21/07/2011

"Something very wonderful and strange..."




Doctor Who – The Awakening,  recently released on dvd
Words: John Connors

There is something absolutely brilliant about `The Awakening` yet it is also one of those `what if` stories. Whilst the idea is probably not enough to sustain a four parter, a third episode would certainly avoid the climactic scramble in which the Malus is rather too easily seen off. There are rich characters that would benefit from more screen time, certainly enough to ensure they don’t just end up as a crowd running after the Doctor.


What is lost in terms of narrative devolvement is to some extent balanced by the speed at which matter unfold. Noticeably pacier than other stories of this era, the end result feels almost like a modern day Doctor Who. At the centre of it all is the Malus, surely one of the best monsters of any period of the show? The moment when it peers menacingly out of the collapsing wall, smoke belching everywhere to the accompaniment of amazing sound effects is gripping even to today’s standards.

One clever line of dialogue- about how it is a creature turned into a machine- explains away any mechanical feel it might have. Yet it’s not even needed, simple yet highly effective eye and mouth movement is enough to convince. Often Doctor Who shows a person looking frightened of something that frankly isn’t a bit frightening. The Malus has enough sound and fury to match its appearance and so you can believe it would terrify people, living up to the Doctor’s description of it as “pure evil”. That it sits in a very impressive set of a crumbling church- with stained glass windows - makes matters even more impressive.

"Yes...can I help anyone?"

The story is also very well cast. Keith Jayne gives one of the series’ best ever portrayals of a historical based character, as Will Chandler constantly cowers from threats or looks puzzled by what he’s seeing. The idea of Will as an ongoing companion (a suggestion that was never actually made according to the DVD documentaries) simply wouldn’t fly because neither actor nor writers could be expected to keep the meticulous work here up to standard. However he was certainly worth featuring in another historical story the following season. Equally Jane Hampton deserves more screen time; Polly James gives her a delightfully dotty air. Both have such a strong rapport with Peter Davison that it’s almost a disappointment to go back to Tegan and Turlough. 

The plot has plenty to do and manages to weave a strong threat in the form of the Malus as well as sketch in the characters as best it can despite the rushed tone. So, how might a 3 part `Awakening` have worked? You could begin with someone in the church, spooked by the wall beginning to belch smoke. Then we could see Verney’s kidnapping, and Jane Hampton’s opposition given more space, with more and more villagers succumbing to the proceedings. As Tegan searches for her uncle, the Doctor could become fascinated with the war game suspecting that it is controlled by an alien power. Time, too, for more on the Malus’ influence on the villagers. Thus the rather manufactured cliff-hanger where the Doctor oddly places his head inside the hole in the wall might have been avoidable. Instead, soon after Will appears, a simple reveal of the glowing green eyes would have been enough.

Part 2 would then include what is now the second half of part one  together with all the Queen of the May stuff.  It also makes no sense for Verney and Turlough to be locked in a shed unguarded – had they been in the cellars, you open up scope for  more atmospheric stuff. The cliff-hanger  for part 2 would have everyone in the church to witness  the full reveal of the Malus face. Episode three could have played out more in the church with the assorted characters a prisoner of the Malus as it’s, influence reached them. As well as the ghostly swordsmen other apparitions pertaining to each character might be used not to mention the idea of one mind after another being turned against the Doctor. It might have been better to have left Turlough and Verney at loose to sabotage the games. This would give space for a more satisfying defeat of the creature too.
Even so, the story has done its job by the time we reach the rushed climax and remains a potent addition to what was a good run of stories.

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