Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 3/12/17 1:07 pm
2 out of 3 found this review helpful.
In the opening story of the final Doom Coalition box set, following on from the previous box set, the Doctor (Paul McGann) and his companions Liv (Nicola Walker) and Helen (Hattie Morahan) have lost. Trapped into a shuttle hurtling through a destroyed universe, with no way of escape, it appears that their enemies have won. The Doctor and his companions will have to make a choice; to continue the fight, or to give up. Ship in a Bottle is almost a bottle episode, but has more in common with stories about escaping from a doomed ship. The story is decidedly light on the character development that normally characterizes a bottle episode, but the plot itself is an enjoyable escape story, even if the writer John Dorney didn't deliver the most engaging script, save for the ending of the story.
Once again reprising his role as the Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann delivers another strong performance, doing an excellent job conveying both a man deflated by defeat and the twinkle-in-the-eye boyish Eighth Doctor we've come to know and love. McGann can almost always be counted on to deliver a strong performance; I can't honestly think of a story where I disliked McGann himself in the story. Ship in a Bottle is no exception, as McGann gets to recall shades of the Eighth Doctor last seen in Night of the Doctor, where he despairs over the situation. His speech about whether or not it's worth it to keep on fighting is a strong bit of acting from McGann; he manages to convey a sense of hopelessness that's rare for the character, and better yet, he does it extremely well. McGann also excelled, as usual, when he injected a bit of manic joy into the role, such as his scene figuring out how to escape from the shuttle.
With no guest cast here, the rest of the story falls on the shoulders of the two companions: Liv Chenka, played by Nicola Walker, and Helen Sinclair, played by Hattie Morahan. Walker gets a strong story here, with lots of excellent character moments courtesy of writer John Dorney, and Walker acts the absolute hell out of every line she has. Her speech towards Helen about never giving up, and how she knows all the hardships and struggles about giving in to despair due to her time as a med-tech is a phenomenal bit of acting, and my personal favorite bit of acting from this story. It's a strong moment of acting from Walker, mixed with a strong bit of writing from Dorney. However, the weakest link of this story, once again, is Morahan as Helen. That's not to say that Morahan is a bad actor; she does a great job with what she's given. Her scene trying to convince Liv to give up, as well as her scene recounting the death of her grandmother, are both strong bits of acting from Morahan. She brings a subtlety to the performance that I really appreciate; she doesn't get flustered, she doesn't freak out, she just very calmly explains it. With that bit of acting, Morahan conveys an excellent sense of control and adjustment for her character, which is absolutely admirable. But the issue is not in her acting, but in the fact that the writer still doesn't know what to do with her, which I'll get into soon.
Dorney's script is a pretty solid script; it's fairly light on the character development that typically characterizes a bottle episode, while Dorney focuses more on the Doctor and his companions escaping the shuttle hurtling through the empty universe. It's a solid story because of that, but it's not a particularly interesting one. When Dorney did focus on the character work, I felt that the story really shined. Scenes, like the Doctor despairing, Liv explaining why she won't give up, and Helen recounting her grandmother's death, are all strong pieces of character work that really elevate this story. However, these bits are fleeting and give way to an enjoyable, but lesser story about the Doctor and his companions escaping from a crashing shuttle in a dead clever way. Which is perfectly fine, but when you're doing a bottle episode, that presents an opportunity for the characters to learn something new about each other and grow as a unit. But here, we instead are given some light character work that has ultimately been done before, while the bulk of the story focuses on how clever the Doctor and his companions can be. Which again, perfectly solid, but not standout whatsoever.
As I mentioned above, one of the biggest issues I had with this story was the fact that Dorney didn't know what to do with Helen in this story. A friend recently pointed out that Helen really isn't the Doctor's companion, but she's actually Liv's companion, at least in how she's written. I found myself somewhat agreeing with this; no writer has really figured out how to write strong scenes between the Doctor and Helen. Liv is always there, acting as an intermediary between the two, and that means that Helen's character suffers a bit. More than that, none of the writers really seem like they enjoy using Helen; here, she gets two solid character moments, but then is relegated to question-asker and pessimistic companion. I'd really hoped that after the preview I read about this, where Dorney and Fitton admitted that Helen had been underused, that they would make changes to the character. But instead, we have the same old Helen Sinclair, who barely stands out from the wallpaper as is.
Overall, Ship in a Bottle is a solid story that, while a bit dull at times, manages to start the final Doom Coalition box set with a bang. McGann and Walker delivered some excellent performances, while Morahan, despite her character's lack of a role, gave a strong performance as well. Dorney's script however wasn't the strongest script he's delivered; it was a solid escape story, but there were occasional flashes of strong character development that I wish Dorney had focused on a bit more and expanded upon, in lieu of the standard crashing ship story. But in the end, it was a solid start, with some strong, if fleeting, moments of character development, and that is admirable in and of itself.