31 July 2014

AFT: The Uninvited Guest

The Uninvited Guest is Philip Lawrence's send off to Matt Smith's Doctor. After a number of months off from posting new stories, this was released with little prior warning at the end of July. As a short, one-part story, it certainly seems feasible to me that this could be one of the mini-episodes we've become so accustomed to over the last few years, most famously in Night of the Doctor of course. 

Set in that period after The Wedding of River Song (as the majority of the Eleventh Doctor's AFT adventures are) The Uninvited Guest sees the Eleventh Doctor travelling alone. He shows up on Mary St Pride's doorstep, investigating a mysterious happening in her house. This is very typical of the Moffat-era style of storytelling, with the Doctor intruding on an elderly woman's life. She even says in the first frame that all she wants is to be left alone. 

But still, the Doctor of course knows better. And, it turns out, he also knows more than he's letting on. After finding a giant spider lurking in the house, the Time Lord reveals that Mary St Pride isn't Mary St Pride at all. She is one of a race of telepathic arachnids (hello Planet of the Spiders) who landed on a planet many years ago and began 'downloading' stories of people from Earth. This particular eight legs was the first to do so and so the connection was so strong that she began to believe that she really was this woman. She created an imaginary world around her, the world of Mrs St Pride: the little old lady who lived alone in Whitechapel. Of all the people to latch onto, they did pull a bit of a short straw. 

Revealing her true form to herself, the Doctor turns the woman back into her eight-legged appearance. However, it's been so long since she last assumed this form that he arachnid comrades no longer recognise her. This is a great moment of tension for the Doctor as he questions, "what have I done?" Overall, the Smith Doctor has been a little light on dealing with the consequences of his actions, and I'm afraid to say that this does extend partly into this comic. At the end of the fourth page, we're left with a swarm of spiders heading for the Doctor, and a massive moral discomfort upon his face. By the first frame of page five, however, everything seems to have been resolved. Mary St Pride remembers nothing of the events since the Doctor arrived, including who he is.

He's clearly done something to fix things, including some kind of memory wipe. The implication is that he really has set her up on Earth in Whitechapel, to live out her years, never knowing her true identity. While this is quite a touching and quaint notion, it's not made explicit and perhaps it would have been beneficial to have a couple of pages detailing his actions. I know some fans like being left to join the dots for themselves (they must've loved the 2011 series!) but I think it was a bit too ambiguous here. It's never properly clarified what's happened as although we see out the window at the end, we don't at the start which might've helped emphasise the change. I know we do on the fourth page, but it seems that at that point, everything has been overrun by spiders. I'm sure Lawrence's intended effect was there, I'm just not entirely sure what it was.

The Doctor is written typically accurately. This is encouraging news for fans who've heard the news that Phil is to write three stories for Big Finish over the next few years. Although Moffat (amongst others) claims that all the Doctors can be written the same with the actors imposing their own personalities onto the scripts, I generally stand against this view. Especially when the 'audition scripts' (we've since learned there was only one audition) for the Twelfth Doctor was written in the exact style of the Eleventh. I'm not just saying that because he was most familiar to me either. The speech patterns were all Matt, and it couldn't have been given to any of the other New Who Doctors, let alone the classics. Anyway, back to Phil! He captures the spirit of adventurousness present in the 2010 series without straying into the caricature area as he did onscreen during his adventures with Clara. He's breezy but self-important, knowledgeable and confident. One thing I like about Phil's characterisation over that of the TV series though is his fallibility. He's often given situations on the AFT where he's not in control and it's interesting to explore these avenues as there's not much time (for anything, it would seem) on TV any more.

In conclusion, this is an enjoyable little story and I'd much rather have it than not. However, I did feel its brevity harmed it a little and it could have been lengthened (not that Phil has the time these days) in many places, not just where I suggested. Despite this, it's ram-packed full of juicy ideas (I love the satellite in the spare room) and it's authentic of a BBC mini-story. The writing and direction are on top form as always (how good is the lighting in the house?!). In some places I did find it a little hard to know the order I should read the speech bubbles, but that's a small issue. Having been working on editing my own story recently, I now appreciate the time it takes and the constraints. In this way, I can appreciate even more Phil's page layout and frame setup. Every shot is meaningful here, and that's the most crucial thing. I did enjoy this, and it was a nice little coda to the Smith era, but I certainly look forward to full-length stories, whenever they might return.

You can read The Uninvited Guest here. You can also read Phil's alternative Series 8 guide here ('What if Matt Smith had stayed another year?').

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