Monday, 19 June 2017

Gallifrey 1.3: The Inquiry by Justin Richards (April 2004)

In one sense it's surprising that bringing back the Inquisitor from The Trial of a Time Lord - there a nameless character, but here called 'Inquisitor Darkel' - should turn out to be A Good Thing, because good though Lynda Bellingham was (and she was), she had so little to do, and is so associated with a somewhat unloved part of Doctor Who's history, that you wouldn't think she's a self-evident choice to bring back for this Gallifrey series. But then I wouldn't have thought that 30 minutes of phone conversation would make the brilliant story that is Urgent Calls, or that a comedy about Richard III could be as emotionally rich and true as The Kingmaker is, or that Auld Mortality could possibly spawn a rich and imaginative sequel without killing the ambiguity of the original. And on each count I have been proved wrong. Because the addition of Lynda Bellingham to Gallifrey's impressive - and, as I've highlighted before, impressively female-led - line-up is a good thing for the range, on the whole; The Inquiry is generally more engaging than its two predecessors.

For a start, it has a much clearer premise but also a more eccentric plot structure: proceedings here revolve entirely around an inquiry into President Romana's behaviour, with Inquisitor Darkel presiding over everything, but the central story is broken up by flashbacks to events that took place before Weapon of Choice. Doctor Who doesn't do courtroom drama all that often - perhaps down to the fact that the last time it attempted it was during the aforementioned somewhat unloved time in Doctor Who's history - but it works here very well: Gallifrey as a world of austere judges and lawmakers is a reliably solid take on the planet. Both Lynda Bellingham and Miles Richardson really get their teeth into Justin Richards' faux-legalese, making it sound natural rather than dry. Though she's still not in it enough, Bellingham is just perfect as Darkel, bringing a natural weight and imperiousness to the part, whilst Richardson gets a lot more to do here as Cardinal Braxiatel ("I like to be independent on the wrong side"), and I'm loving his silky-voiced performance. He is quickly becoming a fascinating character: another renegade Time Lord, but one who just loves artworks and sculpture, and thus who travels around the universe buying up the most valuable items ("a way of doing what I can to ensure the creations of Lifekind survive the ravages of Time"). I'm generally a Bernice Summerfield ignoramus, but I understand that Braxiatel is Justin Richards' creation, so it makes sense that he works so well here.

As regards our leads, Leela's general disregard for the entire notion of an 'inquiry' is an amusing flipside of Romana's own slightly more serious predicament, being the one in the line of fire as she is; both Jameson and Ward are comfortably in their characters' skins by this stage. If Romana is the Jack Harkness of this set-up - it's not a perfect analogy by any means, but it works - Leela serves as Gallifrey's Gwen Cooper: the heart and soul of events, the character we identify most with even as it is not she who necessarily drives events week in, week out. Her ongoing quest to find her missing husband is by some measure the most emotionally real aspect of this entire series, and though it's relatively underplayed the inevitable reveal is affecting enough - that Torvald killed Andred is twist enough, but that her husband had become convinced of Gallifreyan superiority over "savages" like Leela before he died ... gosh. The Time Lords are dipping their toe into waters of fascism and eugenics now? Bold. Yet another entry on the long list of this civilisation's shortcomings.

Just as the Iraq War hangs over this mini-series in general, so too does the infamous Hutton Inquiry into the suicide of Dr David Kelly, the celebrated UN nuclear weapons expert whose words made their way into the sexed-up dossier on WMDs, in particular. I don't think I could have predicted that Gallifrey would feel more current than UNIT, but there we are. Particularly pertinent are the lovely aside that the CIA is "particularly adept at not asking questions"; the revelation that the Time Lords did indeed create a timonic fusion device but covered it up, and the general association between the TFD and the atom bomb which has carried on throughout the series; and, of course, the revelation that corruption goes right the way to the top, that the High Council of Time Lords has been conspiring to cover up terrifying events of genocidal scope (including the destruction of Minyos, in a fannish nod to Underworld). None of this is necessarily landing, mind; it's all rather surface-level rather than constituting a particular devastating attack on the Time Lords. Fine for now, but I hope it has a little more bite soon.

The Inquiry isn't perfect - it gets a bit plot-heavy at points, and has an ending with far too much technobabble - but moves us forward nicely enough, gives most of its major players something interesting to do, and feels more coherent in tone than the first two stories of the season, rather than swaying madly from ethereal organ music to lecherous slugs. So far this series has muddled along being fairly OKish, but hopefully Alan Barnes' A Blind Eye or, indeed, Series 2, will turn things around.

Other things:
"Now is a very difficult concept, Inquisitor."
"What evidence is there that he has ulterior motives?"/"He's CIA! Of course he has ulterior motives!"
"Whatever happened, the CIA recruited Narvin and he's never looked back."/"Except to see who's standing behind him with a knife..."
"Like a politician, it doesn't always put people first."/"How do you know all this?"/"I am a politician."
"Pessimist?"/"Correction, Mistress. Realist."
"Be quiet, K9 - you're not listening, remember?"
The "let's discuss Braxiatel's dodgy art sales without saying his name to maintain the tension" scene is a bit contrived.
"A hundred million inhabitants aged to death in less time than it takes to swallow."
"I am - and I'm led to believe I always shall be - discretion itself."

Next: Gallifrey 1.4: A Blind Eye by Alan Barnes.

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