is he that he intends to change history, until Evelyn convinces him not to, telling him, "You gave them that back." The result is a predictable but effective reconciliation between the Doctor and Evelyn, as he sadly tells her, "I don't just switch my emotions on and off." He adds, "It's a challenge to me Evelyn, to travel with you" and explains that his other companions have been younger and less experienced. By the end of 'Arrangements for War', the Doctor and Evelyn have thus addressed the baggage created by 'Project: Lazarus', allowing a rare exploration of just how travelling with the Doctor must affect his human companions and but also allowing both of them to move on. The result most satisfactory; the story adds depth to the ongoing relationship between the Doctor and Evelyn, but also achieves a kind of resolution, negating the need for these issues to overwhelm future Sixth Doctor and Evelyn stories.
'Arrangements for War' benefits from a great cast, with Colin Baker and Maggie Stables excelling as the Doctor and Evelyn, both of them conveying a full range of emotions convincingly throughout. Especially notable is Baker's performance when the Doctor is confronted with Krisztina's death, making him sound like a wounded child. But although the story focuses on the regulars and Rossiter, it also boasts a fine supporting cast, who are well served by Sutton's characterisation. Katarina Olsson is great as Krisztina, who is very pragmatic about marrying the Prince, even though they are simply getting married for political expediency and in the name of peace. Lewis Rae's earthy Corporal Reid's love for her immediately complicates things, but the Princess firmly tells Rossiter, "I know where my responsibilities lie" and Olsson hints at the powerful emotions her character is suppressing highly effectively. Philip Bretherton is suitably odious as Plenopotentiary Suskind, who is ruthless and unpleasant, but also intelligent enough to consider the Doctor's warning about a "Third party" and ponder upon the ramifications. When the Killorans invade, Suskind stands up and admits his crimes, realizing that the important thing is for everyone to work together against them, candidly and unapologetically explaining his previous actions with the line, "I tried to defeat the alliance because I thought my people stood stronger in isolation." It is rather refreshing for a villain to so unashamedly explain himself, and also to admit his folly. Far less pleasant is Kraig Thornber's Pokol, a nasty and sadistic thug who gloats when he gets an opportunity to shoot Christina and the Doctor; he contrasts effectively with Suskind, lacking his superior's self-awareness and functioning instead as a bully whom Suskind can direct to do his dirty work.
The story is well directed by Gary Russell, and the large scale of the story is reflected in Steve Foxton's sound design, which convincingly creates the impression of large numbers of people and a full-scale invasion by the ferocious-sounding Killorans. If every Big Finish Doctor Who audio were like 'Arrangements for War' I'd probably get bored, but as a one-off it is exemplary and a fine debut for Paul Sutton.
The 6th Doctor and Evelyn return after much too long a gap. The last story - Project Lazarus - was nearly a year ago. Bearing in mind that it is universally acknowledged that the 6th Doctor and Evelyn are one of the main reasons for Big Finish being so brilliant - then that ' s just too long. Thankfully we have another in a few months, that ' s more like it! I think it should be written into Maggie Stables contract - at least 3 stories a year!
The long gap is emphasized by the fact that the events that start this one off, follow on directly after Project Lazarus. I must go back and listen to that again, because there is a lot I have forgotten. What I do remember though, is that Evelyn was mightily cheesed off with our hero - and I suppose, that ' s all you really need to know starting this.
You could call Arrangements For War a more gentle story, many are calling it a romance even. But that would imply some Mills and Boon affair - which it certainly is not. That said though, it does have more loving moments than your usual DW story - but then so did some classic TV stories - Green Death (released on DVD around the same time) for example. So it appears the lusty month of May, as the musical Camelot proudly sings, is totally true for Doctor Who 2004.
My wife loved this story. She enthused about it all the way through, and sat attentive throughout. She went as far to say that it was the best for some considerable time, with the greatest Cliffhangers she had ever heard. So is Big Finish catering here for the female market? I wouldn ' t be so sexist to presume anything like that, to be honest. Lets just say it ' s got more romance in than usual, so for all you romantic blokes out there, this ones for you.
