Sunday, 17 March 2013

Doctor Who Unbound - Full Fathom Five Review

This is the first of the Doctor Who Unbound I've listened to, and it's hard to say what drew me to this. I think the main reason is probably David Collings, who I knew would give a fascinating performance as the Doctor. The second thing that interested me was probably the ending, which, I'll admit now, I'd googled before I listened. So I knew what was going to happen.

Even that didn't prepare me for this.

Full Fathom Five is one of those 'dark' Doctor Who stories. Which is good, I like those. I like ones which push the Doctor Who range a bit further, as you don't get that on TV (probably a good thing, you couldn't show this on TV). This story is not for children, basically. Don't sit your ten-year-old, Curse of the Black Spot-loving Doctor Who fan to listen to this. Because people will die violently, the Doctor will be horrible, and there is actual swearing. You have been warned.

And a quick note - I am gonna try and leave spoilers out of this review for once...

Let's discuss the story briefly. The main question for this Unbound (as they all pretty much go around a 'What if' scenario, and by the way if anyone ever wants to resurrect the range - get in touch, I have the most awesome ideas) is What if the Doctor believed the end justified the means? That's enough to get your minds thinking. Because normally, the Doctor's very much a man who wants to save everyone... But what if he thought the ultimate goal was more important than the steps along the way? Just this change within his character really pushes him and the story further. Basically, the Doctor is going to DEEP (why they didn't just say 'deep' and referred to D - E - E - P every time though I don't know) to find out the truth about what happened to Ruth's father, and clear his name. Ruth is almost his adopted daughter, who's false surname doesn't last very long at all, and DEEP is an underwater base where they're looking for alternative energy. So the set up is fairly standard Doctor Who. Except when they get to the DEEP - it becomes clear that the DEEP project wasn't that straightforward, and the Doctor's reasons for returning weren't that straightforward either. The mystery is slowly and cleverly revealed, as the tracks alternate between 27 years ago, and the present day. The change in time feels natural, and it's written brilliantly.

The Doctor, as I've said, is played by David Collings, otherwise known as Poul and Mawdryn. Oh and Silver, for Sapphire & Steel fans out there. I'm gonna review those one day too. Collings gives an incredible performance as this on-the-edge, dark, aggressive Doctor. I expected him to be quite trademark Collings, quite smooth and sophisticated. He's nothing like that, and nothing like a Doctor that's been on TV. It is very much his take on the role, and most of the time it felt like I was actually listening to the Doctor, not Collings playing the Doctor. That's how it should be. His performance and relationship with the other characters, as well as sharp personality changes and the occasional swear word, make him his own Doctor - and he is one of the best things about it.

Ruth is a stereotypical companion - which is fine, because in this story she serves a purpose. Her character is developed more by the story and by other characters, and so her dialogue doesn't really show any great change 'til the end. She is very much an 'asks questions' companion. She reminded me of the companion from The Curse of Fatal Death in a way. There to be significant, and a good character - but ultimately just asking a lot of questions. This, as I said, didn't bother me. Her character effectively creates the story, so she doesn't need to be as strong throughout because the story carries on because of her rather than with her, if that makes sense. The one time her character really changes is towards the end, when events spiral out of her control, and a quite emotional performance is given. I'm not sure if it's as emotional as it could be, perhaps it's a little too calm (especially considering her extreme reactions to some stuff earlier on), but it is a good performance at heart. Even if you don't like her, the story is too gripping to let that get to you. But I liked her. She felt real.

Other characters include General Flint, Lee, Hoskins and Vollmer. Hoskins is possibly the best supporting part, played with real authenticity. Flint is very good, even if he gets a bit stereotypical Doctor Who army man at times. Vollmer and Lee are also good, and Lee's purpose as a character gives the story an extra edge. It's nice to have a story where all the characters are there for a direct purpose, and they all have their own lives, their own motives, and their own importance. It is a character play - and this makes it all the more dramatic, dark and emotional.

Then comes the shocking stuff. I've told you about how good the cast and the story is - and the shocking stuff doesn't actually surprise me, it fits in with the tone. But SPOILERS NOW FOLLOW, so if you want to listen on the basis of what I've said - leave now before it's ruined.

The Doctor's dark performance really does shock at times. It fits in, as I said, well with the tone of the story and in a strange way seems unsurprising - but all the same. The Doctor is killing people. He is actually pulling a gun and shooting them, in cold blood. His murder of Lee (I told you there were spoilers from now on) comes quite unexpectedly. His cold "Wrong answer" when Lee goes back against his own 'end justifying the means' speech is shocking - and then just shoot him is almost vile. The Doctor is doing this - and from that point on, Collings' performance becomes stronger, and the Doctor turns into something we haven't heard before.

Yet there's something uncomfortable in how nice he is to Ruth, despite his history of killing people her father worked with. Despite the history of killing her father! That was the bit I knew was coming, but the Doctor using people felt strange and dark.

Even the story itself is grotesque, with experiments on babies and clones being manufactured into super soldiers. Flint's alien at the end is another stereotypical Who moment, but in a play that seems so un-Who, it challenges the listener when old school Who ideas are thrown in. There is a sense of reality. Vollmer's convulsions - things you'd never seen on TV, yet would happen. This story is very real, and that makes the Doctor's uncharacteristic performance seem real.

Oh and one other dark thing to talk about. The bit with the key, where Flint chokes or forces the Doctor to swallow it (it didn't seem too clear which one but I think it was the latter) was horrible. Yet, when Ruth says something along the lines of "You murdered my father, you bastard", you can't help but feel he deserves all he gets. All the same though - this is the Doctor... You have to feel sorry for him almost.

It's a play that challenges the listener, and this certainly won't be like any Doctor Who you have ever heard before. But ironically - it makes you ask that question even more. Because if the Doctor can kill people, if he degrades into a swearing, violent, aggressive, dark Doctor, who will kill and destroy secrets and lie, who will call a man 'expendable' - who is he?

Doctor Who, exactly?

An excellent play, emotionally and realistically written, with good performances and an interesting range of characters who all serve a purpose. I would give this 10/10 if it was a drama.

But at the end of the day, this is a Doctor Who story. And so it's so unlike Doctor Who I can't rate it. Sorry.

Seriously though - buy it. And if anyone has a copy of the script, I wouldn't mind doing this as an actual fan film one day, so um, get in touch?

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