Monday, December 10, 2012

Seasons of Fear

Here we have a time traveling (and time bending) romp where The Doctor and Charley travel to various points in time to thwart the plans of the villainous Sebastian Grayle. How exactly did they set out on this quest to stop Grayle, you ask? Well, the Doctor has (apparently) finally managed to get Charley to Singapore to make her date with Alex (which was her original planned destination when she boarded the doomed R101 airship). While Charley is off with Alex, a strange man named Grayle comes and speaks to the Doctor. He is here to gloat, letting the Doctor know that in his (the Doctor's) personal future Grayle will be responsible for his death. Grayle's masters were able to conquer the Earth - and then all of space and time, with Grayle's help. This is all in spite of constant interference from the Doctor which made him Grayle's most bitter enemy. Now having won, Grayle's masters have created this fake timeline just so he can taunt the Doctor over his impending failure and doom. It's a bit of a mind bending setup, and I assure you, your mind will be even further bent by the end of this tale. Written by Doctor Who stalwart Paul Cornell and his wife (though it may have been fiance at the time) Caroline Symcox, this is a really fun story.

Of course, the Doctor immediately corrals Charley and they set off to find out what Grayle's plans are (or were). At one point when Charley points out to the Doctor that this may be why and how Grayle ends up killing the Doctor, he of course brushes her off in amusing fashion. After a bit of Time Lord technobabble, the Doctor manages to find Grayle in 305 AD. Grayle is about to allow his alien masters to invade by means of a sacrifice. After the Doctor and Charley thwart his plans (but not before Grayle is given an extremely long lifespan from his alien benefactors) Grayle vows revenge. Our heroes then track him to the court of Edward the Confessor some 750 years later. Once again the Doctor manages to sabotage Grayle's plans to allow his masters to arrive on Earth. Once again the Doctor and Charley travel another 750 years farther in time to 1806, only this time Grayle's plan succeeds and the aliens land. And now, the Doctor's troubles really begin!

One of the fun parts of the story is figuring out who Grayle's mysterious aliens are. There is a lovely red herring thrown into episode one to lead you down the wrong path, although it's really just a link to a future story in the season. Grayle does give a lot of subtle hints about who these aliens may be. And then, a few minutes before their arrival a blatant hint is given about their identity. I confess I had no idea until I heard this more blatant clue, and even then I wasn't quite sure I believed it. When these aliens show up (and yes, of course they are from the show's past) it's a delightful, goose bump inducing surprise. It's true that I don't find the final fourth episode after the invaders arrival quite as engaging as the previous three, but the resolution is pretty satisfying in a Doctor Who, timey-wimey, break your brain kind of way!

The guest cast is highlighted by Stephen Perring playing the twisted Grayle. The development of the character is pretty interesting to observe throughout the centuries, as he gets more and more ruthless. It's also pretty fun listening to him get more and more angry as the Doctor keeps interfering in his plans. In the final episode you can really feel the difference between the Grayle of 305 AD and the Grayle who has lived for over 1500 years. It's a great performance by Perring. Also of note are Lennox Greaves and Sue Wallace (who we just heard in different roles in "The Chimes of Midnight") playing Edward and Edith. You definitely recognize Greaves' voice from the previous story, but both of these actors' performances are splendid and quite different from the butler and cook of the previous play.

Once again the production stands out as excellent. The music by Jane Elphinstone is particularly memorable. At the ends of the first 3 episodes, the same musical refrains are played which slowly but surely build up the tension to the cliffhangers. Also, it must be said that when the alien invaders finally arrived, the voice effects are just perfect and sound exactly like those used on the TV show decades ago.

This story also carries along the season long arc involving Charley's non-death on the R101. Throughout the story we hear the Doctor narrating the events of this tale to someone unknown. (This helps with some quick exposition at times, but also happens before a couple of the cliffhangers which really undermines them. Look, we all know that the Doctor isn't really going to be killed at the end of an episode - at least most of the time. But, having the Doctor discuss the cliffhanger a few seconds before it happens really removes any sense of danger.) The unnamed listener does speak a little near the end of the tale, and it certainly leaves the listener wondering who the Doctor is talking to and where the Doctor is. Of course, this all gets paid off later. But, the most fun happens in the story's final scene. Suffice it to say, a clear threat is established to the Doctor and Charley, and we finally know that the Doctor is going to have to pay a price for saving Charley's life. In other words, it is so ON! This story is yet another true highlight of an amazing season of Doctor Who. I can't quite rate it as highly as "The Chimes of Midnight" but this still remains one of my favorites.

Rating: Great

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