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This ties into the three part Doctor Who Excelis Story line with the fifth-sevenths Doctors appearing in separate adventures and finds Bernice Summerfield randomly landing on Artaris hoping to get drunk in a particularly difficult period of her life. However, she finds all is not well as the planet's humanoid population is limited to a single city-a city facing a plague. A strange man pronounces poophecies of doom as the Empress tries to hang on to power. In the midst of this fragile situation comes not only Professor Summerfield but also the zany Time Lord Iris Wildthyme who is out for the perfect accessory for a dress-a relic that has been at the center of life in Excelis for centuries.
This story is decent and certainly is an uptick from the more dour Excelis Decays. It provides a reasonable enough explanation for the relic and its true purpose. The acting is good, even though I'm not familiar with Summerfield. The idea of teaming Summerfield and Wildthyme is a smart choice, and the two have good chemistry. The result is a mostly enjoyable story.
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Previous stories required!
The Doctor had left Excelis in Excelis Rising with the planet on the verge of the golden age. He returns to find the planet an Orwellian nightmare in perpetual war and the Doctor's old foe has a new identity and is manipulating things to a truly diabolical end.
This is a dark story and depressing with Sylvester McCoy's performance being the saving grace. The Doctor's principles and his belief in liberty are well-portrayed. by McCoy and is perhaps the one bright spot.
After a fairly engaging first third or so, the story really sags under its own weight. The idea of how totalitarian regimes take hold and take power was powerful and the concept of the Elite (i.e. Meat Puppets) was truly terrifying. However, the story drowned in its own verbosity as characters one by one reeled off reams of backstory at each other and the audience. The big problem here seems to be that 70 minutes wasn't enough to tell the story writer Craig Hinton wanted to tell.
Most actual action happened off mike so that we could have everyone explaining everything. We even have a very contrived story where the Doctor is captured by the Wardens and kept in the quarters of the Major whose housekeeper just happened to be sympathetic to the concerns about Excellis, and this Major just happened to have the only set of book in the City State of Excellis. And I can't help but remark on how flat Yee Jee Tso was as the Major. While many characters seemed off due to Hinton's overbearing dialogue but Tso was the worst. Overall, this is a bleak little mess.
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No previous stories required.
The Sixth Doctor arrives in the middle of a closed museum as an inside job burglary is occurring. The Doctor gets caught up in it and discovers the burglars were stealing "the artifact" an item he saw 1,000 years before as the Fifth Doctor and he also discovers a familiar face worn by a man Reeve Maupassant (Anthony Stewart Head), the head of the local police, but the Doctor thinks he's really Lord Grayvorn and therefore more than a thousand years old, but that can't be? Can it?
The big failing of Excelis Rising is to use its potential and settting to its full advantage. Very rarely do we get sense of uniquneness in this world, although we hear enough to know this world is essentially Steam Punk but fails to develop any of that atmosphere. It really seems the whole story could have benefited by a little more world building. Indeed, that the artifact at the center of the story is known as the artifact kind of speaks to that weakness.
What saves the story is Colin Baker, who provides a fantastic performance as the Doctor, with a lot of energy as he gets to the heart of the matter. His one on one scenes with Anthony Stewart Head are magic and make what could be a mediocre or even poor play into a worthwhile listen. With a little more effort by the writers this could have been a great story.