“What happened here?”
“Look up. Once the clouds have parted, then you’ll see.”
“See what? What am I looking for? Is that…”
“Nothing. Literally nothing. The anomaly has been consuming everything in its path, light, matter, time, all of it’s been devoured. Even the timelines have been distended…a black hole, growing larger by the moment.”
It’s been quite some time since I’ve approached the series known as Gallifrey.
In fact, it was way back in series 3, in what has become a surprising near decade’s expanse of time. Lalla Ward’s Romana was President and Louise Jameson’s Leela was poking around, not long after her departure from the Tom Baker Doctor back in The Invasion of Time.
John Leeson’s K-9 was also present (though which of the two was something of a question – Tom left both Leela and Lalla’s Romana with their own iterations thereof, after all!), and even the original (and due respect to her successors, but what our household has always held to be the one true) Romana Mary Tamm was on hand, possessed by a being known as Pandora. It was complicated.
But the convoluted power politics of the Gallifreyan High Council and matters attendant thereto just felt too unnecessarily dense for my own tastes. It was too dry, too huffy. Where was the adventure, the surprise, the seat of the pants living in the moment that life’s actual important moments are all about?
Consequently, we decided all of this stuffy courtroom drama-style political machinations were best left to those so inclined, and concentrated on more vibrant pastures – the Doctor Who main range, the Fourth and Eighth Doctor Adventures, the Lost Stories, Jago & Litefoot, eventually Bernice Summerfield and (however briefly) Iris Wildthyme.
A year ago, the late lamented Companion Chronicles featured a planned “Romana special” titled Luna Romana, intended as a special Three Doctors-esque meeting of three Romanas: Mary Tamm, Lalla Ward and a new third incarnation essayed by Juliet Landau. Unfortunately, Tamm’s passing left the story as more of a double act, with Ward and Landau (and a generally absent Tom Baker) facing off against recently introduced baddie Quadrigger Stoyn (Terry “Professor Edward Dunning” Molloy). It wasn’t bad, and Landau filled the bill the role requires quite admirably.
And so we return at last to a very different Gallifrey. No longer present are Ward, Jameson or Leeson, replaced (after, I understand, a surprise visit from none other than Bernice Summerfield regular Miles “Irving Braxatiel” Richardson last season) by Ward’s successor in the role Landau and, perhaps equally surprisingly, Sophie Aldred’s “Timelord in training” Ace. It’s a whole new world…
“Something happened to this world’s sun to make it…change.
…it died long before we ever expected it to die…brought to an end before its time. Murdered, if you want to be particularly melodramatic.
…someone engineered this. That black hole up there shouldn’t exist at all, not in this sector of space, and certainly not at this point in time.”
If you’re going to bring back a deadly menace to the Timelords, you probably can’t do better than Omega. And if you’re planning on using Omega, how much more perfect can you get than to recast the man who made him famous, The Three Doctors’ own Stephen Thorne?
“Oh, no. I don’t do companions.”
At least insofar as the first episode goes (because matters flip dramatically by the conclusion thereof), Gyles Brandreth brings a rather Irving Braxatielesque wry humor and nigh-Ben Miller in Death In Paradise level of stuffy likeability to his Rexx (which like ‘Romana’ is shortened from a rather more unwieldy and polysyllabic proper name), flipping the traditional elder Doctor/youthful companion paradigm comfortably on its head with panache.
Aldred, for her part, brings her ever lively, uncannily ageless feisty teenage persona to her much beloved Ace, proving once and for all that the character can survive independently of the expected Who setting, apart from any true support base of Doctor, learned elder sister figure (cough – Bernice Summerfield – cough) or semi-love interest (hello, Hex). Can a solo range of adventures be far behind?
Landau continues to bring an appropriate mix of feistiness (if not stubbornness) and authority to her Romanadvoratrelundar, much as noted in our prior encounter in last year’s Luna Romana. Bringing both the haughtiness and self assurance of the Tamm iteration (one suspects, were this series televised, Landau might appropriate some of the old Hollywood glamour of Tamm’s take as well) and the more girlish (if still full of challenge towards patriarchal prejudices) Ward version, Landau offers a well rounded and ultimately satisfying successor to the role both believable as Timelord President and displaying a measure of more insecure vulnerability apropos to the inexperience of comparative youth.
Thorne, of course, brings the same wonderful admixture of arrogance and mad paranoia that characterized Omega so well back in the early 1970’s, sounding bizarrely timelocked, as if the actor himself had really leapt forward in time forty plus years expanse to deliver the same booming, stentorian tones, the same breaking point quaver to which classic Whovians are well familiar. Hats off to you, sir.
While Landau and her right hand man Narvin (Sean Carlsen) stick more to the political intrigue listeners of the Gallifrey line are doubtless more accustomed to, the Aldred bits pull in a more appealing H. Rider Haggard in space-style sci-fi adventure element that leaves Intervention Earth more interesting, if not engaging, than memory of our earlier delve into the range serves. Hell, even Landau and company get in on the action end of the affair as we approach the denouement.
Perhaps, as Conan Doyle once wrote, a change is as good as a rest. But what say we stretch the aphorism further, to encompass both a change and a rest?
Well, here’s your evidence.