Monday, 19 June 2017

Gallifrey 1.2: Square One by Stephen Cole (April 2004)

From the disarming opening segment ("it is happening again!") and the title - Square One, a reference to political manouevring as well as time-loops - it's fairly clear that this is going to be a story about the frustrations of repetition and not getting anywhere. Sure enough, that's what we get - a story that is frustratingly repetitious and doesn't really go anywhere. Despite recent cataclysmic events, the Temporal Powers are meeting at a historical temporal summit, but it's never quite clear what they're meant to be discussing, nor why Narvin is chosen to represent Gallifrey at the conference other than that he's a name we know (the head of the CIA seems a weird choice), especially given his hot-headed tendency to wade into the "jingoistic mire". Though it's a nice idea that time resets back to square one every time the delegates quarrel, the presentation of the squabbling politicos is all a bit peremptory and undercooked, and rarely attains the same sense of scale or brio to it that Weapon of Choice did, whilst, as in the film Source Code, it quickly gets wearing to watch the same scene unfold over and over. There's some clever plotting, and a good twist at the end, but it's a bit of a tortuous route to get there.

As in Weapon of Choice - and this is fast becoming something of a trope - Leela gets the more light-hearted and comedic segments, here forced to dress up as an "exotic dancer" as part of the entertainment for conference guests (with more than a hint of Leia in Jabba's barge, if you ask me). But, disappointingly, said guests in the future are "all men...all the same...all away from home, all looking to live it up, and all got too many hands", a detail which has something of a disturbing undertone - and sure enough, the scene in which a lecherous slug belonging to a species with an Oriental name ogles the (more or less Western) Leela in her skimpy costume and declares "I have appetite" is just a revolting, leery trope, a real low point. Nevertheless, Jameson is terrific as an amateur spy in this rather austere setting, something of a new role for Leela (her almost supernatural "instinct" suits her well here), and almost any scene with her and John Leeson in it goes down a treat; the cattish rivalry between the two K9 units is also a highlight. Her last scene with Romana is another joy (struggling to come to terms with actions that have been undone and asking "where is the meaning?" is oddly affecting). 

The story's politics make some gestures towards being interesting, though nothing quite takes off. "If we can chart the universe from an incandescent atom to a final fiery crunch," Romana angrily says to the squabbling delegates, "it is hoped that we can outgrow such childish patriotism." Well said, but alas it seems it is not to be (back to square one, we might say). The self-aggrandizing of corrupt and self-serving regimes is an ongoing theme here; the Monan Host uses an "occlusion field" to mask their history, "in much the same way [the Time Lords] edit their own glorious past": in the Monans' case, this takes the form of conquering their ancestors and streamlining their tenfold history into a single host system. Gallifrey, in turn, takes severe precautions against its shaky ally Monans, ready to unravel its entire planetary structure at a stroke, V'rell is a seditious assassin, and Flinkstab is unmasked as a pathetic, lonely sadist, far from some noble ambassador. 

None of the politicians come out of these events terribly well; Jane Goddard's Hossak has the "ability to deal sympathetically with other races, to empathise with their position" which means she is unique among Time Lords... except she's quite happy to denigrate Leela as a "stupid savage" and Romana as a "callous, deceitful bitch", instantly putting paid to the idea that she's any more tolerant and liberal than the rest of them (Romana concedes that Leela is "primitive" but at least says she isn't "stupid", and there seems to be a genuine friendship between them). As Romana says, "no great power is immune to reactionary elements" - an understatement when it comes to Time Lords - and Leela surmises that justice will not be done on Coralee because politicians simply talk without taking action ("all that you do in your serious rooms: sweeping things under mattings, talking of things until they go away"). So what we have is a story about how politicians and negotiators aren't getting anywhere, and I wish it wasn't as banal as that sounds.

The climactic revelation - that the real summit is taking place elsewhere, under Braxiatel's supervision, and that's why nobody of importance is attending this summit - is a good one, effectively turning the tables, though as with any such twist there's a risk that you just irritate your audience if you tell them that the thing you were trying to get them to care about is, in fact, not worth caring about. The ticking-clock climax see the reprise of the time-looping opener, but it's not especially thrilling and limps on to the finish line. Weaker than Weapon of Choice in most areas; hopefully things pick up soon.

Other things:
I continue to dislike David Darlington's score for this series. It just doesn't suit it, and ironically part of that is the usage of organ music (which I requested last time) to try and build tension, though the drumbeat doesn't really work either.
Why doesn't the High Monan say "one" in place of personal pronouns anymore? Has that been forgotten about already?
A nod to Cole's own audio The Apocalypse Element ("the catastrophic events that engulfed the Temporal Peace Conference on Archetryx").
Heads of state as holographic projections? Very Jedi Council.
"Don't you find all that instinct of yours exhausting?"/"Only the windy words of lawmakers."
"The more serious the stuff a politician talks about by day, the more serious the need to relax by night."
"Why do you wear so little?" asks Leela unironically.
"Please do not let me have to live another yesterday!"
"I'm the President; that's worth a couple of balloons, surely!"

Next: Gallifrey 1.3: The Inquiry by Justin Richards.

No comments:

Post a Comment