“I resented being back in the military. The orders, tedium…the bullying passive aggression. It had been my whole life, once…and then there was meeting the Doctor. The freedom of travelling in time and space.
More than that: the Doctor’s whole attitude. Questioning everything. Refusing to obey. No wonder they thought he was so dangerous…”
I gather it’s becoming something of a Companion Chronicles trend.
A few months back, we got William Russell’s Ian Chesterton in prison, having to explain his travels with the Doctor to a particularly unreceptive government type in The Sleeping City.
Now it’s Stephen Taylor’s turn at the Gitmo confessional trough, as a dethroned former king locked away like an Elizabeth Bathory or Giacomo Casanova. Visited by a girl named Sida, he’s prompted to reminisce about a wartime adventure with the Hartnell Doctor and, of all companions, Dodo…
Why is the war contrived to continue endlessly? And will Stephen’s run for election enable him to effect real and lasting change?
“I said the right things…I shook the right hands. I was in the right kinds of photographs. But it was all platitudes.”
Peter Purves has gone on to a particular sort of post-Who fame as a long running presenter at Blue Peter, a children’s show with longstanding ties to Who (Sophie Aldred even sported a Blue Peter badge on Ace’s jacket, which she legitimately earned in her youth, mind!).
Regardless, he’s returned to the fold to reprise his early role, which spanned the latter days of the Ian/Barbara run (alongside Maureen O’Brien’s delightful Vicki) through the brief run of Jackie Lane’s Dodo.
His take on Hartnell feels quite accurate in most ways, but more possessed of the quivering tones of age than those of either Russell or O’Brien’s versions. Purves’ own voice remains strong and delivery forceful, and for the most part manages to approximate the would-be Cockney tones of Lane.
Lisa Bowerman helms the directorial booth once again, alongside Simon Robinson providing music and sound design. And as always, their efforts are notable if not exemplary. But while most or all of the usual elements for success are in place, it’s still hard to wave the flag for this one.
Look, it’s a war story. While a history minor and therefore well acquainted with the recorded vagaries thereof, this really isn’t my thing – I’m too intrinsically opposed to human suffering and fascistic suppression of the individual, even when utilized with the aim of fighting off invaders or in the service of the surprisingly rare “justified” wars. In fact, historically speaking, only WWII truly deserves the latter classification, and there are caveats aplenty to be found related thereto.
“There was no enemy. They were at war with themselves…to ensure both sides would be equal.”
“So no side could have the advantage…so the war could never be won.”
“…But why? Who benefits from a never-ending war?”
“Anyone who makes weapons.”
“You mean it’s a con? A way of fooling the system so that 2+2=8?”
It must be said that author Simon Guerrier delivers a script that roundly trounces any of the usual pro-military propaganda and delusions of glory, further taking on the related crackpot zero-sum “us vs. them” concepts of “black and white, good and evil” which have no real life applicability in a world more truly consisting of shades of grey.
“And finally, I met the ones who’d already been elected. The politicians, chosen by popular vote, by the people…
I met the ones who’d served a single term and the ones who’d held office for decades…when I spoke my platitudes, they nodded, as if I were imparting brilliant new insights…
They all looked at me with such hope, such expectation. They wanted me to save them. But the more I understood, the more I knew that wasn’t true.”
It’s also an indictment of politics and the status quo, and how difficult (if not impossible) it is to effect the change we truly need while working inside a system skewed more towards self-sustenance than actually solving problems and helping the people its offices have ostensibly been set up to serve.
“So you told people what was happening…the politicians, the workers, everyone.”
“We tried to. They didn’t believe us.
…they could see something going on, something terribly wrong…but you’re missing the point. The system was so deeply ingrained – they’d all grown up in it. They were all part of it.”
“So they couldn’t see outside it.”
“And us challenging the very world around them, all they knew and understood…I can’t blame them for being afraid.”
One could certainly take this tale, and Purves’ skilled delivery thereof, as a warning sign, a wake up call to those who haven’t already awakened to these very basic facts and underpinnings of a civilized society – the subtext is quite near to the surface and readily apparent to those with ears to hear.
But even so, I can’t help finding the entire subject distasteful, knowing all the connotations and casualties of life, property and civil liberties warfare entails…and worse, the unfortunate tendency for a frustrated populace to throw their hands in the air and surrender to the status quo, allowing evils to grow ever more established when they could be corrected if not overthrown with a concerted grassroots effort thereto.
One of the more obviously political Companion Chronicles I’ve come across, there’s some powerful and important messages to be found here.
It just depends on your taste for warfare, politics and the seeming futility of effecting change when so many refuse to hear…and the rest refuse to surrender entrenched power bases and a life run by selfish greed in the light of reason and the spectre of impending collapse thundering at the gates.