Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 4/16/18 4:34 am
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In World of Damnation, the penultimate story of Ravenous 1, the Doctor (Paul McGann) and Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker) are on the trail of their friend, Helen Sinclair (Hattie Morahan). In their last adventure together, she was sent careening off into the stars with a frightful enemy, the insane Eleven (Mark Bonnar). So when the Doctor and Liv arrive on Rkyerzon, the place where Helen landed, they expect to have to save her from his clutches. But in their absence, Helen has changed in many ways, and the Eleven isn’t the same man he was. The Doctor and Liv have arrived to save their friend, but they’re soon to find out she may not be their friend anymore. World of Damnation, Matt Fitton’s first contribution to Ravenous 1, is a decent story for the set to pivot with, towards both its box set and series arcs. Hattie Morahan and Mark Bonnar are generally strong as Helen Sinclair and the Eleven, while a strong supporting cast, from Charlie Condou and Pippa Bennett-Warner helps the story shine a bit more. Fitton’s story is an interesting one, doing a lot of strong work on the character of Helen, and showcasing the main plot, of a prison on the brink of mutiny, off well. But the addition of the Kandyman, played well for the writing by Nicholas Rowe, fizzles out, as the character feels shoehorned into the production, and the characterization is somewhat lacking. For the climax of the story, the last moments of the story certainly do the trick; but the remainder of the story, while strong in some respects, is generally just okay, nothing more, nothing less.
World of Damnation finally sees the return of two key players from the Doom Coalition box sets: Hattie Morahan as the Eighth Doctor’s companion, Helen Sinclair, and Mark Bonnar as the renegade Time Lord and insane enemy to the Doctor, the Eleven. In spite of faults with the characterization of her character in previous box sets, Morahan was always a delight to listen to, often delivering engaging, sensitive performances. Here, she continues that trend, but also brings in a genuinely engaging edge to her performance here, to match with her character’s time in a prison with an insane murderer, and her performance is far stronger for it. I thought that there were so many great scenes throughout the story for Morahan, but the ones that stuck out for me were her performances in the two scenes alongside Bonnar, at the beginning of the story, and at the climax of the story. Both are quieter moments for the story, and Morahan conveys a lot of depth in her character, with her cautious, yet sensitive performance here. This story may just be one of the best showcases of Morahan’s talents, and the depth of her character, due to her strong performance here. Bonnar also returns from Doom Coalition as the Eleven, a Time Lord plagued by the voices of his previous incarnations. From his first story all the way back in Doom Coalition 1, Bonnar has been spellbinding in his performance as the Eleven. I’m always impressed by actors who can pivot at the drop of a hat, but Bonnar is something else with his performance. It takes an immensely talented actor to pull off the pivoting that he does with the voices in his head constantly cutting in over one another. Even if, as I suspect, he records a lot of these parts separately, and the editors cut them together for the final product, it’s still incredibly impressive how he can create a batch of eleven different voices that are not only distinct, but also consistent throughout five box sets.
But perhaps the most anticipated part of this box set was the return of the Kandyman, portrayed by Nicholas Rowe. Originally appearing in The Happiness Patrol and played by David John Pope, the Kandyman is a mad scientist who, using his chemical knowledge, creates candy concoctions that can kill or, as is the case here, be used for population control, and sells his services to the highest bidder. Despite my excitement for the return of the character, I found myself largely disappointed by his return, for a number of reasons. First is the performance Nicholas Rowe gives as the Kandyman. It’s emphatically not a bad performance, by any stretch of the imagination. Rowe is enjoyable enough, and his performance fits the ideas of the story well. But it really left me cold; part of the excellence of the Kandyman, in my opinion, is that his character is just completely over-the-top, signified by his voice more than anything. But here, the Kandyman is little more than a lackey, something that, despite his subservience to Helen A in the TV series, isn’t part of the character. Obviously, there’s different circumstances here; he’s clearly been helped by the Eleven extensively, and owes a debt to him in some way, and that could certainly play more into his more reserved demeanor in this story. But I just didn’t like it, because it didn’t really feel like the Kandyman, and as such, it really made the Kandyman feel superfluous to the story. They could’ve inserted any nameless scientist into the story, but they instead forced the Kandyman into the role, when there was no good reason for it to be the Kandyman, other than for marketing. It’s cynical, yes, but it’s also a shame that Fitton and others couldn’t come up with a more compelling reason for the Kandyman to be here, or that they couldn’t have teased out a more interesting character once they’d settled on including him in the story.
