17 January 2014

AFT: System Restore

Edwardian Cricketer: The Fifth Doctor was really believably written in this, the third installment in the six-story Daleks v Cybermen arc. His little thought-bubble asides and comments to himself feel totally in character for this most self-conscious of Doctors. He only arrives on Mondas because of a collision between the TARDIS and Time Agent John Hart, which he is most indignant about. One thing that does seem out of character though is the continued expressed resentment for Captain Hart. I appreciate that in a comic you don't have the luxury of facial expressions, body language and vocal intonation to help convey speech, and if this were a live-action story the script would probably be amended. However, it still feels out of place for the Doctor to repeatedly state his distrust of Time Agent to Hart's face. Perhaps Colin Baker's Doctor might be so brash, and some of this dialogue does fit with Phil's second-favourite Doctor, but I don't think Davison would. Could this not have been conveyed in a thought bubble (as with other comments) or in a little Davison sigh? A minor point, and I appreciate why it had to be included. The Doctor soon meets Jani, his stand in companion for this story, and seems to be getting along fine with her - until he commits mass murder. For some reason, this seems to end their brief friendship. Odd. Anyway, back to the explosion. Read more about the plot details in The Plot (cunning, eh?) but suffice to say the Doctor has to destroy a warehouse complex because of Captain Hart's actions which, incidentally, kick starts the Cybermen's history as we know it. The rage the Doctor directs at Hart at the end does feel like Davison, though. The blunt English put-outedness summarises his emotions perfectly, and it's clear that the Time Lord holds the Time Agent responsible for the deaths of the innocents he kills. The next story chronologically for the Doctor is Frontios - maybe he's still pissed off about what happened here which is why he's so sarky and bitchy? It's in my canon, anyway!

Rogue Agent: It takes a few hours for Hart's Vortex Manipulator to recharge, hence he and the Doctor are stuck together whilst their respective devices repair. He's painted as unlikable by Lawrence here, both through the eyes and prejudice of the Doctor (a little out of character, as already noted) and how he acts and interacts with other people. He seems to grate on everyone he encounters, including the Dalek. Having not seen Hart's appearances in Torchwood (the BBC one), I can't comment on the accuracy of his depiction, but he seems to be the sort of care-free, consequences-can't-touch-me pal of Jack's that I imagined he might be. As a secondary lead for this story, he's an interesting choice. Rather than just going with the 'traditional' companion - here in the form of Jani - Lawrence has opted to not only explain the Doctor's arrival on Mondas, but give him someone to play off that he doesn''t get along with (and isn't Tegan or Adric!). I'm grateful for his inclusion, and his integral role in this story and the origins of the Cybermen. Whilst the 'spare parts society' is only in its infancy here, it's having to adapt to deep space that forces the creation of the metal men in the first place. Lawrence has done really well to give Hart and his actions some real depth and reason for being included.

Great Lines: "Wherever you go, trouble follows." / "What can I say? We modelled ourselves on you."

"Move away from the controls and put your plunger in the air."

"Even driver-less trains can't resist a siren!"

The Plot: As a result of their defeat on Skaro, the Daleks have decided to prevent the Cybermen from ever having existed. A single Dalek Scientist has been sent to Mondas to destroy anything that might lead to the development of the Cybermen, so it decides to blow up a factory using a monorail train (a Hyperrail if you will) packed with bombs. When this fails, it seems to backtrack to Plan A - a network of bombs in place around the factory - instead. When the Dalek is killed by Hart, he and the Doctor realise that the explosion of the warehouses is a fixed point in time - it must always happen. Initially, Hart tries to set off the charges before he is erased from history, leaving the Doctor to correct the timelines.

Plastic Fantastic: I liked that Phil used the Time Crash version of the Fifth Doctor in this story, as with his others set chronologically just before it. It's not used enough, I feel, though this may be due to its availability only as an SDCC exclusive (remember them?). It's great to see the Tenth Planet Cybermen. They look great. It's a bit of a shame given Phil's previous customising that Jani and Marc and just Primeval figures, with no alterations whatsoever. It doesn't detract from the story but it feels like a bit of a shame when he's demonstrated definite ability in the area before. Other than that, there's not much to say apart from the nice variety of angles and frame sizes used. This story certainly feels more dynamic than the preceding two, partly because of this.

Verdict: System Restore feels like it is a crossover between Phil's main monthly series and the DvC arc. I say this because, once more, we see only one Dalek (a Scientist, if we're going by the established hierarchy), and there's very little of the Cybermen - they're in five frames in the whole story! However, they're definitely felt in their absence, what with this being set on their homeworld. It is particularly pertinent that this incarnation of the Doctor should have landed in this story, given the events of  Spare Parts - also set on Mondas. The plot is a little convoluted (why doesn't the Dalek just detonate the charges in the first place? What's it waiting for? Why would only one Dalek be sent when we've seen whole platoons be sent in for farmore menial tasks?) but this is necessary in order for the Doctor and Captain Hart's relationship to be central to the story. That's really what this is about. It could be any fixed point that must be kept, the point is that it's the Doctor that has to do it. Phil builds up a cosy, believable world too, with the Doctor necessarily befriending on its inhabitants in the form of Jani so that we can experience the impact of his actions later on beyond very nicely Photoshopped pictures of explosions (seriously, they're surprisingly hard to do, and it's rare to see one this good). That said, doesn't the explosion seem a bit tame? Given it's supposed to knock the planet out of orbit, the Doctor, Jani and Hart seem to do very well to survive when the Doctor literally just drops the charges off the roof of the building he's standing on. I get that it's the gesture that's important, but you take my point. As with prior points, this doesn't at all discredit anything that's gone before. I really enjoyed the build up where it's made to look like twenty-first century London (even the Doctor thinks that's where they've landed) before the reveal of Earth hanging in the sky. It's a beautiful shot, possibly my favourite frame of the story. Although the cliffhanger is incidental and put in purely to divide the story in two - there's never any sense of danger - it is nice to see the UserDeck being used beyond the plot function, if that makes sense. As soon as the location of the stranger is revealed, Cybermen are on him instantly. It's a shame it's resolved so easily. I must just add, too, that all the sets look gorgeous. Of particular note is the TARDIS control room; the central column is just perfect, and it must have taken hours to construct. I really appreciate the labour of love that these sets are. It would be so easy to Photoshop and print, but Phil always seems to go the extra mile.

As a result, this story feels a bit like a mixed bag of ideas and continuity. It's certainly a departure from the previous two DvC stories, with the two main antagonists being incidental to the plot. This story revolves around the Doctor and Hart's relationship with each other, but there's too much continuity to declare it a standalone story. An interesting experiment, and a very enjoyable one. Judged on its own merits, there's a lot to like in this. The only things holding it back are the Dalek's flawed plan (logic gates malfunctioning?) and the brevity although the direction of these two episodes is to be praised. It feels a lot more snappy than The Seige of Skaro or Apocalypse Dawns. It could alternatively be due to the increased amount of incident in this story compared to them. Either way, I loved it, and I can't wait to see what's coming next in An Unfair Advantage with the Sixth Doctor and Peri.

In a Nutshell: the 'oddball' of the season, with great sets and pacing.

PS: great title!

You can read System Restore on the Action Figure Theatre site here

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