Paul Sutton is a name I had never heard of before. He seems the ideal choice to write this though. The CD notes have a picture of him and his Hungarian wife, in a very dramatic pose together. Cupids arrow has been shot all over this release. The Princess in this story is called after his wife too - so Corporal Reids exclamations of longing are undoubtedly the authors for his wife - that ' s nice. The Doctor comes along to help this potentially politically harmful union. That ' s quite dubious morality from our hero - but it ties in famously with Evelyns current opinion of him - and provokes a stunning conclusion.
Evelyn too falls under the mystical love spell that surrounds this story. Her blooming relationship with Governer Rossitor (played by Gabriel Woolf - who played Sutekh) is a strange one. Love vows are shared, then Rossitor disappears for an episode or so! You half expect Rossitor to be the Villain of the piece because of his previous role - but then which side is the good, and which the bad. Evelyn and the Doctor fall in with opposite sides, in different ways - that ' s part of the dilemma that drives the story.
The title is quite clever, having multiple meaning, which I won ' t spoil by giving my twopenneth here. Safe to say an title that I thought originally rather dull, takes on greater meaning thanks to the events here. One of these events is the coming of the alien invaders. Evelyn seems rather more worried about this than the Doctor - certainly the later episodes have that aura of doom, which really drives the story towards its excellent conclusion.
The production is full of brilliant performances, and some real stand out voices - vital for great audio stories. Suskind and Rossitor top the list in this department, with clear distinctive speeches. With Colin Baker there too, you have arguably the richest vocal talent any Big Finish play has ever heard.
One voice heard quite a few times is that of Gary Russell - the Director. I have the greatest respect for this fellow, as one of the main driving forces behind this brilliant series of Doctor Who stories. He is one of the prime reasons why these plays are so good - a brilliant Director and Script Editor. I also think h e is a great interviewer (as witnessed in the Dalek Invasion of Earth DVD). He provides extra voices quite regularly in these releases too - it ' s probably easier that way than just employing an actor for a few lines. Trouble was in Episode 3 I lost count of how many times I thought - that ' s Gary Russell, that is - and I ' m sure they were for quite a few parts. Try and vary the modulation at least, please.
Arrangements For War is a fascinating piece of Audio. A thoughtful script, and rather tense at times. Love and War mixed in a heady concoction, with 2 of the greatest Characters ever devised right in the centre of things (the 6th Doctor and Evelyn Smythe). The Sound Engineers create a really brilliant environment - with some delightful music counterbalancing the story. I found it all rather wonderful - seems I can be in touch with my feminine side too. 8/10
The first time I listened to this story, sometime last year, I don't think I was paying very much attention. Quite simply, I didn't like it. It wasn't the type of story I was expecting, it didn't seem to move along at a good enough pace, and the dynamic duo of the sixth Doctor and Evelyn were separated for nearly the entire story. However, hearing it again, I think I made a grave error in judgment. This is a very definite, if unconventional, success, and it's one of the strongest stories Big Finish has released in a long time.
It's a little disarming to listen to, because while it does follow "Doctor Who" conventions, it treats them in a totally surprising way. We are used to the Doctor coming up against the political representatives of warring nations, but what if these politics got personal? What if the Doctor and his companion chose to split apart and, individually, assist separate countries towards peace? What if the companion really did have a convincing romance? And what if, despite everything, the Doctor tried to defend a world against the devestation he knew would come to pass?
Those are the questions "Arrangements for War" poses, amongst others, and as such it takes a very focused look at what actually makes the Doctor tick, and why he is both the most human and most alien person Evelyn will ever meet. After the events of "Doctor Who and the Pirates" and "Project: Lazarus," I knew something would have to happen to their relationship, but I really never expected it to be so much front and center. The result is both unexpected and extremely satisfying. You just have to be prepared: this isn't your average "Doctor Who" adventure story.
