Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Main Range 057. Arrangements for War by Paul Sutton (May 2004)

“Sometimes things come along that are just bigger than we are.”

It seems like an age since Cassie was brutally killed and a distraught, disgusted Evelyn stormed away from the Doctor at the end of Project: Lazarus Part Two, though in real terms it was just under a year. I re-listened to it again in preparation for this audio and it really is remarkably powerful, the handling of poor tragic Cassie very sensitive. Much like key moments in the 8/Charley relationship, I felt certain that the fallout between the Doctor and Evelyn would form a major focus in the next story. If it were not addressed, I knew I would be most disappointed.

Fortunately, new writer Paul Sutton (about whom I can find almost no details online, though I’ll wager he’s written a soap opera or two in his day) makes the relationship between the Doctor and Evelyn the centre-piece of his sweeping romantic epic, Arrangements for War. If 2003 was an exploration of the dark sides of the Doctor’s travels as much as it was a celebration, 2004’s stories look as though they may involve coming to terms with the fallout thereof. Opening not long after those tense scenes, we see Maggie Stables at her very best right from the get-go, skewering the Doctor’s veneer of quips and name-dropping, and quickly getting proactively involved with the politics of Világ. Sutton’s dialogue is sometimes unexceptional or even inane, but Stables and the other performers lift the weaker material. Her storyline with Gabriel Woolf’s Rossiter in particular is charmingly sweet, a welcome convalescence from the trauma of her recent stories (indeed, she refers to the deaths of Jem from …and the Pirates and Cassie from Project: Lazarus). Scenes like Evelyn and Rossiter mourning the deaths of her sister and his wife, and their hopelessness in the face of their growing old, are rather new ground for Doctor Who, but welcome. We feel, as listeners, that this woman deserves this joy with this man. As the situation worsens and the fates close in, we see Evelyn Smythe at her bravest, suffering house arrest, extradition and charges of conspiracy, even at one point leaping from a train. All this while her heart condition slowly festers. What a marvellous, marvellous character she is. All this build-up means her arc in Part Four is yet more affecting – her hospital scenes are devastatingly good, for instance, as is the story’s denouement, in which she shows the Doctor that he created love as much as he destroyed it.

Colin Baker is at his most, to coin a word, audioSixish yet, though I could equally well say ‘sensitive’, ‘considerate’ or ‘cuddly’. He responds to Evelyn’s distress calmly and compassionately, trying to offer her time apart. You can almost hear his nervousness in the early scenes, as though he really is trying his best to make sure she’s alright. It’s extremely endearing, even if it’s about as far from his TV persona as he’s ever been: here he is, mischievously encouraging illicit affairs, enthusing about a rose in his buttonhole. However, his softer side masks the fact that we’ve rarely seen a Doctor and companion quite as estranged as these two are at points in this story. What binds them is, unfortunately, the tragedy of what happens, and it sends Baker into a paroxysm of fury (“It’s time I stopped watching people die!”).

The setting is the well-developed Világ, a planet named after the Hungarian word for “world”, while Princess Krisztina’s name derives from the name of the writer’s wife, also of Hungarian origin; in turn, Suŝkind’s name is an ironic Hungarian variation of the German for “sweet child”; the little nation of Középen, stuck between the monarchies Galen and Malendia, is Hungarian for “in the middle” (Galen, of course, appears to be named after the Greek physician, although that would appear to be somewhat less relevant). These are tiny touches, to be sure, but I appreciate the hint that future space empires do not all stem from the British. The tense political situation into which we are launched has definite parallels with central Europe at various points in its history, nations’ fates sealed by shaky alliances and symbolic marriages. The main characters don’t normally spend this much time getting to know one single place, and Sutton puts a good amount of thought into the extra colour of his quasi-feudal world – xenoblossoms that chime in a strong enough breeze, for instance.

What Sutton also does here is to mingle the vast epic with the intimate and interpersonal – the fate of the whole planet in the forthcoming invasion depends wholly on the politically expedience of an arranged marriage, and the gentle exploration of Krisztina and Marcus is given urge and drive by our additional knowledge of its broader relevance. The scenes of action and of war are there, it’s true, but they’re rather underplayed. This is a play about love. Some of the early romance between Krisztina and Marcus is a touch too maudlin, it is true: that kind of stuff is very hard to write convincingly. Apparently, Gary Russell requested a “Mills and Boon romance”. That’s not a bad description of Arrangements for War – there is a slightly pulpy melodrama feel to the scripting of some of the scenes – but it also undersells it, and that’s in part because of the musings on isolationism and nationalism and in part because of the sheer excellence of the performers.