Matt Fitton is tasked with creating the penultimate story, and the first foray into the arc of the box set. His story, which sees the return of Helen into the fold, and also marks the return of the Eleven and the Kandyman, is a story with some good elements to it, but also some parts that drag it down a bit. The plot is a solid one, and I particularly enjoyed the risks Fitton took with the story of Helen and the Eleven, and their uneasy relationship. The story was a really good old-fashioned story that followed the, “prisoners become the wardens” trope, but did so in an enjoyable way. It worked out as well as it did by nature of the strong cast Fitton had to work with and to translate his story, but Fitton did a fine job showing how the Eleven and the Kandyman slowly took over the facility, slowly revealing their plan, piece by piece. But the highlight of the plot, in my opinion, was the choice by Fitton to slow the story down initially, and really got into the relationship between Helen and the Eleven. There have been many, many stories over the years of heroes and villains forced into quasi-alliances, and based on the ending, it seems like the story might be going towards making the Eleven into something of an villain with morals, which I’m not particularly fond of, but for the duration of this story, the relationship showcased between the two was a strong one, and one I really enjoyed. I thought it played off the characters well, with Helen not quite trusting the Eleven, and the Eleven not really believing that Helen is willing to help him, but the scenes the two share together, especially in the beginning and the end of the story, are powerful, quiet moments.
Apart from the Kandyman, the other elephant in the room with this set is the return of Helen Sinclair into the fold. At the end of Doom Coalition 4, Helen was sent spiraling off into space with the Eleven, destined to eventually end up Rykerzon. Throughout Doom Coalition, the writers never really seemed to know what to do with Helen Sinclair. She had some fine moments, like her debut, The Red Lady, and the strong Absent Friends, and I particularly liked her chemistry with Alex Kingston’s River Song in Doom Coalition 3, but by and large, she was a fairly listless companion, and a rather boring, forgettable companion. I’d joked with friends that the promises of the writers to “fix” Helen in Doom Coalition 4 ended up being that they sent her blasting off into the ether. But now she’s back, and the question is: has she changed for the better at all? Well… the answer is difficult to say. Hattie Morahan has never been the issue with Helen, it’s always been in the writing, and here, the writing does do Helen a few more favors than other stories. She’s given more depth and has a chance to have a deeper, more intriguing personality, and it works well and feels like a strong direction that they’re taking. There’s some promising steps in there; her constant proclamations of how it’s horrible how women are treated in her time is kept to a minimum, and she’s allowed to show off something other than her usual, “stiff upper lip and all that” demeanor which, while nice, isn’t exactly novel. But, none of these changes are particularly large, and while some are welcome, they still don’t feel like they’re enough to really give her that extra kick to make her all the more engaging. Past Eighth Doctor companions have all had some sort of spark to them that Helen just doesn’t have yet. I’m going to reserve judgment until the end of the set, but the changes I’ve seen so far, while intriguing, don’t excite me too much.
Overall, World of Damnation, Matt Fitton’s first contribution to the series, is a decent story that pivots well into the box set and, presumably, the series-long arc well. Hattie Morahan and Mark Bonnar make their return to the world of the Eighth Doctor with this story, with Morahan giving a good performance throughout as a slightly hardened Helen, given some interesting new dimensions by Fitton that could blossom into some interesting character traits, while Mark Bonnar again commands the story with his excellent, multi-faceted performance. Fitton crafts an interesting story about the Doctor and his friends trapped in a prison alongside one of his worst enemies and staffed by another of them. However, the much-touted return of the Kandyman, played by Nicholas Rowe, fizzles in my opinion, as the characterization they go with lacks the memorability of the original character in place of a rather generic, “mad scientist” role, that is still well-played by Rowe. Overall, the climax of the story is a decent one, if not exactly one that blows you away; instead, it has its faults, but in general, it comes out of the gate strong, and finishes well enough to make me rather excited for the final story.