A Thing of Guile

Posted in Audio by - April 11, 2018
A Thing of Guile

Released February 2016
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

The Daleks are developing a secret weapon on Asteroid Theta 12 in ‘A Thing of Guile’ by Phil Mulryne, and Cardinal Ollistra puts her studies into ancient and mysterious armaments to the side to investigate the Dalek project and to uncover their true plans. Whether he wants to or not, the war criminal formerly known as the Doctor must act as her involuntary accomplice.

Surprisingly given their expository role in ‘Legion of the Lost,’ the Daleks do not fully dominate ‘A Thing of Guile’ until midway through, Infernal Devices seemingly just as willing to show the lengths that the Time Lords will go to as the Time War trudges on as their malicious and immoral foes are. And while Only the Monstrous proved that these Daleks were willing to look to the successes and failures of past exploits to craft and refine their current plans of action, they again look to infuse something familiar and yet distinctly non-Dalek into their strategy, foregoing the oft-desired human factor and looking instead to turn a Dalek back into a Kaled to gain a new perspective. For all of their weaknesses resulting from their single-minded determination, the Daleks have inherently realised that organic beings do hold at least a semblance of an advantage over them, and though this particular scheme seems to go against everything that the Daleks stand for given their creator’s vision, the unmutated’s statement that the Daleks’ resolution for racial purity will be their ultimate undoing is perfectly fitting if hardly revelatory.

John Hurt and Jacqueline Pearce have an immense chemistry together, and this unlikely duo whom Ollistra has forcefully created easily exemplify the contrasting extremes of Time Lord thought, Ollistra constantly seeking for that one advantage that will win her the war regardless of the ultimate cost and the Doctor constantly seeking to retain his focus on the importance of the individuals and the sanctity of his own moral code even as those around him continue to succumb to darker thoughts and actions. Unfortunately, moments that truly delve into the inner workings of these characters are rather sparse and too often end up being the result of reactionary dialogue rather than true characterisation through action, and though the set’s title Infernal Devices makes it perfectly clear that characterisation and deep character studies won’t necessarily be at the forefront as even the contents of the Omega Arsenal remain shrouded in secrecy and the psychic Anima Device can be used to take away free will and control thoughts, it is quite noticeable that these two stellar actors are given wholly acceptable and thrilling but ultimately rather superficial roles in this story. Indeed, that sentiment reflects ‘A Thing of Guile’ as a whole; the prolonged scenes against the giant worm and the Daleks’ rather overcomplicated plot are perfectly engaging in a traditional Doctor Who sense, but these lighter elements could have been more impactful had weightier moments looking further into the Doctor and his current relationship with Ollistra as her prisoner been fully explored.

In the end, ‘A Thing of Guile’ is probably one that will divide fans. The performances, direction, and sound design are all superb, and the Doctor trying to live up to his reputation that still precedes him even as he insists he is no longer that man makes for inherently excellent drama. With the Daleks making an impactful entrance to fully dictate the course of this short second The War Doctor series with a plan that looks into their own past to guide their future, all of the pieces are there for a perfectly entertaining serial. However, with the anticipation that the immense setting of the Time War and the mysterious nature of the War Doctor naturally create, this fifth War Doctor story is also a step backward given the immense emotion and scope on display in ‘Legion of the Lost’ that seemed to hint at a continued thrilling balance between intimate and epic as the two warring sides continue their dangerous moral descent.

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