I wouldn’t class Arrangements for War as a masterpiece; there are a few too many clunky clichés and romantic moments that don’t quite click. Surprisingly enough, however, the key story, Evelyn’s story, works very well, and the success thereof can mostly be laid at Maggie Stables’ door. Her terror that the Doctor will forget her is one of the most moving moments of Doctor Who I’ve heard. Sutton’s conclusion with regard to all of these doomed characters – the Doctor and Evelyn, Rossiter and Evelyn, Krisztina and Marcus – seems to be that, as the Doctor’s old friend Tennyson thought, and cliché though it is, it is still better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Other things:
It’s another very good score, this time from newbie Steve Foxon, all soft, minor chord piano and strings.
“You’ve had more experience of this kind of thing. I can’t just switch emotions on-and-off between battles for the universe.”
“No, Doctor. I don’t want to just relax. I want to do things with the time I’ve got left.”
“When she was young, she slept all day/She’d only wake to eat or play/When she was older, she slept till noon/With half the time for game or tune/And now she rises with the sun/Time filled with work, no time for fun.”
The Killorans are “humanoid with canine overtones, all angry and bestial.”
The Doctor quotes Tennyson, Schrödinger and, erm, Lou Reed.
It’s good to see this Doctor go fishing again, a call-back to The Two Doctors.
How strange to hear Gabriel Woolf in an amiable role. But he does it marvellously.
The public broadcasts are very bland, especially because Russell’s voice is getting ever more recognisable, and deliver info-dumps of the most egregious kind.
Pokol is, unfortunately, nothing more than a cardboard cut-out, and particularly poorly-performed.
“I miss her,” the Doctor says of Evelyn in a moment of rare vulnerability.
“To live after others die can be a painful responsibility.”
Evelyn on the Doctor: “He never stops to grieve.”
“It is time to put away childish things.” Unsurprising that one of the most defining and iconic bits of writing on love ever written – 1 Corinthians 13, majestically written whatever one’s faith – gets a look-in with this reference.
“Fool. Never handcuff a woman with small wrists. Especially one whose night cream is still in her handbag.” Brilliant.
“Not just a pretty face, then,” the Doctor says of Krisztina. I didn’t think he said things like that.
There’s a scene between Pokol, Krisztina and the Doctor in Part Three that is inexplicably awful. I think it’s probably the direction as much as it is the scripting, but oh my, it’s agonisingly ungainly to listen to. Similarly, Pokol coming in and shooting the Princess at the last minute is pretty clunky stuff.
“I find it [my heart problem] weighing heavier on my mind. When I first met the Doctor, he was so strange, so exciting, that I forgot about it, or at least didn’t dwell on it… [Recently] I find myself thinking about things I thought long forgotten. My ex-husband’s good points, for a start! Used to take me a week to list three. Now, sometimes I think in his own way he’s a truly wonderful man…And my mother. I haven’t thought about her for too long. You’ll never get a boy with your head stuck in a book, Evey. Look at your sister, look how popular she is! Mary was always her favourite, you know…I want to tell [the Doctor]. But I can’t. This is the first time I’ve really told someone. I am dying… I realise now that this is what it’s all been about. If he can calmly offer me a slice of chocolate cake after seeing – after seeing poor Cassie murdered, well, why should he be expected to remember an old woman like me for long? In my dream last night, he cried. Told me he would always be dear to him. Neither of us is going to change. We’re just going to have to work out a way we can live with each other.”
“You’re an exceptionally courageous woman, Doctor Evelyn Smythe. I know a little of what it’s like to live with death...Don’t imagine you’re alone, Evelyn. Let me help you. You need people who love you.”
“It’s okay, Doctor. I know he’s not asleep. I know he’s dead. But it’s okay, because this was our choice, you see. It’s okay because this was our choice.”
“This will not happen!” rages the Doctor. “This was not meant to happen! Not this time!”
“I don’t just switch my emotions on and off, Evelyn. It may look as though I do, but I don’t. It’s not a conscious thing. I can’t help the way I am.”
“I’m so terribly fond of all my companions – each of them has been special to me, unique. It’s not just anyone I let into the TARDIS.”/“And it’s not just anyone who could put up with your mood swings!” (I’m so glad she says that)/“Indeed, indeed. But they’ve all been – well, I suppose I have to say, younger. Perhaps I mean less experienced. Less well-rounded. Well, look I’ve travelled with my intellectual equals and with my emotional betters, but no one other than you, Evelyn, has been the whole kit and caboodle.”
“You know, Doctor, I think the TARDIS is the most important woman in your life.”/“Second most. Your boots need a bit of a clean, don’t you think?” (What an odd line to end on. I like the first part, but the boots line seems to come out of nowhere. I suppose it’s just showing their easy-going rapport, but I would’ve liked something with a little more finesse to round this story off).

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