Big Finish Productions
|Written by||James Swallow|
|Continuity||Between Resurrection of the Daleks and Planet of Fire|
|Starring Peter Davison and Mark Strickson|
|Synopsis: The Somnus Foundation knows the fate of mankind; they promise a tomorrow where humanity will evolve into a godlike form of infinite power. They will lead us there, to a destiny that spans the stars. This is how the future will unfold. Beneath the towering headquarters of the Somnus, in the streets of Moscow a dark power is building, and a conspiracy that stretches across eternity is nearing completion. Time is fracturing and the Doctor and Turlough are at the heart of the chaos. History is about to change ? and the galaxy will burn in its wake...|
A Review by Joe Ford 26/4/06
As I live and breathe that was good!
I think something funny has come over me lately. I said I would never watch The X Factor but after endless whining from Simon I watched one episode and now I am hooked! I have always refused the calling of a tedious office job and guess where I have recently started working? And finally I think I am starting to prefer the Peter Davison Big Finish audios above all the other Doctors, even my precious Colin Baker (who has been ill-served this year). The last scene of this story could very well be the greatest moment Peter Davison has ever given us.
Singularity is far from perfect but it is an encouraging upswing in quality after a two-story lull. It reminded me of a lot of the strengths of Big Finish's unique interpretation of Doctor Who that I have long believed forgotten. It is a confident story, that flaunts its big ideas with pride and manages to reach an extremely satisfying conclusion, both plot and character. The story works very well in this format too, because it gives the characters a chance to have their say, to explore their feelings without the need for visual set pieces to keep things moving. That's not to say that this is a slow-moving tale, you've got subterfuge, explosions, torture, mindswaps and all those sort of things that keep stories like these full of stimulation.
I was initially sceptical about using Turlough and the first episode did nothing to convince me otherwise. I think I have become a bit of a bastard these days and I have to brutally honest when I say I can tell that Mark Strickson has not done too much acting work these days. At the beginning of this story he sounds terribly earnest and eager to be involved, like a forty-odd year old pretending to be a kid (I like to call Aldred Syndrome) and considering Strickson and Davison hardly had the best chemistry to begin with (well, it was hardly as electric as his relationship with Janet Fielding) I feared that I was in for another tragically badly-acted nightmare of a story.
But as the story progressed I was either softened by the quality of its story or else Mr Strickson improved dramatically; in the last two episodes he was giving a performance that matched and rivalled the best of those he gave on telly. There was a small, gentle moment between Turlough and Lena which took my breath away: for a few seconds Turlough drops his cowardly, mouthy exterior and comforts a woman who is about to do something terrible in order to save her mother's life. He shows great maturity in understanding how Time works and becomes clear that hanging with the Doctor has done the kid some good. Even better, the story capitalises on his darker, alien side as he finally gets sick of being pushed around and fights backs back with his mind, his captors under the impression that he has the mind of a meek human. Throughout Singularity I was given a good slap around the chops and taught a lesson, I was so convinced I would not like Turlough's presence in the tale and I was proven totally and utterly wrong. If Big Finish can release a story where both the fifth Doctor and Turlough shine let's see them go the whole hog and transform Tegan for me too! Oh no, I almost forgot, she is popping along soon! I live in hope...
Setting the story in Russia is just different enough from the norm to really work. I genuinely felt as though I had visited the place once the story was out, with some very atmospheric sound design deployed to convince you that you are not only abroad but lots of subtle moments reminded you this is the near future too. The cover is absolutely gorgeous, the best we have had in ages.
It is a story of big ideas and admittedly most of them have been used before (but when can that statement not be used in any Doctor Who story in any media in recent years?) but it whips them up with such intoxicating self-assurance that they feel spanking new. I was scared at first as the list of cliches grew: the loony cult, the hatred of the Time Lords, the gestalt entity... what good could possibly come from rehashing these old turkeys? But as soon as they wallop you with the twist that the "villains" are in fact the last remnants of human kind trying to go back in time and claim their own planet, the story takes on a vastly different feel. Confronted with out own future in such a violent, disgusting state is horrifying and when we learn the Time Lords scarpered and left the human race to die the viciousness towards the Doctor's race takes on a much greater meaning. We get to learn more about the Doctor too; confronted with these frightening allegations he condemns his people too but still remains firm that the human race should be unhindered by temporal change brought on by their future selves.
