Sunday, 20 September 2015

197 - The Entropy Plague

When I think of Doctor Who, I don’t automatically think “bleak”, its just not a word that springs to mind or that I associate with the show. Heartbreaking maybe; sad sometimes; downbeat – perhaps – but never bleak.
Bleak is a very powerful word – a word I associate more with David Lynch, The Walking Dead, Survivors, but never Doctor Who – you see, bleak to me means an absence of hope, and hope is something that The Doctor brings in seemingly endless quantities, even Genesis of the Daleks had a little hope to it. And then along comes this month’s release – The Entropy Plague and the word bleak has never more been more spot on when describing a story. We are talking death of hope, betrayal, loss, regret. We are talking Doctor Who if it was written by Thomas Hardy and scored by Gavin Briers; but as bleak as it is, its a great story…
It isn’t the sort of story I would like to hear every month, but sometimes it does the soul good to suffer with the characters, and suffer we do. Spoilers follow so read on at your peril…
The story is framed by a much used plot device of the characters relaying events to another character, in this case The Doctor, Tegan and Turlough take an episode each to narrate the tale to Nyssa’s son Adric.  They explain what has happened to Nyssa – you see Nyssa is stuck forever in E-Space, never again able to see her children, and this is the story of how it happens.
From the outset we know Nyssa is doomed and there is an air of all prevailing dread going through the story.  E-Space is dying, the universe is contracting, entropy is increasing, people and things are quite literally falling apart as the Universe fails, yet in all this there is one way out back to our Universe, on the last planet in E-Space, Science Tech Palmister has a gateway, a CVE which lets people out.  The price is high though, a human life, as human life force is the only way to stabilise the gateway. As you may well imagine, it’s not the happiest of places, the mass of refugees, chancers, criminals and hopeless all want a way out and with food and warmth scarce, the Doctor as always tried to find an amicable solution to the situation.  He is completely out of his depth here.  We are talking Androzani levels of out of his depth.  He is like King Canute shouting at the tide to turn back, and the funny thing is, I think he knows it and sometimes his mask slips. On screen, Davison was never one of my favourites, on audio he excels, giving a performance here that eclipses all his TV episodes.  He does barely in control amazingly well, but he really isn’t in control at all.  Time is running out and not everyone can live this time.
It’s a very very powerful story, a story of endings and death and despair, but also filled with a lot of love and compassion – brought to us by Sarah Sutton in a barnstorming performance as Nyssa. Nyssa knows, she knows that she has to stay in E-Space for the sake of all creation, she makes a choice that the Doctor cannot make, reminiscent in many ways of Adric hopping back on the Freighter in Earthshock, but more moving because of her reasons behind it – and as the coda to the story proves, life will find a way.
So, bleak, but ending with a glimmer of hope – proving that in the most dark of hours, there is always a sliver of light. And its this glimmer of hope that really sums the story up, awful things happen, but an ending can also be a beginning, and so the Doctor’s second foray into E-Space ends; he has lost a companion but what wisdom, if any, he has gained remains to be seen.
A fabulously acted, very “visual” audio, with a doom laden atmosphere.  A bit too long perhaps but maybe I am being too picky.  A fitting end to a trilogy and a fitting end to Nyssa’s second stint as a companion 9/10.