03 August 2014

BF: Of Chaos Time The

Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories is 2014's anthology set, comprising of four 25-minute stories instead of the usual 100-minute story. These are pretty much an annual affair but last year the slot was surrendered to Afterlife. Previous entries of this type include 1001 Nights, Recorded Time and Other Stories, The Demons of Red Lodge and Other Stories, The Company of Friends and Forty-Five. The four stories included in this release are Breaking Bubbles, Of Chaos Time The, An Eye for Murder and The Curious Incident of the Doctor in the Night-Time.

Of Chaos Time The is the second story in the set and I'm sorry to say it was much less to my tastes than the first. In principal, it's a great concept and I was really looking forward to this story. However, I felt the execution and the style of the narrative was too intense for me to fully comprehend it. I listened to this story twice and still couldn't really figure out the background plot. It was only when I read the script (which helpfully comes with a chronological order of scenes) that this began to take shape properly for me, which is a shame as I'm sure it's probably quite good.

If you didn't know, the Doctor is cast adrift in his own chronology in this one. I know that's the phrase bandied about everywhere to describe Mark Ravenhill's Doctor Who debut, but it's such a good one that I don't mind repeating it. We follow the Doctor's timeline in the order he experiences it and so naturally we're thrown straight in at the deep end. This was perfectly fine, and a really attention-grabbing way of opening a story, the complete reverse of Breaking Bubbles. I really like these types of introductions for the most part, and this was no different. Indeed, that's the general feeling I get from this play. Each individual segment works well by itself but considered as a whole, it doesn't really click for me.

Following the Doctor's perspective means that we naturally get very little in the way of Peri (which is nice for Nicola Bryant, who probably got most of the afternoon off at the recording) and so instead Ravenhill uses the Doctor's thoughts as a stand in companion for this story and in doing so, he manages to capture the Sixth Doctor's personality very well. One of my favourite aspects of his interpretation was the asserted confidence in his own ability to sort everything out when he didn't have a bloody clue what was going on or where he was even. Spending so much time with the Doctor, it's lucky Colin Baker is such an accomplished performer. He easily soaks up the material and seems to relish the idea of the story.

The story of this episode as far as I can tell is that the Doctor and Peri are drawn to a base in the far, far future when the TARDIS detects time distortion. The former naturally wants to investigate but immediately they are assumed to be spies (sound familiar? - in a good way!) and are almost executed. Luckily the Doctor, having already experienced future events, knows what's wrong with the patient held at the base and so uses that to blag a bit more time. The patient is Trobe, a scientist who for eight-years has been living his entire life cycle over and over again. One cycle seems to last between five and ten minutes. He ages from birth to around ninety before repeating it again, which is a truly horrible disease. The Doctor goes in to talk to him and as such exposes himself to the chronological condition, causing his timeline to scramble. As he already has a special relationship with time, he is not placed in an endless loop of life but time loops around him instead.

He learns that he must visit the satellite where Trobe worked with another scientist - Warma - but while he's been busy chatting, Standing (who, thanks to Anjella Mackintosh's performance, stands out as the primary guest star in this second story) has decided that the Chronon bomb that Trobe and Warma were working on is the correct - and only - solution to this eternal war we're told about. Peri and Maylon don't share the same view and so she threatens to take them hostage. Somehow, she ends up in front of the TARDIS and kills Maylon so the Doctor is forced to improvise another way to get to the station. He knows from his future though that it's a wormhole and so we don't experience his creation of it, but next thing we know he's there. He struggles to prevent the bomb from being detonated and in doing so exposes himself to another bout of time energy. This counteracts the first lot and averts his scrambled chronological time jumping. And then Trobe, who seems to have been sustaining the wormhole somehow, is finally given relief and the story ends.

I hope it's not a recurring theme of this anthology, but the endings do come around very quickly. The story seems to want to occupy thirty minutes instead of the usual twenty-five and I think they might benefit from it. Here, I would have liked the Doctor to have had a little more time working linearly to really do the whole of Mark Ravenhill's plot justice rather than just the Doctor's part of it. As it is, it comes of feeling like it was a storytelling experiment rather than evolving naturally from his narrative - despite the fact that it's an excellent world he's conjured up and there's a very valid excuse for events. In being so confusing and giving the listener so little time to try and piece together what's actually happening it almost feels Of Chaos Plot The instead.

Wilfredo Acosta's sparse but memorable soundtrack was as enjoyable as ever, and most noticeable on repeat listening. I especially liked how in the scenes with Trobe the music looped back to the beginning as the character's age did the same. It's a technique not many might think of and helps convey the situation in a story without visuals. As we move to the second disc of the anthology, I look forward to more great work from him. Nick Briggs did a good job on this story I felt, with the guest parts particularly well cast. It was surprising to me that Phil Mulryne played both Trobe and Warma, and I never would've guessed. Where I felt the direction was a bit off was in the Doctor's 'internal thoughts' lines. It felt too much like Colin Baker reading the lines rather than the Doctor thinking them, if there's a distinction. Baker didn't sound entirely comfortable with these at first, but they did become more natural and Doctor-y so perhaps Briggs relaxed his direction and let the actor take it in his own direction. Of course, it could be the complete opposite, but I did appreciate Briggs' handling of Chaos, making it a stylish fare.

This is far removed from anywhere near the 'bad' category however. It's a good story that can stand on its own two feet convincingly enough for me, it just didn't suit my tastes, I'm afraid to say. It's in situations like this that I'm divided over a rating. I never know whether to judge it as a story in its own rights or whether to say how much I liked it. If you're not quite sure what I mean, it's like when you have to list your Top 10 Doctor Who stories and you're split whether to include your guilty pleasure (Delta and the Bannermen for example) amongst the Deadly Assassins and City of Deaths and Robots of Deaths and Blinks that inevitably take up the majority of the slots. What I normally go for when reviewing for this site is to judge the quality of the story. On those grounds, I think this is superior to Breaking Bubbles, but I enjoyed it less personally. It was a pretty good yarn, but was too rushed and didn't explain enough soon enough for it to work perfectly for me. There was also a distinct lack of Peri, which is always a shame in Big Finish releases, but it's certainly understandable (and as I understand it that'll be made up for in the next story). On the grounds of this episode, I'd be happy to see Mark Ravenhill back and I think Script Editor Jonny Morris made the right call in securing him for The Chaos of Time.

In a Nutshell: Enjoyable and clever, but possibly over-plotted.

Of Chaos Time The is available as part of Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories here.  Read the Doc Oho review here and the Blogtor Who review here.

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