The final scene is beautiful and touching, as the Doctor visits the last ever human on his deathbed and sits with him whilst he dies. It strikes me as more of a thing the seventh Doctor would do since the fifth Doctor usually skips off straight into another adventure but when you think about it, the Doctor is so close to the human race and has to see this one through. It is a very important moment for the Doctor and it please me that it was given to the fifth Doctor, possibly the most human of them all.
Contrasting hugely with the one-dimensional ciphers that propped up Scaredy Cat, you have an array of fascinating characters populating Singularity. Lena proves an emotional hit, never feeling like a cliche thanks to a beautiful performance by Natasha Radiski. Lena has her eyes opened in so many ways, discovering the fate of her mother was meant to be and desperately clinging on to hope that she will be reunited with brother at some point. Alexi works wonders too, having the future of the human race shoved in his face and having to face up to the fact that he will spend out his days dying inside someone else's body. And even lesser characters such as Pavel makes an impact, partly because they have little moments that shine (I love the Doctor's reaction to his conspiracy theories), but also because everybody gets a memorable ending (KABOOM!).
Adding to the uniqueness of Singularity is how well the TARDIS is used and I don't think I have ever felt the Doctor's bond to his machine felt quite as strongly as I did here. His brutal anger at the torture of craft spotlights Peter Davison in the terrific cliffhanger to episode three. And its absence is sorely felt at the climax as a resigned Turlough realises that he and the Doctor will have to settle in Russia forever.
It is a bit overcomplicated in spots and there are a few incidents that the story could have well done without (the bird attack in episode one, Turlough ogling the babes) and its 130 minute length is hardly justified by the plot, but the scale and the breadth of the production more than makes up for these faults. I wouldn't put Singularity in the top-league Big Finish adventures but it stands head and shoulders over pretty much every release so far this year.
The production is extremely polished and Gary Russell's direction has rarely been better; this is clearly a script which has inspired him because every second is imbued with a sense of care for the material. The musical score is a triumph, many moments highlighted by the exuberance of Steve Foxon's score.
Right back on track with this stunner, let's just hope we don't have to wait another year for one just as good.
A Review by Brian May 8/6/13
Two feelings spring to mind when listening to Singularity. The first is disappointment; the second is actually that of sadness. No, it's not a tearjerker, although there are themes of family loss and a likeable character dies tragically. The real sad element is that this story has the ingredients to be something good. It really should work, but sometimes things just don't go as planned.
It fuses an interesting mix of Doctor Who staples: time disturbances, a scientific doomsday cult, identity theft and the bridging of different space and time zones. The main problem with this story is that it's so incredibly boring. Tedious to the point of exasperation! It would be an untruth to say nothing happens, for the story progresses and develops logically across its four episodes (which are all of reasonable length!). But the progressions and developments are just dull. Aspects that should grab the attention, i.e. the mid-story twist (the Doctor causes the current situation by visiting the past), come across as very flat and obvious.
The whole play feels like a chore, and I don't just mean from the listener's point of view! Another reviewer on the Guide once described a story as "bored" as opposed to "boring" (Ewen Campion-Clarke, Resurrection of the Daleks). That's exactly the term I would use here. Peter Davison, a great actor who could redeem the worst stories of his era, is one of the chief culprits. He mutters and argues his way throughout, not as the fifth Doctor irritated by his companions, or who sought to right wrongs, but as an actor who can't seem to give a damn about the production. There are some strong performances to be sure, Natasha Radiski and Eve Polycarpou especially, but most of the male guests tend to overdo it at times. Turlough is particularly problematic, with Mark Strickson all over the place, his character written in a similarly chaotic way. A prime example is in the final episode; after he performs a heroic act, the script still tries to portray him as the coward that had all but gone by this point in the series. The direction is dull, with two poor cliffhangers (parts one and three), and the climax quickly deteriorates into a sub-par slanging match between the Doctor and his adversaries.