Part of what makes the story so strong is the cast. Colin Baker and Maggie Stables are, as always, a treat to listen to. Here, though, it's not their sparring, but the serious and dramatic tone of their brief appearances together that are the highlights. The final scene is so rending, it carries more emotional weight than almost every other "Doctor Who" story combined. And sorry as I am to say it, that just couldn't have been accomplished with Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred. There's also a more than capable secondary cast, with a very welcome guest role for Gabriel Woolf as Governor Rossiter. I had never really considered the idea of a love interest for Evelyn, but it works out astonishingly well. Woolf manages some very emotional moments that the Doctor, by very nature of his character, wouldn't be right for.
Ultimately, your enjoyment of this story will depend almost entirely on whether ready for something a little different. "Arrangements for War" aims really high, and in my opinion, manages to reach and surpass its goals. It's about grand, generalized ideas - life, death, love, and the interrelations of the three - but in the end, it's also about two people who choose to do, as another Doctor put it, "what nobody else in the universe can do." Sometimes it's thrilling, and sometimes it can also be sad. This is a mature story for fans who have grown beyond endless running down corridors and ranting villains, and I know it's one I'll be listening to again and again.
The most telling phrase to sum up this audio is hidden away in the production notes inside the booklet, lest it’s dire prophecy put paying customers off – “a Mills and Boon-style gentle romance”. Quite why the producer wanted one of these I’m not sure – fair enough, it hasn’t been tackled too much before, but of all the literary genres Who could aspire to, cheesy pulp romances for middle-aged women doesn’t sit high on the list. To be fair to the author, Arrangements For War isn’t as one-dimensional as that – but it certainly wears its frequently sickly heart on its sleeve.
There are two romances on offer here: firstly that between a Princess (who is due for an arranged marriage with the Prince of a warring country to ensure peace) and the commoner who is her ‘true love’; and between a politician and a time travelling Doctor (no – not that one, Evelyn). The ‘nothing can come between true love’ angle of the Princess Krisztina and Corporal Reid is a fairly hackneyed device, but it does lead to some good dramatic conflicts, with the added bonus of the interfering Sixth Doctor managing to unwittingly stir things up in the first place. Where Sutton falls down is by frequently pushing things too far into melodrama – the ending is a good case in point, with death and wailing on a grand scale reducing this listener to fits of laughter, when a lighter touch could have resulted in a more moving finale.
The one-sided ‘romance’ between Evelyn and Governor Rossiter however is just too bizarre to take seriously at all – Evelyn suddenly becomes a political figure, and despite no insightful intellectual moves on display manages to so impress Rossiter that he falls head over heels for her. This romance, and Evelyn’s entire political career feel contrived and unconvincing (at one point Evelyn suggests going for a walk on the beach – “What a remarkable woman” gushes Rossiter, as though she’s just discovered the cure for cancer.)
Throughout the political skulduggery, a greater threat hangs over all – the Doctor and Evelyn know that if the two warring nations cannot join together in peace then they will be overrun by invading aliens in the near future. This makes for a good build-up, but unfortunately when the alien Killorans (from the Benny series, apparently), appear, their dialogue seems to consist of nothing but “Rooooooooaaaaaaaaaarrrrrr!”. Throughout the play, the limitations of the cast to realise the scope of the play is only too apparent, with 6 actors effectively having to represent 3 separate countries, and never quite convincing.
Despite all these handicaps however, Arrangements For War remains a listenable and mildly entertaining play simply through observing the evolving relationship of the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn. Evelyn’s fluffy cocoa and cakes persona has thankfully matured, and while Project: Lazarus may have pushed her too far into wailing angst, by the end of this play she reaches an understanding with the Doctor that makes wading through the soppy love story worthwhile. By no means a great story, but fans of the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn will find this a satisfying if unspectacular release.
Two things immediately set a wonderful, calm mood to this episode, like you're listening to it during the long twilight of a warm summer's day...
First is the refreshingly original dialog by Paul Sutton... or at least it's original to "Doctor Who" (for the most part) in that it's both telling everything we need to know but it's taking its time doing it, as Sutton seems to understand that the more relaxed pace of the telling itself tells us something: that despite it being a "Doctor Who" story on an alien planet, it's an old-fashioned love story of the type seen in classic literature. This is quite different from a story that seems to just be slow and dull, which leads to boredom... this is slow in the way floating down a lazy river with some friends nearby is slow, which keeps you personally involved. The pace is also telling us this is no ordinary hit-and-run story for the Doctor and Evelyn... we're going to be spending some time in this place.
