Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Gallifrey 3.3: Appropriation by Paul Sutton (July 2006)

Gallifrey III has gone for a pretty unusual structure: all-out civil war for its first two stories, then three stories dealing with the aftermath. It doesn't strike me as a completely cohesive arc in the way Gallifrey II got more or less spot on, but the sudden swerve that Warfare took in its climactic moments - it felt much more like a finale than an Episode 2 of 5 - means that I'm properly in the dark as I head into these last three stories (Appropriation, Mindbomb, and Panacea). Where could the writers possibly take things from here? Well, as Matthias observes early on, "the war may be over, but the real fighting is about to begin". Appropriation sees a return to the first two series' focus on political infighting over Gallifrey's future - but this time taking place in the wake of a devastating conflict which saw much of the Time Lords' history and culture destroyed in a single stroke. 

It follows that the tone is much more desperate than in previous seasons. Indeed, this is the most broken and desperate Romana has been during the entire series - enchained, taunted by Darkel, her last-ditch gamble as Imperiatrix rolled back, and trying to live up to what it means to be President, however much her heart may not be in it. Yet there remains a faith in her abilities among lower orders - "without her," Captain Henzil says, "our society is made up of nostalgic old men glorifying a brutal past! Without her, we deserve to die!" (though Henzil is slightly ignoring the extent to which it's Darkel rather than any of the male Time Lords who is most responsible for whipping up xenophobia). As Valyes touchingly says at one point to Matthias (more on those two anon), "give yourself to Gallifrey, my friend, by all means, but never forget your own fragility"; not just Romana's political position, but her fragility itself, is very much in the balance. Her scenes with Narvin are unexpectedly rather tender, and Carlsen's work as the head of the CIA is rarely better; his journey of coming round to her side is one of the stronger character arcs on show.

"We shall simply have to start again. Go back to basics." There's a perfect opportunity here to contrast Gallifrey's having gone back to square one (ha) with Leela's more primitive upbringing (Time Lords have to use paper now, and all that sort of thing), or, failing that, contrasting them with the Shobogans or those in the Outlands to ask what really separates the two classes of people in times of crisis and desperation. As with paralleling Leela and sight/vision in Warfare, though, what seems to me a potentially very interesting move is sadly left under-explored (mind you, we do at least get Leela saying "I see nothing, yet it seems I see far more than you", cementing that parallel to Tiresias I drew a few posts back). Another problem: I don't think the story deals sufficiently with the huge blow that losing the Matrix would mean for the Time Lords. The political infighting is tense and bitter, yes, but it was tense and bitter anyway. As far as I can tell, the biggest inconvenience here is ... using communications devices is slightly more difficult. That's a bit of a damp squib.

Appropriation also stumbles in bringing back the other temporal powers - the Sunari, the Nekkistani, and the Warpsmiths of Phaidon. It makes a great deal of sense that in Gallifrey's greatest hour of need, its rivals would be at the door like proverbial wolves, hoping to seize the opportunity to master time travel as the Time Lords have (or exact revenge for their students having been kicked out of the Academy!). I said a while back that I hoped these cultures would be fleshed out a little more, and Paul Sutton - creator and worldbuilder-in-chief of Világ in Arrangements for War and Thicker than Water - seemed like the ideal person to do it. Do we get what I was looking for? Not really; it's an uphill struggle to try and flesh out several different civilizations over the course of a few brief scenes of exposition-heavy negotiation, and the story doesn't quite manage it.

On the other hand, Matthias is becoming more of an interesting character, ambitious cut-throat that he is. I like the moment where he snaps and calls Leela a savage then stops himself and apologises immediately - it's a great instance of what C.S. Lewis calls the "rats in the cellar": if you flick a light on in a dark cellar very quickly, you briefly see the rats before they can scurry away. We can reveal our true selves in tiny flashes of illumination. We slowly see more and more of him as he manoeuvres his way into a position of power and leads the negotiations with the other powers, but Stephen Perring's best work in the role comes towards the story's end, as he pulls off a stunning and audacious move in standing for the forthcoming election. He's an interesting figure, what I like to think of as 'Darkel, but with a conscience': he's power-hungry, but not without some capacity for emotional intelligence - witness his self-flagellation over the negotiations having gone wrong and the subsequent suffering of the Nekkistani.

Also unexpectedly improved is the character of Valyes, until now something of a dull bore but seen here weighed down by his duties as Acting President and the fact that he cannot access the Matrix. But Sutton is careful not to make him too sympathetic a figure, and he's still as bumbling as ever - in fact, one thing Sutton does get right in his take on Gallifrey, which I think some of the more earnest scripts of recent instalments have perhaps overlooked, is the (mostly) Williams-era piss-take of them, all squabbles about chains-of-command and the like. Take this exchange between Valyes and Narvin: "Oh, my dear chap, I do apologise! I thought you were an alien come to kill me!"/"I quite understand, sir, we all have days like that..." It's this same slightly cheeky spirit that gives us Colin Baker's cameo as Maxil - punchline to a long-running joke of him being on stage but staying out of the audience's earshot.

To sum up, kudos to Paul Sutton for managing to make the legal ramifications of who has the right to be Gallifrey's President and who Acting-President, etc., as interesting as they are here - mostly succeeding because this is quite character-led drama, which is his strong suit, and delivered by good actors to boot. Matthias' eleventh-hour emergence as a new threat isn't the biggest twist you can possibly imagine, but it's an appropriately exciting game-changer at this late stage, and I'm suitably intrigued to see what happens next.

Other things:
Impressively large cast for this one.
"She does not need my sympathies. She has Leela."
"Surely you'd want to go for the position [of President]?"/"I much prefer the sidelines. You can see everything from there."
"We all hold power for a finite amount of time only."
Lots of lovely retro sound effects on this one, and great pacing, editing, and sound design in general.
Nice nod to The Invisible Enemy's Professor Marius.
"I believe my condition is one of physical exhaustion, Valyes, not one of mental atrophy!"
Top bit of patronising: "Selective manipulation of the timelines is sometimes required. You may learn that one day when you have borne the responsibility for as long as we."
"Perhaps the age of the Time Lords has passed. Perhaps it is time for a new power to govern the web."
"No one ever said diplomacy was easy."/"Is that why you opted for the CIA?"/"Oh, I imagine so. That, and the less impractical robes."
I love this (Narvin is getting all the best lines): "Don't worry about me, Narvin, I'm fine."/"I know. So you wouldn't want me to patronise you by assuming otherwise."
"For heaven's sake, man, at least have backbone enough not to hide behind semantics!"/"That is politics, madam."

Next: Gallifrey 3.4: Mindbomb by Justin Richards (August 2006).

No comments:

Post a Comment