Reviewed By: Eiphel
Review Date: 11/16/12 8:42 pm
3 out of 4 found this review helpful.
It seems like this Drashani Empire trilogy is somewhat ill concieved. I don't mean the basic structure - I actually think the idea of revisiting a point across the lives of multiple Doctors is pretty exciting and contains a lot of potential. I just feel like the particular execution of the trilogy has a bit of a fatal flaw. Dorney's 'The Burning Prince' was a relentless survival thriller, and its focus wasn't on explorations of characters or setting, but on constant and intense action and atmosphere. I wasn't keen on it for those reasons, since that style of story - particularly on audio - doesn't really interest me. On the other hand, it's a legitimate choice of focus and style and it does have its fans, so in isolation there's not a problem. Taken in the wider context of the trilogy, though, it becomes a bit of a head scratcher. Since the Burning Prince was initialising this ongoing trilogy, setting up plot points to be revisited again and again, it seems like a fatal flaw to have opted not to focus on producing fleshed out and multilayered points to revisit. Later stories in the series have to expand the seeds in the Burning Prince, and to do that effectively it should come by exploring and unpacking depth in what is already there. The ideas should grow by revealing more things within them. The elements created in the Burning Prince don't have that depth, though, so rather than unpacking and exploring them, the Acheron Pulse is forced to expand them simply by bolting more on. I'm left thinking that this defeats the point of making the trilogy in the first place.
Most of these complaints seem directed at the Burning Prince, but the Burning Prince is able to stand alone as a story qua story, and so - whilst the problems are founded there - it's not until the Acheron Pulse, which by its position in the middle of the trilogy is the most heavily focussed on developing it, that the problems are made evident. (There's an irony to this, since the flaws of the trilogy are mirroring the very kind of developing revelation that the plot points fail to elicit.)
All this adds up to a very poor first half of the story. We spend two episodes becoming immersed in latest travails of the Empire, but the world and its people don't possess the depth to make this dramatic, evocative or thematic. Instead it's just rote. In the Burning Prince the point of the story is the immediate action, but the Acheron pulse is really trying to care more about exploring a world that lacks anything to explore. There's some business with a space station and rebel elements and it just feels like we're retreading the saboteur plot from the Burning Prince without any new nuance. I think the repetition is intentional, but there's no depth to create interesting mirroring, so all that happens is we repeat a dull subplot. I'm also really bored of the primitive tribespeople on future planet trope. I could quite happily never listen to another sci-fi primitive character ever again. To their credit, when the tribe leader joins the war, I thought those scenes actually portrayed them as pretty smart and intelligent warriors, mostly due to Jane Slavin working very hard indeed. I still could have done without them.
The other big problem in the first half of the story is that we're just waiting for the real plot to start, and we know it. A very ill-concieved post-credits scene in the Burning Prince impatiently blew the trilogy's surprises, so we already know exactly what's coming and can predict pretty much everything on the way to getting there. The entire scene is repeated in this story anyway. It really should never have been included on Burning Prince, where it added nothing. It's like excitedly telling someone the end of your book after the first chapter because you're more excited about their reaction to that than them reading the rest of the story. Getting to the point takes half the story, and the fact we already know everything we're hearing is secondary means it's not just dull, we have no reason to try and care.
Exceedingly fortunately, once the proper story gets started, it picks up a fair amount. The Wrath are an interesting race. They have a lot going on, and it's got dramatic and sci-fi conceptual merit in it. The second half of the story, dealing with Tenebris, the Wrath and the Undervoid, is largely comprised of new material that the Acheron Pulse is bolting onto the foundation it inherited. Thankfully, the new stuff is more original, idiosyncratic and interesting than the foundation, and bodes much better for the Shadow Heart.
Tenebris himself is a more entertaining character than I expected, especially when there's no huge surprises to come from him and his motivations. Credit to James Wilby and Colin Baker then; the former brings Tenebris alive, and the latter essentially spending the story locked in an elevator with him, builds up a good back and forth. Their final scenes are quite a sweet little coda.
I have to say, though, that present Tenebris doesn't seem very recognisably born of the person he once was. That might be for the best since past Tenebris is teeth-pullingly annoying, but it still comes back to the failing of this trilogy to make the trilogy format work. Whilst the change in character is the point, for it to work as a dramatic point it requires a perceptible continuity of character, which seems lacking. The exception to this being the specific scenes involving Cheni and her cousin, in which the story very heavily jumps up and down to make you see the connection. Some of these scenes in the Undervoid threatened to stretch credibility rather heavily in much the same way as the Burning Prince, but nowhere near the same degree. Also, James Wilby and Kirsty Bestermen underplay Tenebris and Cheni much moreso than were the Kylo and Aliona scenes in Burning Prince.
In general, Bestermen is vastly better here as Cheni than in Burning Prince as Aliona. This makes me wonder if it wasn't the direction of the Burning Prince which rendered those scenes so unfortunately hysterical. Either way, it adds hope of improvement for the trilogy.
That's what Acheron Pulse ends up being all about, really. Working very hard to overcome a bad lot. The first half exemplifies the big flaws in the trilogy's setup whilst the second half begins diligently improving matters. In the end I still can't say I thought it was very good, but I liked half of it, and there's a chance for the Shadow Heart to actually make something worthwhile of the setup it's given here. That said, I do feel the Doctor's actions show an out-of-character level of oblivious hubris, even for him, and it really feels forced in order to make the setup work. The Acheron Pulse is pulled and pushed in every direction by trying to be the lynchpin of a shaky trilogy; a 5/10.