Secondly, and perhaps just as importantly, is the magical-sounding music and sound design by newcomer Steve Foxon. He uses these sweeping, almost sighing, musical suites from time to time, not too unlike Peter Howell's work on "Planet of Fire" that I love to pieces. They further paint the "late summer's day" mood for me, and should Big Finish ever put a toe into the "music-only" CD market again, I'd nominate this score at the top of the list for inclusion.
Something that's perhaps more subtle is Gary Russell's direction, which for now I'm not going to say too much about as I think there's more to say about it explicitly in the later episodes. Suffice to say that for now I think it's superb, and moreso than usual. A new bar is being reached here. This also ties in with the very fine performances of the actors, which again I want to save for the later episodes... except ...
I have to heap praise on Maggie Stables and Colin Baker for their scenes together as the Doctor tries to reconcile the two of them after the events of "Project: Lazarus" and Evelyn has to keep telling him she's just not ready for that yet. They play this perfectly, with tremendous sensitivity for what the other artist is doing at all times... you can tell they're really _listening_ to what each other has to say and adapting how they respond in return... not all actors do this (in favor of just reciting lines).
What of the story itself? The basic plot isn't what you'd call inventive, but it doesn't need to be as the real "story" is what's going on with all the characters. It is nice that we seem to have a blending of the "Doctor Who" historical and future genres, in that we're visiting a period of time that can probably be called "future" yet it has a history that's already spelled out by the Doctor and he and Evelyn should just be riding along with it rather than righting wrongs and stopping meddling. "The Mutant Phase" is the only other example of such a thing that springs to mind.
And does anyone else see a lot of similarities between the way this story opens and the way "The Androids of Tara" opens? They land in a nature reserve, and Evelyn, wearing stylish new clothes ("I like the boots"), leaves the Doctor while he goes fishing, and meanwhile the plot of the guest characters involves a royal wedding. Hmmm. :)
All the good points I mentioned yesterday about the relaxed pacing, the music and sound design, and so on, all still hold true today, so I'll move on to some points I go into detail on yesterday...
Where I think Gary Russell is excelling himself on direction this time is in the performances he's enticing out of his cast (not to mention how he cast them in the first place), and it's really no one cast member in particular... they're all shining. It seems like he's put a lot of thought into the pacing, and has got everyone taking their sweet time, and in so doing makes that time sweet. This was set up back in part one almost by the way the Princess speaks that verse in time to her music box, and it's as though that same pace is continuing throughout the story. Of course the rest of the production follows suit too, but this legato pace has to be coming from the conductor of this symphony, so bravo Mr. Russell.
I praised the regulars yesterday and they're still just as good as they were (particularly Colin Baker, who plays the reluctant matchmaker to the hilt), but now I must praise the guest artists... I'll just do two today to keep this spread out, and I'll pick on Gabriel Woolf as Evelyn's love interest, Governor Rossiter, and Katarina Olsson as Princess Krisztina. What they both do so well, using only their voices of course, is make each of their characters so clearly and utterly someone that their opposite character not only can fall in love with but absolutely has to, because they're just too well matched for each other. Woolf hits just the right note of decorum mixed with passion as the level-headed veteran politician so utterly grateful to be in Evelyn's company. Meanwhile Olsson is hitting a perfect harmony note as a character with the opposite situation... the youngster in love who's having to play at being a level-headed politician for the sake of her people. She can be giggly in love for a while when she's with Reid, but then inevitably sinks back to a sort of depression as she thinks about what she has to deny herself.
Today's episode has a nice little plot moment that I didn't quite catch on the first listen, of how Pokol is said to be monitoring what the Doctor is saying, but the impression we get from when we first hear this is that he's listening to the general press broadcast the Doctor's become embroiled in, when in actuality he's listening to the bug they've got planted in the rose on his lapel, which they reveal in full later on. A neat trick, that.