Happily, there are some saving graces. With several actors of Eastern European background, it's nice to have some realistic accents (sorry, Barnaby!). It's an inspired idea to use separate actors to play the possessed, "replacement" characters, neatly differentiating them from their "originals". It's a rather impressive utilisation of the purely audio medium. There are a few pieces of nice dialogue. "Time's predator is at our door" is wonderful, while Turlough gives a nice speech to Lena about the indifference of time. The final scene is wonderful; it's haunting and disturbing, with Peter Davison for the first time here giving his all.
Singularity just doesn't make it, I'm afraid. It's not quickly cobbled together, nor is it indescribably awful. The Big Finish debut of sci-fi writer James Swallow should also lend the script some credibility. But the end result just doesn't play out as it should have done. Sad, really. 3.5/10
In Soviet Russia, Aura Kills You by Jacob Licklider 23/1/21
After listening to the awful Scaredy Cat, I really needed a break, as that story left me emotionally drained. Luckily, James Swallow's first Doctor Who audio drama is miles better than that tripe story. Singularity draws you in with an Invasion of the Body-Snatchers style story that sees the Doctor and Turlough arriving in the middle of the twenty-first century Moscow where they get embroiled in the mystery of the Somnus Foundation, which promises to know the future of mankind and promises to read your aura, but because it is a day ending with the letter y, not all is well. The Doctor and Turlough save Lena Korolev, a woman whose brother Alexi has disappeared into the Foundation, and it is up to the Doctor and Turlough to save him. They find not all is what it seems, as people who submit to the Somnus Foundation have their souls ripped from their bodies and put into alien bodies in the future on a dying planet. The first thing that strikes me about Singularity is the fact that it feels very much like an espionage thriller for the first half until it morphs into a traditional science fiction B-movie thriller, which is honestly some great stuff. The idea behind the plot is nothing new, and we've seen it before, but Swallow's writing just draws you in to the story, which is great, but by the end it does become a bit predictable and after the villains are defeated, there are still fifteen minutes, which are rather boring.
Swallow is a man of characters, and he nails the dynamic between Peter Davison's Fifth Doctor and Mark Strickson's Turlough. They are both antagonistic to each other because of their differing philosophies, and Swallow uses this to show how close in thought they actually can be, as they both will help out wherever they can, even if Turlough doesn't want to admit it. Peter Davison, while closer to the wet noodle we saw on television mixed a little bit with the characterization of Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor, still gives a really effective performance in this story, as he plays the Doctor very much in the background of the story. Mark Strickson actually gets to shine more in this story than he did in any other story, as he plays in the foreground for most of the time. He gives very much the same performance seen in Loups-Garoux, and it really works here with a few exceptions, mainly when there are winks to the audience that he has a dark side, which just takes you out of the story, making it harder to enjoy fully.
The supporting cast don't really stand out as individuals, but that really isn't much of a problem in this story, as most actors and actresses are playing double roles due to the rather-easy-to-guess premise of bodies being stolen. The performances often have to compensate, switching from a Russian accent to an English one to a voice modulation in order to sound a bit more robotic throughout the story. One of the perks of audio is that this can be recorded out of order so to have a continuity of accents to stand out much better. The music also really feels like the story is taking place in Russia, and I can't really tell why. It's probably the choice of instruments to realize the score that does it. There are problems with the story, however, as some of the Russian accents are really stereotypical, and some performers just slip out of them at times when they really shouldn't. The plan of the Somnus Foundation could have been fleshed out much more than it actually was.
To summarize, Singularity author James Swallow really knows how to balance between two different genres and write compelling Doctor Who. He fails, however, at keeping the pacing consistent throughout the story, with the ending coming out at you for being dragged out to the proportions of The Web Planet, while some of the early material just goes by really quickly. The acting is also not really that good some actors who have problems sustaining their different accents, and Gary Russell doesn't fix it when he really should have. 65/100