Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Bonus Releases I. Real Time by Gary Russell (December 2002)

I’ve not been that impressed by Russell’s scriptwriting so far, but his general grasp of running the monthly range and particularly of directing key stories have been reliably solid. The plot and dialogue here did little to change my mind on the first score, and unfortunately, this rather dealt a blow to his alleged skill at direction (I decided against watching the animated episodes while listening to the audio, simply because the option isn’t available for other stories, but perhaps if I had done I would have had more of a sense of what was going on).

Regarding the Cybermen themselves, Real Time treats them slightly more effectively than Sword of Orion, but doesn’t improve much on, say, Attack of the Cybermen or Silver Nemesis, let alone reach the lofty heights of Spare Parts (from which it steals the “Doctor/companion-as-Controller” concept). Cybermen from the far future, a desperate bunch who have come back in time to save themselves, is hardly a classic MO. The Cyber-history info-dump is particularly egregious in its typically 80s continuity obsession, and Tso simply doesn’t deliver it very well. Furthermore, although the score accompanying them is quite good, the audio treatment of the Cybermen’s voices is curiously lacking, with the exception of the Cyber-Controller’s booming tones. The two significant new ideas are a) Dr Goddard as a kind of super-advanced Cyberman, cybernetic inside and human-looking outside, and b) Cyber-Savage’s pretence of retaining her humanity, bewailing her agony and using the Doctor’s compassion as a means of tricking him: both are something we’ve not seen before or since, and work well. We also get one of their most gory moments, as Cyber-Savage crushes Renchard’s head into a pulp (the squelching pop noise is especially nasty).

It’s hardly original to praise them anymore, but Colin Baker and Maggie Stables continue to have an effortless camaraderie – their first TARDIS scene is good fun, particularly the moment where they realised they’ve attended the funeral of a man who was a stranger to both of them. On the subject of the guest cast: no offence to Yee Jee Tso, but it needs saying: hiring him twice was bad enough, hiring him three times is lunacy. The man just can’t deliver dialogue convincingly, and regrettably this is Gary Russell dialogue. “Oh my God, you’ve travelled in TIME!” Sigh. Is he one of the few people who can’t pronounce “Daleks”, too? Getting in Stewart Lee and Richard Herring is a nice coup, too, although they don’t get all that much to do. They’re rather wasted, frankly. Jane Goddard does decent work as Dr Savage, though.

But for the most part, the “real time” aspect is unnecessary, the paradox plot is unengaging, some of the performances are a bit insipid, even Gary Russell has said it probably isn’t canon – if I had to sum up Real Time, it would be: distinctly missable and not really about anything.

I should think Shada will be better. Alas, Death Comes to Time is supposed to be even worse.

Other things:
Eurgh, it’s the 70s theme again. I love it and all, but Colin’s theme for Colin’s Doctor, please.
This probably wasn’t meant to be as meta as I read it, but I liked Hoyer and Fantham musing, “The Doctor’s gone. How long d’you think before we cease to exist then?” – it reminds me of the fact that the people the Doctor meets, in general, become non-existent the moment after he (and we) leave them behind.
This story sees the “official” debut of the Doctor’s new blue coat, which is exciting. Blue does suit Colin Baker, it is true.
“Gaucherie? Raiment? Who force-fed you a thesaurus this morning?”
“Where else does one wear a morning suit but at a place of mourning? Blue – you see, colour of mourning, on a number of civilised worlds, but notably not yours.”
“You belong to us. You will be like us.” So Gary has watched The Tomb of the Cybermen, too. That doesn’t mean re-using one of its most famous lines will impress me.
“My friends mean a great deal to me, but they’re still expendable compared to the fate of the universe.” Good old pragmatic Doctor.
I did like the quip about the Cyber-Controller being like “a cybernetic Prester John”.
Even in all this, Evelyn gets one of her best lines, in response to the Cybermen asking, “You are the Doctor’s companion?”: “Well, I prefer to think that he’s mine, actually.”
“A pyrrhic victory, Savage. That’s all you Cybermen ever get.” Too true.
“What have you got to live for?”/“Perfection. Dominance. Power.”/“What about you?”/“Power. Dominance. Perfection.”/“What about you?” Mostly thanks to Maggie Stables, this is the story’s best scene; there’s a great moment where she challenges the Cyber-Controller, “Who are you so desperate to convince, me, or yourself?”
“He no longer dreams or believes.”
“You’re losing your cool, Controller. I’ve seen department heads get like that when they realise they’ve buggered up their annual accounts.”
There’s some good cliff-hangers on display here; Russell has a good grasp on what will or won’t make for a tense moment or five.
Listening to Yee Jee Tso saying, “You think you’re God! Well I am your child! I am Adam and I am chucking you out of Eden!” is one of the rare moments I was embarrassed to be a fan.
The story ends on a curiously unresolved note – evidently the planned sequel fell through after Big Finish and BBCi fell out.

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