Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Main Range 063. Caerdroia by Lloyd Rose (November 2004)

Lloyd Rose, incidentally the first and only American woman to write full-length performed Doctor Who, wrote the deceptively slight Caerdroia, the Eighth Doctor’s Castrovalva, on the back of a career of crime dramas like Homicide, the precursor to The Wire, and a couple of well-received EDAs and a PDA. Her story is the penultimate chapter in the Divergent Universe sequence, and does something neat with the sequencing of the arc – from Faith Stealer, a cross-section of a vast, sprawling society, we zoom in on The Last, a more claustrophobic locale, then on to Caerdroia, almost entirely limited to four actors, the stories getting smaller and smaller. And yet Rose still manages to give this arc something of the rising quality of epic – time leaking into a universe without time from the portal in Caerdroia and the eventual recovery of the TARDIS both signify some sort of dramatic finale in the next story.

For an American writer, this story is suffused with a very Anglo-Saxon idyll, bringing back strong memories of the EDA Grimm Reality, which similarly places the Eighth Doctor in a world of medieval fable. Caerdroia itself is the ‘Fortress of Many Turnings’ – with hints of the works of Escher and the Arthurian legend of Corbenic (or Munsalväsche), home of the Fisher King and the Holy Grail itself: “the castle is everywhere… there’s a castle in the Earth Grail legends that revolves so that it turns to face all the land around it in a single day. But if you were inside the castle, it would be easier to think the land, the whole world, revolves around you.” And that’s just the start. There’s a medieval “Bürgermeister”. There’s a Pythonesque satire of bureaucratic hell, needlessly labyrinthine, in the form of the town hall and its single solitary clerk who seems to recur at every desk. There’s the Greek legend of Theseus and the Minotaur, and the Norse one of Wayland the Smith, who also appears in Beowulf. An illusory world, drawn from constructs in their minds – Eutermesan fauna, Earth legends, Gallifreyan flora… It’s internally inconsistent, various bits and bobs of myth and legend “jammed together”. A nonsense-land, if you will.

I’ve not read Rose’s novels, but I’m told she gave the Eighth Doctor some of his best print characterisation; this seems highly plausible, given the material she hands to McGann here. Against the Kro’ka he’s infuriatingly cheeky and irreverent, quietly powerful, more of a trickster than this incarnation usually is (trapping the Kro’ka in his mind is a particularly Cornell-esque flourish) – like he’s taking all the angst of the last few releases and channelled it into the cheeriest of savage mockery. She gives him some of his best lines (“Don’t be ridiculous!”/“I’ve tried not to but I just can’t stop… perhaps I should join a twelve-step programme?”) – yet his role in the story really comes to life at the end of Part One, once we get three Eighth Doctors for the price of one. This makes for a cliff-hanger almost completely out of left-field, in which McGann modulates his voice three times over to convey the splitting of his psyche when passing through a portal: one relatively normal, one bouncy and enthused, one irritable and unpleasant. It’s a very, very big ask, particularly on audio where you have none of the distinguishing elements of body language to play with – all the nuance needs to be there in the performance. His portrayal of the carefree, childlike Doctor, exploring the Garden of Curiosities with C’rizz, is especially amiable, so much so that I almost want to see McGann like him more of the time!

Charley is interesting in this one – Lloyd Rose generally writes the character as more Edwardian than she has been of late (“Kro’ka, old chap”, “what with him being so naturally chatty”, etc.) and India Fisher makes sure to give a posher sheen to the way she delivers the lines. On the face of it, this doesn’t make a great deal of sense; Charley has generally become less refined and more easy-going as she’s gone on. But in this story she passes, of course, into a Faerie realm, a George Macdonald world of castles, mazes, cuckoo clocks, babbling brooks and old Central European villages – it’s no wonder she reverts back to “storybook Charley” – right down to the AA Milne references, calling the two polarising Doctors “Eeyore” and “Tigger” (the first book featuring both came out in 1928, a couple of years before Charley’s R101 voyage). As a stark and almost jarring intrusion on this, she gets paired, interestingly, with the grumpy “Eeyore” Doctor, to perhaps further their more tempestuous relationship, while C’rizz in his turn spends his time with the “Tigger” Doctor, and the “normal” Doctor goes off by himself. The dichotomy is reasonably clear – Charley starts relatively full of zest yet travel with the Doctor does her terrible damage and hardens her resolve, whereas C’rizz starts full of anguish and pain and travelling with the Doctor is an act of healing (and note that an element of his former provenance crops up too, the terrifying obelat monster from his homeworld). The implication is thus that when the Doctor veers too far from his rational “centre”, whichever direction that’s in, he needs the guidance and experience of his companions, which can reasonably be mirrored as opposite. It’s a lovely little bit of character focus.

Another important thing to note about Caerdroia is that it finally gives us something we’ve been looking forward to for quite some time: the Kro’ka. Obviously there’s not much point delaying the pleasure if you then fail to deliver, which is probably why fans are generally opposed to story arcs. Stephen Perring gets a lot more to do – displaying a wider vocal range, for one thing, conveying his anger, his manipulation, his pain… He actually gets some characterisation, with the indication of a certain schism between him and his masters and the implication that he acts out of fear of them; his scenes with McGann are a highlight. Perring’s brief turns as the clerks and Wayland are strong, too.

