Big Finish Productions
|Written by||Steve Lyons|
|Starring Lalla Ward, Louise Jameson and John Leeson|
|Synopsis: They are the brightest minds of their generation; the architects of tomorrow. And now, they have the chance to attend the finest, most exclusive school known to the temporal powers. After millennia of secrecy, the Gallifreyan Academy has opened its doors to off-worlders…|
Backstabbing! by Joe Ford 26/8/05
Where has Steve Lyons been lately? We haven't seen anything of him since his superlative novel The Crooked World and all of a sudden he is contributing a Sapphire and Steel audio, a Gallifrey story and a ninth Doctor novel, all within months of each other! It is a welcome return to one of Doctor Who's most reliable contributors, a writer who has delivered more than his fair share of work now and rarely fails to impress.
It was only during Insurgency that I realised just how plodding this year of the Gallifrey series has been. Please don't mis-interpret plodding as poor, the releases have been highly entertaining in their own unique way but it is only when you are amidst the shocking plot developments of this tale that you realise the series has been in a holding pattern ever since Gary Russell's opening tale, Lies. Gary set up this season's prototype, with the evil Pandora trapped in the Matrix waiting to get her claws on Romana, the students of other temporal powers visiting the Academy, Inquisitor Darkel working in the shadows against the President with plans of her own and Leela and Andred's turbulent relationship since their emotional reunion. That was how we left Lies and it shocked me to realise that we were still in exactly that holding pattern when Insurgency began. Both Spirit and Pandora formed their own little mini adventure, which dealt with the Pandora story but opened mysteries in the former and wrapped them up in the latter, leaving Insurgency as (technically) the second story of the Pandora arc.
Fortunately things are really hotting up now and even though this is clearly just another part of a bigger story the pieces are falling into place nicely for a climatic finale in Imperiatrix.
One of the most important things that the Gallifrey series gets very right is to remember the limits and strengths of audio. Gary Russell has been making far too many of these things now to get this wrong and his mini series (and despite the lagging Doctor Who audio series this is where his true talent is on show) concentrate on performances and dialogue which, thanks to an excellent cast and Steve Lyons' gripping script are as sharp as a pin. What the Gallifrey series has now which very few of the other mini series managed (only the Bernice line, now in its sixth season has managed to top Gallifrey's achievement in this regard) is a real sense of identity, with the back up of a compelling season arc and seven stories behind this to explore the setting, you can slip on a Gallifrey CD and know exactly what you are listening to. The characters are so well defined; most of them already well handled on the TV series (Romana, Leela, Darkel, K9) that these stories are practically self-perpetuating. So let's deal with them in turn...
Romana: Without Braxiatel to protect her she is being attacked from all directions. Darkel, Narvin, the High Council, Pandora, everybody wants a piece of her and the strain is starting to show. Lalla Ward delivers her strongest performance yet with Romana on the verge of hysteria trying to hold her planet together and avoid all the political backstabbing. Her involvement with Pandora is beautifully exploited here, especially in those scenes where the two of them talk together, Pandora whispering in her ear to sweep aside all this political nonsense and head a dictatorship. Such is the stress she is under you could almost imagine Romana taking up the offer but rather than surrendering to the easy option she still has some surprises left. I adored the last scene of the audio where she finally stood up for herself and accepted Darkel's challenge. She is going to remind everybody that she is still the President of Gallifrey and I cannot wait to see how she plans to do this.
Leela: Who is much quieter this year but still compelling, forced into positions of power by her betters and trying to retain the calmness in the Academy now the new breed of xenophobia has started to spread. It is not hard to see why Andred is still so head-over-heels about her; Leela is the secret strength behind this series, proving that despite how much prejudice and racism the Gallifreyans throw at her she is more intelligent and capable than they are. Louise Jameson was spot on when she described Leela as unintelligent but not stupid and when surrounded by the patronising, lying, scheming Time Lord hierarchy she shines as a far more sophisticated character than she was on the telly, faithful to her own morals and ideals. She surprised me several times here, ignoring her bravery and admitting it's is okay to ask for help when the odds are against you. She is full of snippets of good advice and makes a charming tutor for the students of the Academy. Her scenes with Andred continue to sparkle, the two of them forced to work together, proving what a good team they make. It is only when they turn their backs on each other when both character reveal the depth of their feelings for each other to the audience.
Darkel: The bitch-queen from hell has finally stepped from the shadows and confronted Romana publicly. Like all politicians she fights with her words and truly turns them to her benefit. She deviously exploits terrorist attacks to question Romana's radical open policy to allow outsiders into the Academy and by stirring up public dissent to their presence she has expertly played the racial tension to her advantage. Lynda Bellingham must have had a ball playing this calculating cow, she gets all the best dialogue, and plays it up in such a way that you want to slap her about for being so conniving. Certainly her scenes with Lalla Ward are just about as perfect as audio comes, all smiles and beauracracy when both of them clearly want to scratch the others eyes out. Great stuff. Does Darkel really want to return Gallifrey to its old ways of omnipresent powers of is she just using this label to boost her position to President? Time will tell...
Insurgency brings the situation with the aliens in the Academy to the forefront and pleasingly introduces four students for the audience to relate to before the situation escalates out of control. It is nice to hear them discussing the Doctor; it pleases me to think his name of something of a legend amongst the young. Gary Bakewell gets the largest slice of the action as Student Taylor, caught up in the thrall of Gallifreyan politics and pushed into the helpless position of committing criminal acts to try and make the Time Lords see sense. Accents seem all the rage in Doctor Who these days so it pleases me to here such a gorgeous Scottish voice amongst all the English, Bakewell makes quite an impression and it was wise for Steve Lyons to allow us to see just how the situation was affecting the "little people".
This is predictably wonderful stuff, which benefits for stepping up the tension ready for the finale. I only hope that Imperiatrix can live up to the dramatic setup in Insurgency.