When two members of the Fraction, a dissident Time Lord group,
are killed, the Doctor and his companion Antimony become embroiled
in the struggle against the ruthless General Tannis. Meanwhile,
another Time Lord, the Minister of Chance, fights his own
demons, and Ace finds herself in training for a destiny she
never dreamed possible...
the BBC's first webcast drama and the first broadcast Who
since the 1996 TV movie, the importance of Death Comes
to Time cannot be overstated. It certainly caused a stir
within fan circles, not least because of its blatant disregard
for developments in the Paul McGann movie as well as in the
prose and audio adventures of the Seventh and Eighth Doctors.
But more on that later.
a story in its own right, Death gets off to a cracking
start. Both the Doctor and the camp but cruel General Tannis
(John Sessions) benefit from spectacular introductions. Sylvester
McCoy gives one of his best performances ever as the Doctor,
while Kevin Eldon makes a good impression as Antimony, his
eager and naïve new companion.
In contrast with the sound and fury of Tannis' conquest of
the planet Santiny, the cryptic teachings of the wise old
Time Lord Casmus are lent great weight by the sagely tones
of Leonard Fenton.
of course, the presence of Stephen Fry as the Minister of
Chance, a Time Lord whose desire to meddle with the affairs
of other times and planets is considered excessive even by
the Doctor, is a fan's dream come true. Fry has often, justifiably,
been touted as a worthy actor to play the Doctor, and it is
easy to imagine him in that role as he portrays the flippant
but troubled Minister, who gains a companion in the shape
of Santine Senator Sala (Britta Gartner).
total, there are three interpretations of the Doctor/companion
relationship here. In addition to the Doctor/Antimony and
the Minister/Sala, Ace (Sophie Aldred) finds herself under
the tutelage of Casmus, who represents the mentoring aspect
of the Doctor's character.
rather too reminiscent of Star Wars' Jedi, Ace's training
realises a character development that Andrew Cartmel had in
mind when he was script editor of the television series. His
plan was for her to remain on Gallifrey and enrol at the Academy.
Though she has for some reason reverted to her old nickname,
the Ace depicted here closely resembles the independent adventurer
that occasionally crossed paths with the Doctor following
her departure as a regular companion in the New Adventures
novel Set Piece. Already a time-traveller in her own
right, her newfound status seems like the next logical step.
Doctor's comments that he has "died before" can also be tied
in with the New Adventures, several of which implied
that he was a reincarnation of an ancient historical figure
known as the Other. Even the mighty powers of the "Gods of
the Fourth", which many fans have had trouble accepting, extend
from previous developments of the Seventh Doctor. It may be
these powers, used in moderation, that we saw in action in
Remembrance of the Daleks, when the Doctor healed Ace's
injured leg; in Survival, when he stunned Sergeant
Patterson using energy from his finger; in Battlefield,
when by sheer force of will he commanded a battle to cease;
and whenever he used his mental abilities to hypnotise people.
The mystical Kingmaker (Peggy Batchelor) may at first seem
out of place on Gallifrey, but she is reminiscent of the Pythia's
matriarchy, which once dominated the planet, as described
in the novel Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible. Perhaps,
like the Sisterhood of Karn (from The Brain of Morbius),
she too is a descendent of the Pythia's line. Maybe her kind
used to inaugurate Time Lords back in Rassilon's day.
ALERT - SKIP THE NEXT THREE PARAGRAPHS IF YOU HAVEN'T YET
EXPERIENCED DEATH COMES TO TIME!
for Tannis' apparent eradication of the Time Lords, it may
be that he is only after the interfering types, such as the
Doctor, the Minister and the remnants of the Fraction. He
does, after all, refer to them as the "friendly Time Lords".
could be that the other inhabitants of Gallifrey don't count,
being as indolent and/or amoral as they are. Perhaps following
their aeons of isolation from the universe at large, all bar
the Fraction have forgotten the true nature of their powers,
just as they had forgotten the nature of the Eye of Harmony
in The Deadly Assassin. Maybe the Doctor himself was
unaware of his own abilities until his seventh incarnation.
It could also be the "friendly" interfering Time Lords to
whom the Kingmaker refers when she claims, "The Time Lords
walk the worlds no more." Alternatively, perhaps the majority
of them are currently in residence inside a bottle universe,
as described in the two-book novel Interference and
the non-Who New Adventure, Dead Romance.
for the demise of the Doctor, he does say that he has died
before, which might mean that he could be re-embodied following
his transfiguration. Being weakened as a result of the process
might explain the less godlike, more human nature of the Eighth
following a promising first episode, things go downhill in
terms of pace. You can sense the transition from the first
instalment, which was originally intended as a pilot for radio,
to subsequent episodes, which, being intended for download
in ten-minute chunks, meander rather aimlessly, frequently
re-capping what has already been established.
You can also detect that the opening episode was produced
without an expectation of any pictures being added, whereas
in subsequent instalments the production team begin to make
use of Lee Sullivan's artwork to convey certain story elements.
On the previous audio-only CD release, some of the drama was
lost as a result. Both the illustrated and the audio-only
versions are presented here.
The animated version isn't necessarily the better or definitive
one, however. On one hand, the illustrations help to tell
the story, but they do add a "cartoony" flavour, which detracts
from the performances during some of the moodier scenes. And
even with the pictures, many of the cliffhangers fall a little
things pick up during the final instalment, which features
a couple of witty character cameos and culminates in a moving
I said earlier, the importance of Death Comes to Time
cannot be overstated. Neither can the sheer "specialness"
of this new-fangled special edition, which includes the extended,
remastered audio-only version; the original, partially animated
version (with easy instructions for installing RealPlayer);
plus a host of extras.
include video interviews with several members of the cast,
including the amusing John Culshaw and the knowledgeably verbose
Stephen Fry; character biographies; and rough animation tests.
There are also audio-only interviews from Radio 4's Today
programme, in which John Humphrys talks to Sylvester McCoy,
John Sessions (in character as General Tannis), and a Dalek!
Whatever you think of the story, this is a marvellous product,
which offers more than six hours of listening and viewing
the very least, Death Comes to Time can be regarded
as an intriguing view of how the Seventh Doctor and Ace might
have turned out a decade or so following their final television
serial together. Despite its flaws, this is a provocative
and evocative adventure.
of flaws, it is worth noting that my disc ran into severe
difficulties partway through Episode 3 of the animated version,
due to a so-called "General Error". However, fully functioning
copies of the CD should be with stockists by now. If you do
find yourself with a dodgy disc, you can either exchange it
at the store from which you bought it, or contact BBC Audiobooks
customer services on 01225 443400, firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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