As we have throughout this arc, we find endless cyclicality with dead ends and no hope of future (the backdrop of mazes and labyrinths does help with that rather) – not to mention that Rose cleverly weaves in the villainy of previous arc stories: the Divergents’ abilities are based in part on extracts from the Light City template from The Natural History of Fear and on Major Koth’s bizarre state in The Twilight Kingdom. The story really sets up “time” as something needed, something positive, something the Doctor desires and desperately wants back – from the cuckoo clock to the cowbells to the chiming of the bells being a message from the TARDIS, itself a nice spin on the cloister bell. Life’s underlying rhythms and structure are lacking here in the Divergent world, and rhythm can bring him back to the TARDIS, his home, appropriately for the conclusion of an arc that began his banishment with the lack of music. It focalises him, galvanises him, and allows him (quite literally) to become himself once more. “It’s so neat, I could write a thesis,” as the Doctor says of the coffin in Death of the Doctor.

Structurally, there are a few scenes which drag and you can’t help feeling a bit of editing could have tightened a few areas. But the script is witty and imaginative and full of playful concepts, and just as importantly the regulars are absolutely on fire. It’s been a pretty strong trio of stories for the Divergent Universe’s second season, all things considered, so here’s hoping that The Next Life finishes things off well.

Other things:
The cover’s abysmal, sadly. I’d love the alternate one, which is so much more evocative.
Charley and C’rizz’s sassy comments to the Kro’ka at the beginning are good fun, particularly with him trying to clarify her more acerbic remarks.
“I am not interested in your petty adventures!”/“Then why do you keep sending us on them?”
“There are minutes, and they do tick by, even in a universe that can’t tell the time.”
“Oh dear, the mind blast!” (A “mind probe” in-joke?)
“You will find the mind blast to be quite different.”/“They all say that.”
“Oh, please, please, please, don’t say “Where am I?” – it’s such a cliché!”
“People have told me I ought to have been an actor. Considering my lifespan, I suppose there’s still time.”
In the Doctor’s mind: “Oh, I’m around. You might say I’m everywhere. This is my mind, after all. How do you like it? All Mod Cons, you know… Oh, it’s a scrap of cheese. How untidy. I’m terribly sorry. There are parts of this place I don’t visit very often.” Of course his mind (“it’s such a big place. It’s so old”) has carnival fun-slides and pits. Of course it does. And note how this script is by a clear Anglophile, right down to The Jam LP name.
“Must you keep babbling?”/“That’s an existential question, Kro’ka, and I can’t answer it.”
The Doctor’s reaction to news that the Divergents utilise the Welsh word Caerdroia: “How terribly cosmopolitan of them”. And we had that Welsh accent in Faith Stealer and a Welsh clerk here. A place without progression or advancement… yes, I’m calling it now: Wales is the Divergent Universe :p
“There are things…”/“Don’t tell me, I can’t imagine them!” Brilliant skewering of a clichéd line.
“Right as rain…whatever that means… One of those phrases that doesn’t make sense, like ‘safe as houses’. That one’s always puzzled me…I mean, houses aren’t safe… look at the Three Little Pigs!”
Foxon’s score is *excellent*, haunting and dramatic.
“I thought we were taller…I’ve looked in mirrors, of course, but they can be misleading.”
“Oh dear, I hope this isn’t going to be like one of those Edgar Allan Poe stories.”
The cows make for some great comedy – “Why did you bring them?!”/“They followed us!”/“...with unknown intent.”
“Can anyone here help me at all?”/“That question must be referred to the Rhetorical or Genuine Questions Office for a decision, before any action can be implemented.”/“I’m just going to take a couple of aspirin now.”
“You know, I was almost beginning to like you.”/“Why?”
“I was wondering when the monster was going to show up.”
“Suggestive, a bit off, wrong slightly, as if nothing quite fits.”
“How do we think of a plan if we can’t talk to one another?”/“It’s a paradox!”/“It’s not a paradox. It’s a dilemma.”
“Some of my goofiest incarnations have been my sliest.”
“Such a winning personality, he ought to run for dictator.”
“Here I am, chicken for the plucking, fish for the frying, goose for the … the thing you do with geese!” Tigger-Doctor is such fun.
“I’m talking like a fool, but I always know what I’m talking like a fool about.”
“The Doctor attracts danger. It’s as if there’s something in him that draws problems close so he can fix them.”
“Of all the dangers I’ve faced, I never thought I’d die of boredom.”
The Doctor: “I’m everywhere, like the castle.”
“The others never allow me to invade a mind. Perhaps they have a point. This one’s a dump. Painful, isn’t it? Perhaps you’ll bear that in mind next time you have a stroll on someone’s cerebellum.”
So late in the day, C’rizz finally gets to see the TARDIS for the first time!
“There are rooms and rooms.”/“How many?”/“No one knows.”
Regrettably…it’s all been down to Rassilon, everyone’s favourite Big Bad.

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