Binary

Posted in Audio by - May 28, 2019
Binary

Released March 2012

Again proving that The Companion Chronicles as a range is anything but predictable in its format, Eddie Robson’s ‘Binary’ foregoes any sort of framing device and employs three actors rather than the traditional two to deliver the story of Liz Shaw’s unique interactions with a damaged alien computer in UNIT’s possession. With the Brigadier hoping to keep the Doctor away from this technology because of his expected reaction, Liz must oversee its repair and try to recover the soldiers who have mysteriously gone missing, but the system’s own defenses quickly prove to be unexpectedly fatal.

Season seven of Doctor Who is unquestionably one of the strongest and most grounded in adult themes of the classic run, and ‘Binary’ superbly slots into that run of classic serials by providing another topical storyline that is both gritty in its realisation and important in its character development. This is a story with a title that can fittingly be applied to the artificial intelligence, but it also references Liz’s own state of mind as she contemplates leaving UNIT for Cambridge. She knows that she is overqualified to be the Doctor’s assistant, and she hates that she must keep secrets from her friend whenever UNIT decides to act under the Official Secrets Act. Caroline John brilliantly brings out this internal conflict as she approaches the certainty that she will be leaving behind this opportunity that opens up so many unknown pathways to explore, and this nuanced sacrificial nature is played out all the more profoundly when she realises and accepts the fact that the continued survival of the planet may depend on her own death as she wrestles with the potential ramifications of repairing this computer. Liz is certainly one of the most fascinating companions because of how well-developed and confident she was with so few stories to her credit, and ‘Binary’ only further accentuates her importance to UNIT as an organisation as she realises that her capacity to see things differently from everyone else is just as important as her intelligence and determination.

‘Binary’ as a production features no incidental music and significant portions with rather sparse use of accompanying sound effects, but that decision proves to be wholly effective in evoking the natural emptiness of the internal computer environment while ensuring the focus is rightly placed on the dialogue that Joe Coen and Kyle Redmond-Jones so earnestly deliver as Liz faces several conundrums in short order. While these aspects do not necessarily mask the fact that the plot is relatively straightforward and even predictable, especially when the projection abilities of the system are revealed, the subtle shifts in tone between ominously menacing and genuinely sympathetic that Liz experiences ensure an engaging story within an intriguing environment that manages to maintain attention throughout despite the threat never quite reaching its full potential and attention to detail being strangely unbalanced in certain situations. ‘Binary’ is not necessarily a story that will challenge its listeners given the obvious second twist it doesn’t really try to hide, but when it puts its technobabble aside and focuses squarely on its characters it delivers a satisfying piece for Liz and everything that makes her so beloved.

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