15 April 2016

Audio Review: Doctor Who - Human Resources (Part Two)

And so the first series of stories starring Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor and Sheridan Smith as Lucie Miller comes to a close. This certainly isn't your typical kind of Cybermen story but Eddie Robson uses them in a novel way that ties into their timeline but isn't a slave to continuity. The arc that has been weaved through the preceding five stories is tied up nicely, as we finally learn what's been going on. 

This episode is certainly more action-heavy than the opening part of this finale but there's plenty of plot to go around too. One of the most interesting additions this second part offers is the Quantum Crystalliser, a device invented by the Time Lords which alters the timelines to select one which fits conditions it's programmed with. The Time Lords are far more involved in this than I realised too, with their interference stretching back decades.

As I understand it, they deemed humanity would start venturing out into space in earnest too quickly, and traced it back to Karen, who we met in the last episode. In the future, she would have become an oppressive, far-right dictator, which would have accelerated the space programme. To avert this, they went back through her personal history and removed significant formative negative experiences, thus preventing her from becoming the powerful political leader she was destined to. She had her interview at Hulbert Logistics on the same day as Lucie, and the wrong person was deposited with the Doctor. It's quite a complicated explanation, but also quite witty when tied into what else Straxus, the Time Lord responsible for pairing Lucie with the Doctor, has to say about the current state of Gallifrey society.

Hulbert's operation essentially involves clearing planets for clients, only he's happened across the rock the Cybermen have decided to hole themselves up on after their defeat in The Tenth Planet. However, the Telford office still seems to be giving them quite a beating - thanks to this Quantum Crystalliser. It's an intriguing concept, and potentially something that could crop up in Big Finish's War Doctor range, as temporal weapons seem to be becoming more popular, from what I understand. The Cybermen in this are voiced and visualised on the cover as being the ones we saw in The Invasion, but they're written more like their Tenth Planet counter-parts, which makes sense. It's an interesting mix of cultures, and presumably a deliberate one, but I think it may have been preferable to use the earlier models as a visual and audio template. The Invasion Cybermen are very much the Big Finish default, with the 1980s models yet to put in appearance, 17 years in, despite the three 'main range' Doctors being from that decade, and it would have been nice to mix things up on this special occasion, where it's not just any old Cybermen.

It's becoming increasingly clear that one of Robson's strengths is in character drama, and this episode only serves to support that. Lucie has been at the heart of this entire season but she really is central to Human Resources, and Robson capitalises on the opportunities presented to him. Her relationship with the Doctor takes a severe knock mid-way through this episode as Lucie feels she's been manipulated and her past and future messed about with. Thankfully, by the end of the story, everything's been patched up and are looking forward to more time together, with both electing to stick together rather than go their separate ways. I'm still not sure why Lucie (or Karen if things had gone to plan) would have needed to be on a witness protection scheme in the first place, but perhaps a third listen would help with that.

The dynamic between Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith has been one of my favourite things about these eight episodes, and would certainly have helped score a second series. They have a natural rapport and sound at ease with each other, which really helps sell their relationship, and the extreme situations they are thrown into together. Initially opposed to being forced together in Blood of the Daleks, it's been fascinating to see them mellow and learn to live with, and then appreciate, each other. There's no doubt in my mind that this is one of the classic Doctor/sidekick pairings now, and I look forward to hearing what scrapes they get into over the following three series. 

In the end, it seems Hulbert is the real villain of the piece. Roy Marsden gets a lot to do with the part, and the exchanges where he's ringing Jerry in this episode are one of the highlights of the character's time for me. They're hilarious, as the standard office vocabulary is turned to mortal combat on an alien world, and that applies to Robson's script in general. The ideas involving Hulbert's set-up aren't just used as a method to get to a Cyberman story, but the humour of it is exploited, without it being at the story's expense. Although I've not heard it, I understand Robson's comedy series Welcome To Our Village, Please Invade Carefully has been very well received, and I can easily believe it coming off the back of this. At the forefront of his plot is Hulbert, and Marsden really involves himself in the story. His interview on the last disc shows how much he enjoyed doing this story, so it's a bit of a shame he hasn't returned since.

Elsewhere the rest of the cast are great too, with standouts being Louise Fullerton and Katarina Olsson due to the prominence of their characters, but Andy Wisher (son of Michael, fact fans), Nickolas Grace and Owen Brenman are great too. Each of their parts is important to the overall story, and you can really believe they exist outside the two hours of this story. Praise is also due for Andy Hardwick and Gareth Jenkins for their sound design and music. I know regular readers are probably fed up with me saying it, but their work really adds depth and atmosphere to the story, filling out the tone of the piece. Their work across the whole series has been great, and original, and it feels like they're really trying to do something new, which fits perfectly with the feel of this series as a whole.

This is a great conclusion to an extremely strong run of stories. Robson's script absolutely crackles with energy, wit and intelligence from start to finish, rounding off this series in style. Happily, the Doctor, Lucie, the Headhunter and Karen all live to fight another day, and I know that it won't be too long until they're reunited. This is a really clever story, arresting and thoroughly enjoyable, and in that respect it sits perfectly amongst this first series of adventures. Sheridan Smith has been a revelation (particularly in the CD interviews!) and her partnership with Paul McGann is a force to be reckoned with. I look forward to the next series with great anticipation.

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