Reviewed By: Drew Vogel
Review Date: 9/18/17 6:25 pm
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I rarely notice the music unless its especially prominent. It's one of my blind-spots, so to speak. Whether it's TV, movies, or Big Finish audios, the music usually just slips by underneath the level of conscious awareness. I hear it, of course, and it manipulates my emotions. I just rarely notice it.
In the case of "The Settling", the music is one of the most memorable things about it. And that's saying something, because "The Settling" is an outstanding story with much to recommend it. But the music deserves special notice, I think. There's something terribly relentless and oppressive about those drums. They manage to convey something of the hopeless inevitability that infects the whole story. I don't think I'm going out on a limb to suggest that helplessness in the face of history is one of the prominent themes of the story, and the music really helps sell that. You hear those drums and you just know that terrible things are going to happen, and there's nothing anyone can do to stop it. There's an argument to be made that Hex was responsible, to a certain extent, for much of what happened. But I think it's more interesting see it all as a kind of fateful inevitability.
All right, so it's bleak, it's grim, and it's heavy, but it's also outstanding (and there are a few moments of warmth and even comedy along the way). Much credit must go the writer, of course, for delivering such a powerful script, but let me start with the actors. The core of this story is the relationship between Cromwell and Hex, which means Philip Olivier and Clive Mantle do most of the heavy lifting. Sophie Aldred, too, especially in the quiet, reflective scenes that make up the story's framing device. But mainly Olivier and Mantle, and they're just wonderful together. I've like Hex ever since "The Harvest". I thought he was a great character right from the start, and a great addition to the Doctor/Ace team. But this is the first time that Olivier has really impressed me. His performances have always been solid, more or less, but this is the first story since "The Harvest" that really made demands of him, and he absolutely shines.
But we mustn't forget the script. Guerrier does a fine job of introducing Cromwell in the first episode. He plays on Cromwell's reputation as a monster, only then to present a nuanced, complex character, who manages even to be sympathetic. It's not so much that Guerrier's Cromwell is not a monster, but that he's not merely a monster. He has a defensible point-of-view, and Guerrier's script allows him to present it. By the end of the story, neither Ace nor Hex quite knows what to make of him. I think that's the reaction Guerrier was trying to get out of the audience, and if so, it certainly worked in my case.
I think it's fair to say that the Doctor takes a bit of a back seat in this story, but he still has a prominent and quite interesting role to play. Putting him in the position of having to deliver a baby was a stroke of genius. There's something deeply incongruous about the seventh Doctor being called upon to do something as ordinary-yet-extraordinary as delivering a baby. After that, having him inspire innovations in medical technology is just a neat little bonus.