Big Finish Productions
|Written by||Stewart Sheargold|
|Starring Lalla Ward, Louise Jameson, Mary Tamm, John Leeson and Lynda Bellingham|
|Synopsis: The Free Time influence in the Capital is spreading, while Darkel has played her hand and opposition to Romana's policies from without and within is growing. When the bombs start going off, Romana decides enough is enough. Even if it means leading Gallifrey to war.|
Imperiatrix! by Joe Ford 1/10/05
This is it. This is the big one. The last Gallifrey CD of series two. A series I have enjoyed immensely and one, which has built up an incredible amount of suspense as each episode has progressed. And because this is a special occasion the story is double the length of a regular Gallifrey release. Now I know I have come down hard on the overlong Doctor Who releases and praised the mini series for their shorter story lengths, this is another example of the spinoffs getting what doesn't usually work right. Just like the Benny season climax Death and the Daleks, Imperiatrix deserves and exploits its longer running time and doesn't waste a second. Never does it feel padded or as if it is dragging, the extra time is used wisely to open out the story, to examine the characters in greater depth and to include some longer, scarier action sequences than would be acceptable in the seventy-minute stories.
Stewart Sheargold is emerging as one of the better Big Finish writers that isn't working on the new TV series. He has already provided two startling scripts for the Benny range (the psychological horror The Mirror Effect and the hilariously surreal Masquerade of Death) and his first Gallifrey script contains everything that made his previous work sparkle, namely great dialogue, good twists and some fine imagery.
It was lovely to hear Gary Russell admit during the documentary (which was an unexpected bonus at the end of the story) that the first series neglected to actually set any of its stories primarily on Gallifrey. This has been rectified in series two with only one tale set off-world and the rest concentrating on the increasingly dramatic political situation on Gallifrey. Gary's wish to set a serial-based drama is perhaps the worst idea I have heard of since JNT decided to crash a Concorde on prehistoric Earth so kudos to the man for taking hold of this potentially devastating idea and making it work. Whilst the thought of characters discussing timonic fusion devices and Matrix projections sounds thoroughly tedious, the planet Gallifrey is actually used brilliantly throughout and provides a fascinating backdrop to the series. The characters talk in long, theatrical speeches, perfect for the actors to chew up the scenery and give grand performances that stick in the mind. Considering the importance of Gallifrey in the grander scheme of the universe the political strife Romana's decision to allow access to the other temporal powers to Gallifrey's academy is fatal to the stability of Gallifrey's hierarchy. Whilst the Gallifreyans are fighting each other who is watching the rest of the universe? Series two wisely makes itself an internal affair, with the super powers coming to Gallifrey and proving and exploiting the drama to be had on Gallifrey.
It has been an intoxicating brew, with an intriguing blend of plot and character based tales. With a cast this strong you really want to exploit their potential and each of their stories come to head in Imperiatrix in explosive style. It would be unfair to pick a favourite performance because everybody acquits themselves superbly; Lalla Ward takes Romana to a new dramatic high, Louise Jameson gets to emote like mad over the deaths of Andred and K9, Lynda Bellingham has mastered backstabbing to a high art, John Leeson gets to play evil as the Pandora-affected K9, Sean Carlsen continues to add layers to Narvin... congratulations to everyone involved. If their chemistry wasn't so fantastic this series would have fallen flat on its face, it is a testament to their talent that it has already secured a series three.
Romana is deservedly the most important character in Imperiatrix and the prophecy of her becoming the Ice Queen of the story's title finally comes true. Throughout the year Romana has been beaten down and backed into a corner but now it is time to fight back and her daring pronouncement during the inquiry into her behaviour to become the Imperiatrix of Gallifrey left me gobsmacked. I never thought she would go that far. For a while it looks like Pandora has gotten inside Romana's head such was her vicious behaviour but I should have realised she was always one step ahead. When Darkel smacked her down with one accusation after another I thought the President was finished but how Romana turns it all around and exposes Darkel as the manipulating, backstabbing cow that she is left me clapping. Romana is forced to make some pretty tough choices here but she never falters, she is too strong a character to pussyfoot around. She has certainly shaken off the companion role and become the protagonist.
Leela feels less important here but is still vital to making the story work. Her investigations into the bombing in the Academy are terrific, especially when she enlists the help of Narvin who mocks her until she discovers evidence that he has missed, including proof of his guilt! Her marriage with Andred has been a potent thread in this series (especially considering how ill-advised her departure from the series was in this fashion!), his betrayal of her and their subsequent relationship has been the main emotional input to the series. They have grown gradually closer over each release and his sudden death in this story provides Leela with further touching scenes. When she discovers who was responsible for his death (however inadvertently) it sets up an intriguing new plotline for series three.
I love the sense of panic and claustrophobia the story manages to conjours up, the early explosion in the Academy proves how precarious the situation, with the superpowers threatening to attack Gallifrey if their people aren't returned. There is a fantastically-directed sequence in the middle of the story where Leela attempts to warn about further explosions, the tension mounted up during this sequence is nail-bitingly good. It reminds me of the good old days of DS9; power struggles, political problems, spiritual undertones and fabulous characters.
Unfortunately, I hated the last five minutes. There is a hideously tacked-on coda to the story, which feels like one twist too far and threatens to derail all the good work done up until that point. Why oh why do we need Romana I back? It feels as though Mary Tamm really wanted to do some Doctor Who audio work and the writers have tried very hard to drop her into the action. It feels really forced, not just the way Romana I jumps from her previous self but her characterisation too. I was just starting to like Tamm's interpretation of the character from the series and here they return me to my previous assessment of her character, the she was an arrogant, backstabbing piece of work. Her "Ahahaha! Take that other Romana to the cells whilst I rule the planet! Ahhahaha!" end scene was utterly, utterly horrid. I realise this series is set on Gallifrey which allows you to play about with temporal jiggery pokery and do all sorts of clever stuff, but having the two Romanas fighting each other (which looks like series three's premise) is a step too far. Why is Romana I so power mad? Why is she fighting the woman she will become? Surely this means the timelines have been affected; now Romana knows her own future? All this trouble just to re-introduce Tamm... it wasn't really worth it.
A shame considering how impressive the rest of the series has been that it should fall to pieces in the last five minutes. For the most part this is another stunning release, intelligently written and well dramatised. Gary Russell's passion for this series is evident during the behind the scenes documentary on this disc and I can only hope his enthusiasm continues. The results are some of his best work for Big Finish yet. And those are some pretty high standards.