Thursday 31 December 2015

Theatre Of War

Where were you when Tomb of the Cybermen was recovered? If I remember correctly it was a dark night in January 1992, and a tiny stop press article was printed in Doctor Who Magazine. I cant really remember the months in-between, but I think it was released on VHS (remember them?) in May 1992, and I remember going to Woolworths (remember them?) in LLandudno (most assuredly still there) to purchase a copy and then going back to my home in Trefriw to watch this lost classic. And it was, well it was ok, it was good but maybe not the great holy grail we had been led to believe…
Then in 1994 a novel was released in the New Adventures range which consciously or unconsciously followed my Tomb odyssey, the novel was Theatre of War by Justin Richards and it involved a much heralded lost play called The Good Soldiers being discovered and a lot more to boot, because back in 1994 we didn’t realise what an important pivotal novel that this would be to the expanded Whoniverse.
This latest adaptation is an adaptation of Theatre of War and the story itself is part archeological dig, part mystery, part space opera and part foreshadowing of future events – no small feat for 4 episodes of less than half an hour each. The story begins with The Seventh Doctor, Ace and Bernice (my all-time favourite TARDIS team) seemingly trapped in a production of Hamlet and once they escape they find themselves on the planet Menaxus where an archaeological dig from the war torn planet Helatia is excavating the remains of a Theatre, it seems that the Helatians have a culture which values theatre and when one of their number discovers a seemingly lost play “The Good Soldiers” by Stanoff Osterling the stakes are well and truly raised…
What follows is a classic piece of space opera and deception – whilst Ace and The Doctor are left on Menaxus to investigate the site, Benny visits the legendary Braxiatel Collection. I will pause here for an historical interlude…
Cast your minds back to 1979 – Paris, Scaroth, Tom and Lalla and a throwaway line about the “Braxiatel Collection” – this is the Braxiatel mentioned in that line.
And we are back in the room – Braxiatel has played a big part in Benny’s life and in the events on Gallifrey but this is their first chronological meeting – and what a devious piece of work he is. Played with urbane charm and just a little arrogance by Miles Richardson – Braxiatel out manipulates the arch manipulating Doctor Seven and allows Benny into his confidence about the real reason for the theatre and lost play being on Menaxus – because Braxiatel has been playing a very long game…
For such a complex narrative, it fits nicely into the four part structure – it never seems over complicated and all the pieces fit together nicely – it makes perfect sense and as the layers of the plot are peeled back rather than infuriating the listener feels rewarded and drawn into the confidence of the writer. This really is Benny’s story and she gets to flex her brain in solving the mystery of Menaxus whilst forming the basis of a very long acquaintance with Braxiatel – Lisa Bowerman is note perfect as Benny and really steals the show and her scenes with Braxiatel are the highlights of the story.
It is a story of contrasts with the more cerebral “talky” scenes of Benny and Braxiatel contrasting with the action packed space opera that the Doctor and Ace find themselves in – the scale is grand, an interplanetary war that one side is inevitably going to lose, a despotic tyrant who is no more than a spoiled child and a long seeded plan coming to fruition.
Clever but not smug, convoluted but not confusing, epic but still characterful and definitely no tragedy.

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