Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Warriors' Gate


Warriors' Gate is directed by Paul Joyce, the nearest thing to an auteur Doctor Who has ever had. The fact that he worked with Christopher H Bidmead (the script editor) to knock Stephen Gallagher's original script into shape adds to that.

It draws on Cocteau's La Belle et la Bete, Rosencrantz & Gildenstern Are Dead & Waiting For Godot to produce something with real atmosphere & power.

Almost every shot seems to be carefully thought out. The lighting, the sets, the black & white landscapes & the weird off-white void all contribute to this story feeling so different to most other Doctor Who. Oddly it reminds me of both The Web Planet & The Mind Robber. But there's not much else like this in the Doctor Who canon & that's down to Paul Joyce's vision.

In some respects it is a mirror image of Full Circle, the first of the E-Space Trilogy. In that story the Deciders don't decide anything. They procrastinate until finally they have to act. In Warriors' Gate on the other hand Rorvik (Clifford Rose) is desperate to act but can't & when he does destruction follows. His mad cry of 'I'm finally getting something done" is from the edge of madness whilst Biroc (David Weston) tells the Doctor to "Do nothing. It is done." Which alongside references to the I-Ching makes this very Zen & the Art of Time Travel.

The story is pretty brutal as well. Rorvik's crew - slave traders pimping time sensitive Tharils across the Universe - treat the Tharil's with thoughtless violence but this we discover turns out to be a mirror of how the Tharil's used to treat human beings when they had power. The Tharil's once held a great Empire enslaving humans but eventually the humans rose up, using Gundan robots to destroy the Tharils. The Empire gone the Tharils are now slaves to the humans. It's kharma.

All of this comes out over the four episodes as the Doctor stumbles through a mirror into the past. This timey-whimey element of the story gives it a surprisingly modern feel. You could slot this into Moffat's Doctor Who with a few minor changes & some CGI.

Joyce's concept creates the atmosphere & it really feels like he's trying to make something bigger than a Doctor Who story. But these foundations are added to by some excellent performances across the board: Kenneth Cope as Packard & Freddie Earle as Aldo should get a mention for excellence in a supporting role but almost all of Rorvik's crew, brutal thugs though they are to some degree, are interesting. They're not just 2D ciphers. They're grumpy. They whinge, they moan & they skive off.

Clifford Rose himself as Rorvik is superb. He's playing an sf version of Captain Mainwaring really: a slightly useless leader with ideas above his abilities. It's a blackly comic role played dead straight. He's one of my favourite Doctor Who villains ever.

Tom Baker is up to his usual standards but feels coldly distant throughout, as if he's contemplating his impending departure. Or the actual departure of Lalla Ward.

This is Romana's last story & Lalla Ward gets much more to do than usual. She drives much of the story whilst the Doctor is on the other side of the mirror. Despite that though her actual departure feels sudden & rushed. Like Leela's but without the silly love interest. It does feel 'right' though. Romana has changed travelling with the Doctor & she has no interest in returning to Gallifrey so when the opportunity arises to stay in E-Space & help Biroc free his people she grabs it with both hands. It's a shame really as I think the Doctor & Romana are a fine partnership (Yes, I have a bit of a crush on Lalla Ward)

K9 also departs. JNT never liked the poor little bugger & Warriors' Gate gives him a chance to get rid of him once & for all. Damaged by the Time Winds K9 gets left in E-Space with Romana where he can help her build a new TARDIS.

It's a story about nothing & about everything. It's about causes & consequences. It's about slavery & freedom. It looks wonderful & a real effort has been made to make it something special. It might not all work but I adore Warriors' Gate.

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