Monday, 19 June 2017
A story set entirely on Earth - on the Vienna-Calais train, to be precise, on 3 September 1939, the eve of World War II - is not exactly what one would expect from the finale to a series about political intrigue among the upper echelons of a vastly sophisticated race who act as custodians of time travel. That the story sees India Fisher return, this time to play Cecilia 'Sissy' Pollard - sister of the more famous Charlotte Pollard - is merely the icing on the proverbial cake when it comes to serving up the unexpected. Hugo Myatt makes an extremely welcome return, too, as the Glitz-like "trans-temporal crook" Mephistopheles Arkadian, meddling in interesting temporal distortions far and wide as he does, but being damn likeable at the same time. I commented in reviewing Weapon of Choice that the more earthy vagabond characters are often of greater interest than the uptight bureaucrats we find on Gallifrey itself, and so it's definitely a step in the right direction to bring Arkadian back. It makes for an eccentric cocktail, and not one I could've predicted after the relatively 'straight' developments of the previous three stories; this one feels much more like a Doctor Whoish mash-up of disparate elements, and frankly it's all the better for it.
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.
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.