Friday, 30 October 2015

Doom Coalition 1

Doctor Who is rightly famous for its monsters. “Daleks… Sontarans…Cybermen!” as Colin Baker once proclaimed from the dock. Ask a non-fan about Doctor Who and they will probably mention a scarf or say “EX-TER-MIN-ATE!”,  such is the impact of the monsters on the national psyche. The Daleks in particular have become part of our national heritage, as recognisable to non-fans as other cultural icons like The Beatles, James Bond and Winston Churchill. But what about Doctor Who Villains? Since Who came back in 2005 the Monsters have again reigned supreme – Daleks… Sontarans… Cybermen! (thanks Colin) have glided, marched and stomped over our screens – but what about villains?
One thing New Who hasn’t really done is create a memorable villain. To be fair, from the old series I can only recall a handful… Davros, The Master and The Valeyard that can be regarded as classic, and none of them are part of the national consciousness in the same way as the Daleks. I like a good villain, they can be as panto or as serious as you like, but I like the way they are constructed, their motivations, their morality and their world view – you only have to look at Batman for a panoply of psychotic personalities (thank you Mr Jago) and of those the one that I found most fascinating was Harvey Dent or Two-Face, a man who literally has a split personality that coexists in his tortured mind with the good and the bad acting against each other. Imagine my joy when the villain of The Doom Coalition was announced – The Eleven – a Time Lord whose previous regenerations live on in his mind and argue with each other to control his personality – wonderful stuff. At last after almost 30 years we have a new classic Doctor Who villain – and what a performance! Mark Bonnar (Jimmy in The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People) is truly and literally unhinged as The Eleven, he scares the living daylights out of me (thanks James Bond), with ten competing psychotic personalities in his head and one aberration (The Eight), you really do not know what he is going to do and the scary thing is neither does he.
So on to the Doom Coalition 1 the first in a series of Four box sets epic for the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) now travelling with Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker) and following on from events in Dark Eyes.
The first Box set is split in to four stories:
The Eleven by Matt Fitton
Starting off with a pre-credits sequence seeing the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) who having defeated The Eleven is with him as he is incarcerated – it’s a fascinating scene almost Clarice and Lecter-esque (thanks Robert Harris) in its construction; its a cagey dance of quip and counter-quip and in a few short minutes sets up The Eleven as a classic Who villain.
After the credits roll we catch up with The Doctor and Liv and events that are taking place on Gallifrey. Worryingly junior Time Lady Kiani (Bethan Walker) has been given permission to interview The Eleven for her thesis, and not to give any spoilers away – they (The Eleven) use it to escape. This is a very 80′s feeling episode, it has all the feeling of the Gallifrey episodes from the Peter Davison and Colin Baker eras, with Cardinals, Castellans, The Celestial Intervention Agency, The Chancery Guard – it’s a very tense episode, a game of cat and mouse as the Doctor and his friends attempt to outwit The Eleven who are always one step ahead. They actually seems to know who and what are chasing them and seem to relish it. With a superb supporting cast (Robert Bathurst, Ramon Tikaram and Caroline Langrishe) and a tantalising mention of The Omega Arsenal (from The Day of the Doctor) it’s a breakneck opening for an epic box set.
 The Red Lady by John Dorney
Remember when Steven Moffat wasn’t showrunner? Remember when he wrote really scary stories that made you think? This story could have been one of those stories.
Following The Eleven to London in 1963, the Doctor and Liv discover that he isn’t actually there, but there is an anomaly that could be a clue to his whereabouts  The anomaly is a phenomenon known as “The Red Lady”  figure seen in works of art in a collection bequeathed by a dead collector. The strange thing is that the collector has never looked at the works of art and instructed that they are not looked upon…
Into this melting pot enters newcomer Helen Sinclair (Hattie Morahan), an academic facing the sexism and prejudices of a deeply ingrained old boys club in the University.  The Red Lady is a truly frightening episode, very much a psychological horror and echoes the themes of perception laid down in part one. It’s quite a stand alone episode and serves to introduce Helen Sinclair as a new companion for the rest of the box set and is very good indeed.
 The Galileo Trap by Marc Platt
Answering a summons from Galileo at the end of the previous episode, The Doctor, Liv and Helen travel to Renaissance era Florence to meet up with Galileo. Helen being on her first trip is a bit overwhelmed by it all and it takes the more experienced world weary Liv Chenka to keep trying to bring her back to earth, as it were.
This episode fills the role of the “celebrity historical” in which The Doctor and his friends meet a famous historical character and get involved in an adventure with them – and this one ticks all these boxes – it’s more of a “romp” than previous episodes, more traditional Doctor Who with a melting pot of The Doctor, Galileo, Liv, Helen, Space Police and Alien Bounty Hunters. It serves as both a bit of light relief after the intense first two stories and also as a staging post to get us to the finale. A trap has been set by The Eleven to capture the Doctor, a trap Galileo has been coerced into being complicit in. It’s a nice runaround of a story, but lacking the depth of the prior stories; it’s a fast-paced story but almost an interlude, a calm before the storm of the finale. John Woodvine is fab as Galileo, he gives a really weary performance and Hattie Morahan gives a promising first outing as Helen, all wide eyed wonder, joy and incredulity at the situation she finds herself in. The trap is sprung leading us on to the final part.
 The Satanic Mill by Edward Collier
And so we come to the final part – on an artificial satellite planet orbiting the Sun nearer than Mercury, The Eleven is about to enact his plan. He is using articles he has stolen from Gallifrey to… Spoilers! (thanks to River Song for that) and it really would be spoiling the story to tell any more. Lets just say that Mark Bonnar is a revelation as The Eleven – it’s a part he was born to play. McGann excels as The Doctor and I am so thankful to Big Finish for giving him the era he deserves and a suitably worthy opponent – but a further set of circumstances is hinted at of which The Eleven is only a small part….
So there we have it – Doom Coalition 1 an epic of… well, epic proportions – introducing an exceptional villain in The Eleven and a promising new companion in Helen Sinclair -it hits the ground running, slows down, and speeds up again for the finale, and is better than any season of television Who since at least 2007. It’s not perfect, part three is a bit formulaic, and the resolution could be a bit confusing, but the positives more than outweigh the negatives. Overall not quite turned up to Eleven but a totally non Doom Laden 9/10.