Another nice trick to the tone of this story is how in spite of all the terrorism that's going on in the background of this society (and the alien invasion that's now only 3 weeks off), it stays completely focused on the two (or three) love stories going on, and successfully convinces the listener that these love stories are the most important things in this world. One way that's emphasized is how the cliffhanger moment isn't about the Doctor getting captured and the affair being found out by Pokol and Susskind, but rather how Rossiter has just asked Evelyn to stay with him rather than the Doctor.
This is the story "Attack of the Clones" tried to be and should have been, but ham-fistedly failed at being.
Well, I suppose the plot had to take over at some point from the purely character-based stuff and today's the episode where that happens. The Doctor and Evelyn both get into the thick of trouble and get into further trouble in each's attempts to escape the trouble they're in.
Evelyn jumps from a train and comes out injured (didn't she hear of Turlough's trick back in "Loups-Garoux" ? :) ) but in so doing she does win Rossiter back over to her side after having rejected him for the two weeks between this episode and the last (and I love these time lapses between episodes, btw). Whether that'll do any good or not we won't know until tomorrow. I do wonder, though, why Rossiter or Evelyn's doctors in the hospital she wakes up in don't have a "nothing conforms to any known life on this planet" moment when looking over her medical tests... I guess these people are less oid than your usual humanoids?
The Doctor seems to have more to do, where he actually makes headway against this planet's own version of Donald Rumsfeld, Planepetentiary Suskind... getting him to start thinking about why it'd be a good idea to have a united military force instead of their usual unilateral squabbling ones, and wisely not just coming out and telling him there's an alien invasion coming, since he'd never believe ... it's always better when you can get the person you're trying to persuade to follow the same line of thought that you did. They learn so much better that way. (Clever writing too.) Then the Princess comes along and busts the Doctor out of jail, after they have a Cartmel/Aaronovitch-like scene where Pokol calls the Doctor's bluff when it comes to using lethal force, which the Princess overcomes by taking the gun herself. Her role as an Amidala/Leia figure is further confirmed by this I think. :)
I should make mention today of Philip Bretherton's excellently icy performance as Suskind. He speaks his lines with an incisiveness that can cut the person being spoken to, and which at the same time illustrates how sharp he himself is. As such it then becomes quite believable that he'd listen to the Doctor just enough to get thinking in the right direction when it comes to uniting the military forces, since that's the smart thing to do. (Perhaps I shouldn't have called him their version of Donald Rumsfeld then... he never listens to anyone.)
There's a moment in the opening news sound bites that I didn't quite catch on the first go-through, where Gary Russell as a reporter says that the war's restarted and has caused four _hundred_thousand_ casualties. Eek! I hadn't realized it got that bad when I first listened, and this piece of info may wind up coloring my reactions another way tomorrow from what they were the first time through... we'll see when we get there though.
The pacing picked up quite a bit today, but it doesn't feel out of joint with the rest of the story at all... exactly right in fact.
I've been sitting here staring at this blinking cursor trying to decide on what I think of this ending, and I can't make up my mind. So, what I think I'll do is just describe both competing sets of thoughts here now and maybe come back to this later once others have weighed in and once I've rethought it some more myself.
On the positive hand, we have Evelyn's heart condition and how it, together with the events of this story and the previous ones, works to get her back with the Doctor. I still don't like her having a heart condition like this for all the reasons I went into in "Project: Lazarus," but if I set that to one side, then this becomes a very moving journey for her character in that this time she's seeing the problem more from the Doctor's point of view than her own, as she was mostly an observer to the love story he was kindling this time, rather than the one of them that was getting wrapped up emotionally with the inhabitants, as with Jem and Cassie. When seen from the confined space of just the relationship between her and the Doctor, then the ending she contrives by resetting the co-ordinates of the TARDIS and thus preventing the Doctor from changing history is an utterly perfect one, as is the "cuddle" scene that it settles into as they watch Krisztina and Reid in the garden. This has forged an understanding between them with depth that I don't think we've ever seen between the Doctor and another companion before, except perhaps for the Brigadier. (The music on this section is brilliant too, btw.)
