Saturday, 5 August 2017

Gallifrey 3.2: Warfare by Stewart Sheargold (June 2006)

Warfare focuses further on, and more or less resolves, the ongoing Gallifreyan Civil War which we saw begin in Imperiatrix and really kick off in Fractures. As already identified, this is a war of individual psychological identities as much as - if not more than - it is a war of laser guns and barricades. Two sides of Gallifrey clash, with Romana in the centre of it (twice) and the pressure cooker is tearing both planet and president apart. That's an undeniably epic premise woven from appropriate bits of Doctor Who mythology, and as such the story has both a forward momentum and a sense of import to it. Warfare also dwells on the fragments of different voices heard in the minds of both Romana II and Pandora, still using the body of Romana I. In the latter's case, this allows Mary Tamm the opportunity to play the actual Romana I (or at least her voice... no, really, I mean her voice in-story), which distinguishes her from Pandora, makes Romana I more active in the story-line, and generally keeps things clearer than they were last time round. There's a fun moment where President Romana realises that her past self is actively working on her side against Pandora. Mind you, I still don't think this series has made very good use of Tamm, and I'm itching to actually hear her do a full Big Finish story as her proper character in the future. Time for the allegedly "weaker" incarnation (and I still don't know what I think of that) to get a crack of the whip!

At its worst, Warfare is hampered by a merely middling script from Stewart Sheargold with an unfortunate tendency towards stock, trope-y phrasings, heart-on-sleeve emotions, and outright cringey puns ("I've just put the strong back into stronghold"). It also suffers because of its featuring, shall we say, not the best-directed action sequences in the world, rather brought down by some limp shouting at each other from both sides (Janartis and Annos are such dull characters - who cares what they have to say to one another?). Several of its scenes run on too long, too (there's one with Hallan and a medical computer which feels interminable).

On the plus side, both Darkel and Narvin are on fine form, and their scene together where she tries to tempt him over to her side is great: of course she surreptitiously tries to blow him up. Narvin continues to develop into a fascinating character, displaying probably the most nobility of all the Time Lords in that he remains loyal towards Romana because he respects the office of President despite not liking her personally very much. His personal tastes, his moral code, and his actions all skew slightly differently, and that's a good recipe for drama. Furthermore, for all my criticisms of how Pandora has functioned in this series, having Darkel serve as her stooge is a great way to put the Inquisitor on the back foot, and Tamm and Bellingham play their scenes together well. The political machinations Darkel weaves against her new mistress - as she says, she has a very strong self-preservation instinct - are unsurprising, but delicious nonetheless.

I also love what they do with K9 here, and I bet John Leeson did as well. Having him play, in effect, a saboteur out of a John Le Carré story who just happens to also be a robotic dog is a brilliantly hilarious move, and one that lightens the story's tone marvellously. What's a war story without the old 'double agent' trope, stalling for time whilst really manipulating his apparent allies into a trap? It's the best use of the character that I can remember for a long while, and the scene where the facade drops and K9 returns to Romana's side is a proper punch-the-air moment. It's properly touching that she trusts K9 with her life and also that she is willing to die with him; their last scenes opposite one another are tenderly handled. Elsewhere, it's an odd choice to bring back Elbon the mercenary medic ("even I can be philanthropic occasionally"), but as a grubby little character driven by nothing more than petty cash he makes for a good contrast with the top brass, the mythological colossi, as it were.

Pandora's rallying cry to those she infects ("You are Pandora!", she tells Hallan, and he says later "she is the virus") makes it clear that she is legion, that what is at stake here is whether Gallifrey utterly submits to its dark heart of corrupt and evil acts and lets itself become devoured by it, or whether it resists it. If it resists, such a dark heart will still be there, and we know from future stories set on the planet that it's not all plain sailing on Gallifrey from this point onward. Making her outright villainy so cartoonish throws a new light on the more nuanced Time Lords like Romana and Narvin - those trying to put a stop to Pandora. They are imperfect, but imperfect is the best Gallifrey has if it wants to keep Pandora's Box closed.

Ultimately, imperfection wins out over dogmatic single-mindedness. To quote Yeats again, "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity". Warfare isn't a perfect story either, and the Pandora arc hasn't always fully worked, but Sheargold manages to bring both to a pretty satisfactory end, with some great twists at the last minute (we're actually inside the Matrix! Romana is going to sacrifice herself! The Matrix is destroyed!). The resolution, when it does finally arrive, is rather elegant indeed, using the clone assassin Aesino from Fractures as a means of dragging Pandora back into the Matrix, but at the cost of this great repository of knowledge (Doctor Who's very own burning of the library of Alexandria). What this means for Gallifrey's future - and, indeed, Gallifrey III's future - I don't know. Things look bleak, with Gallifrey brought to its knees and the Matrix and its millennia of history gone. But the story goes ever on and on.

Other things:
"I've never seen a blind woman win a fight."/"Then you will see it today!"
"You really hate her, don't you?"/"That's a very strong word!" (It's Lynda Bellingham's delivery that sells this.)
"In the business of Time we know how easily futures can change."
"Just like a politician to guard your back by positioning someone else in the firing line."
Bit of a nothing story for Leela, this, for all that you'd think her blindness could have pushed the story in interesting directions (in a story about visions, and voices in one's head? No?). Her final attack on Pandora is well-done, though.
"I suggest you take a weapon - they're most persuasive in the search for truth."/"I think he'll find, as you well know, Coordinator, that my tongue can be sharp enough."
"There are so many sides these days that I think perhaps you're just sitting on one of the many corners."
"Pandora. Here we are at last. No guards, no barriers, just the two of us. No war but ours - which is all it's ever been anyway."
"Is this some strange version of the afterlife, or are we in my real presidential suite, alive?"

Next: Gallifrey 3.3: Appropriation by Paul Sutton (July 2006).

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