Reviewed By: Eiphel
Review Date: 8/18/10 9:33 pm
1 out of 1 found this review helpful.
The Unbound series is one of Big Finish's most creative ideas, definitely a worthwhile experiment. It's to their credit they didn't just produce Doctor Who with new actors, and really dug into the 'What if' possibility vibe. So this is really as apt a first episode as could possibly have been produced - Taking a really big, immediately grasped 'What If' - What if the Doctor had never left Gallifrey - and spinning a tale about stories, possibilities, imagination and adventure.
And a thoroughly enjoyable tale it is. It's got a lot of warmth, and an almost celebratory air at times, revelling in the joys of possibility. You can choose to take it as a celebration of the scope and range of the show, though it never slips into detracting metafictional commentary.
It's not a lightweight piece, though, and it has a gently melancholic air at times, especially earlier on. The confusion of the Doctor, losing himself in his imaginings, is effectively portrayed - both in Bayldon's performance and in the direction of the drama, which conveys a bit of that confusion to the listener, leaving you feeling a bit adrift in possibility. It adds a touch of tragedy to proceedings - an undertone that evokes fears of dementia and makes you worry for the Doctor as Susan clearly does. This leads to an affecting scene in which the Doctor scales an imaginary 'possibility tree', initially filled with excited glee, but becoming lost until Susan leads him back.
Not just when portraying this confusion, but throughout the play, Bayldon's turn as an older, slightly infirm Doctor is great. He conveys the vulnerability of this incarnation (I'm not 100% sure if it's an alternate first Doctor, or if he has regenerated from Hartnell at some point) without becoming weak or pitiful. He invests warmth into his scenes with Susan and shows a genuine joy in his 'adventures'. But, importantly, he doesn't come off as a wet blanket. Quite early on there's a superb moment when he rants at the inaction of the Time Lords when faced with the 'Thalek' threat, and towards the end he takes gleeful pleasure in undermining Quences at the coronation.
I heard Carole Ann Ford recently in An Earthly Child, and found her surprisingly good. She's similarly strong here, playing the Susan from TV without the shakiness of the performance and the rather needy limp-wristedness. The script makes her rather proactive - she kicks the Doctor's door down and shoots his butler! - and Ford rises to it; this is a much more determined Susan than we've seen before. You can believe she means to sieze Presidency by both shoulders.
Nesbit and Longworth also put on great showings, and some of their respective scenes opposite Bayldon have a great back-and-forth. Brenher and Brooker are perhaps not quite so memorable, but they're perfectly good in what are, ultimately, fairly charicature parts.
The plot isn't the most tightly woven of things. It's sort of a patchwork of imagery loosely draped about a narrative, and precisely what the villain of the piece is after is not entirely clear (how does he benefit from having a President in the family?) Also, there's some small reveals which, when they come, are likely to have been predicted. It's full of great visual ideas, though, with the Alpine setting, the dingy house in the Gallifreyan undercity, the Rose Garden and so on. It also makes great flourishes of the fanciful and emotional, which go some way to compensating for the more practical elements of the story. In short, it's a very typical Marc Platt script. It's reminiscent of Ghost Light, which is a favourite of mine.
The beginning is a little slow to gather speed, though having heard the whole tale, I'm half convinced the slow build up was neccesary to bring everything together. Still, my attention did wander a bit at the 20 minute mark. Everything starts ticking along at a pleasant pace once Susan arrives however.
The Hannibal tale is rather fun, and pleasingly evocative of the first Doctor's historical adventures. The various manifestations of the Doctor's 'artistic license' are rather amusing - not least the talking elephant. What's really pleasing is that this plot strand didn't pale into irrelevance, as it seems doomed to, being essentially a dream sequence, but actually converges with the main plot at its climax, in rather spectacular and outrageous fashion.
The ending is perfectly concieved, and makes the most of the themes of the story. What better way, given the 'What If' premise of the tale, for the story to end than with the Doctor setting out in the TARDIS, with and/or without Susan. The final montage of potential adventures is the final brilliant detail, and the whole thing left me with a smile.
So - A perfectly pitched start to the range. It doesn't much go in for subtletly, wearing the themes on its sleeve, but it's stimulating stuff. It's got a pleasing lightness to it, reminiscent of the atmosphere of the Hartnell eps at their most upbeat, and it's a lot fun. 8/10
Postscript - The Unbound themetune is a fantastic piece of work. I went back and listened to it again when it was finished.