On the negative hand is the moral issues raised by what Evelyn's done in a wider context, which are there but which the play doesn't address at all. By that I mean whether or not changing history back to the way it was before the Doctor met Reid in the garden in part one was the right or wrong thing to do. In the Time Lord-ish sense it wasn't the right thing to do because it would've meant the Doctor would've changed history again, and quite deliberately this time, and changed his own history into the bargain. The Doctor isn't thinking in those terms at the end, however, when he's in that blind fury with himself for causing these tragic events to happen to people he grew to love so well, and there's a great purely moral argument on the human level that he would've been right to change things back, not just because of Krisztina and Reid though... but also because of the at least 400,000 deaths that occurred when the war between the countries restarted at the failure of the arranged marriage, and there were probably even a lot more killed than that in this version of history that shouldn't have been given how much stronger their resistance would've been to the invasion had they not sustained so many casualties too soon. Surely among those 400K+ there were a lot more Krisztina and Reid's who would've lived happily ever after too had it not been for the Doctor, right? Wouldn't this have justified the Doctor reversing his earlier action? In the human sense, yes... in the Time Lord sense, no, hence the confusion. What makes this disappointing in terms of the story's quality is that the play goes on as if this question isn't there, like the writer and producers hadn't noticed they'd painted themselves into a corner here and just tracked paint-filled footprints all over the rest of the good will this otherwise excellent play engendered.
So... I don't know what I think about this ending. I see what it was trying to do, and it nearly did it very well but for a messy situation written into the start of part three that seems to have been forgotten about by the end of the story. If the war hadn't restarted quite so forcefully then this would be a perfect ending to a tremendous story... as it is I'm doubtful and need to think about it some more.
Note: Steven Manfred's reviews were written for an internet mailing list shortly after re-listening to each episode on consecutive days.
This is a stirring mixture of war and romance and further proof that Big Finish is pulling itself out of the doldrums of last year. It is a powerfully acted piece and beautifully put together, Gary Russell giving his best directorial effort since The Wormery last year. I listened to the whole thing through, its another long story (125 minutes long) but it never felt stretched or padded. What’s more it continues the story of the sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe, easily one of the all time best pairing of Doctor and companion, following on from the dramatic events of Project: Lazarus and the possible destruction of their striking friendship.
I will make no secret of the fact that I was balling my eyes out come episode four, in particular the Doctor’s tragic reaction to another death in his life. This is the climax to several horrific adventures for the Doctor and Evelyn, three stories in a row now when they have lost somebody very dear to them. It is heartbreaking to see this pair, outwardly so fun being punished so severely by events out of their control. Evelyn’s hysterical reaction to Cassie’s death in Project: Lazarus was about as dramatic as Doctor has ever been, listening to the woman crying her eyes out uncontrollably was painful in the extreme, a fresh sort of uncomfortable that the series has never really explored before.
It makes perfect sense that Evelyn should need some time to herself to gather her thoughts. After the Doctor’s insistence that they charge on into another adventure it appears that he has callously already forgotten about those they have lost. For Evelyn, who loves children dearly it is too much to bear to see her friend behaving so alien. The opening scenes of this story are imbued with a nasty feeling between the two travellers, I was quite put off by how terribly she was treating the Doctor who is clearly trying his best to deal with his own emotions.
As if all her prayers were answered Evelyn meets up with Rossiter, Governor of Vilag, who offers her stability and beauty and romance. Naturally after such a terrible time of late she dives head first into his affections and they greatly enjoy their time together, splashing in the sea, taking in the sights. He even manages to get her involved with the politics of the planet, an important position that she finds stimulating in the extreme. Could it be true? Could she really be leaving the Doctor?
I cannot stand romance stories, especially romantic comedies, you the sort I mean with obvious plots where you know the two character will end up happily ever after no matter how daft the scenarios become. Mills and Boon books are vomit literature in my book, tedious one-dimensional characters written by authors who have a serious need to express their sexual frustration in novel form (ooh...harsh!). So it delights me to inform you that this love story is gorgeously written so it never dwells on cliches and constantly manages to surprise throughout. The lingering question of whether Evelyn will stay with Rossiter powers their story and leaves you desperate to see the outcome.
The scenes between Maggie Stables and Gabriel Woolf are quite beautiful thanks to their sensitive performances. It helps that we know Evelyn so well and it is nice to see her laughing and enjoying herself again but the underlying feeling that she enjoys this mans company more than the Doctor’s grips throughout. One scene in episode four where she reveals why she is so bitter towards the Doctor to Rossiter and starts to reminisce about her mother is another Maggie Stables emotional classic, she has the ability to really make you care for Evelyn and get up close and personal. Their chemistry is a delight, perhaps it is because this is an older romance than I am used but there was something sweet and engaging about their friendship.
In the background to the story lingers the War, the marriage between Princess of Galen and the Prince of Melidian that will unite them and put an end to their conflict. Of course as it always is things are not that simple and the Princess has her eye on another man, one of her own military men and has to choose between true love or a false love that will bind her people...
In steps the Doctor to play the unconventional role of go-between, he knows full well that the marriage has to take place to unite the two countries so that their union strengthens the military and averts an upcoming Killoran invasion. So to assist he finds himself hushing up the Princesses affair with her guard, passing notes between them and forced to endure their flirting as he is wedged between them in public displays. At first I was horrified to see the Doctor, especially the sixth Doctor, reduced to this but you soon realise how important it is that their affair remain secret. The safety of the entire planet is at risk...
And of course it gives Colin Baker another chance to explore the softer side of his character. It astonishes me to hear some people moaning about Big Finish and their attempts to shake up the sixth Doctor’s image and make a more likable, less irritable character. These were probably the same people who whined on that he was too violent and shouty on the telly. He is the continual winner of polls as THE audio Doctor and powerhouse performances like the one he delivers here is all the evidence you need to see why. Here he is written as a rather cheeky, playful guy, bristling with strong emotions and trying hard to cope with one death on his conscience after another. There is such texture to his performance, one second he can be putting on a fake gangster voice to fool a guard into escaping and the next he convincingly puts his heart on his sleeve and gets close to the Princess Krizstina. Indeed their scenes together, like Evelyn and Rossiter, bristle with genuine feeling, after losing so many children in recent stories it might be foolish of him to warm to another but their friendship is unmistakably touching. The fireworks at the end of the story come not with the end of the War but with the Doctor’s dramatic decision to alter established history. Given his aversion to such crimes in the past, it reveals just how hurt he is by late developments. It is crushingly real and Baker’s compelling performance brings it all home.
I loved how brisk the story seemed despite long dialogue scenes as friendships burgeon. Episode three begins in complete contrast to episode two which was a half hour of dizzy romance...suddenly things turn very bad and the plot is pushed on efficiently by means of a montage of newscasts, a marvellous way of getting on with the story without having to explain every little thing. Like a good piece of music the story saves the most dramatic events until the end, the story a crescendo of doom that climaxes in spectacular fireworks. Even away from the intimacy of the Doctor and Evelyn I was never bored, for once a planet and its affairs really seemed to matter to me and I was invested in finding out what happened.
Whilst much of the good work must go to the talented performers I feel I should put my hands together for Gary Russell who has also risen out of the ashes of last year and started to deliver stories of a quality that typified the early Big Finish productions. Much of this story was perfectly pitched; the drama was played just right, the sound FX were utterly convincing (I loved all the rushing water FX, very soothing) and what’s more important the Doctor/Evelyn romance was given appropriate gravity. Gary is a big fan of this pairing and it shows and they remain his (and Big Finishes) greatest achievement.
I don’t know who Steven Foxon is but I beg Big Finish to use him again. The music and sound design was extraordinary, a fresh new talent is just what the series needed and this guy knows his stuff. Romance scenes are punctuated with a calming score and the action scenes blood pumpingly perfect. There was one scene without dialogue with the Killorans invading that explained everything you needed to know, gunshots and screams echoing from the speakers.
Potent stuff and another sixth Doctor classic, the outstanding final scene is the cherry on the cake.