Charlotte Pollard Series Two

Posted in Audio by - March 02, 2018
Charlotte Pollard Series Two

Released March 2017
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Following four interlinked but distinct stories in series one of Charlotte Pollard to officially determine the fallout of the eponymous heroine’s time with the Doctor and the Viyrans while thrusting her de facto companion, Robert Buchan, and her into the unknown as they traversed the Ever and Ever Prolixity, series two arrives with a serialized and dramatic contemporary thriller that shows Earth and humanity at its most vulnerable.

Nicholas Briggs pens all four stories, opening series two with ‘Embankment Station’ as Charley and Robert mysteriously awaken alongside an Underground railroad car after the Ever and Ever Prolixity had seemingly entered their pod with the rogue Viyran from the previous series beside them in space. With no indication of where the Viyran has gone, the two try to make sense of where they are, exiting the station and unknowingly setting off an immense mystery as local news reporter, Naomi Davies, snaps their photograph and tries to piece together the mysterious blatst at the station and concurrent news of six identical and simultaneous road accidents. Taken for questioning by an enigmatic but determined authority figure named Woking and played by Kieran Hodgson, Charley shows her wherewithal to deduce just when and where they have landed, but a strange ruffling of a wall nearby suggests that the mystery is only just beginning. With genetic markers that suggest they are not native to this location and facial recognition matching Charley to a figure born in 1912, Charley and Robert understandably remain figures of interest in the burgeoning investigation.

‘Embankment Station’ works on several levels, grounding the series in the gritty realism and paranoia of modern-day London as government officials and civilians alike try to understand what is happening but also continuing to intensify the mystery through new occurrences and small fragments of information attained through the small groups shown. Of particular note is the very anti-establishment tech wizard, Rab, whom Naomi goes to for help with identification of the two she saw walk out of the station after the percussive blast, willing to potentially sacrifice her job in the process of pursuing a path she is sure will be fruitful. Deirdre Mullins and Ashley Kumar have immense chemistry during these scenes together, and the concurrent individual investigations of government and civilian forces lend a great amount of depth to proceedings as a mysterious voice awakening vectors to destroy a perceived threat ominously makes its menace known and pairs of identical men begin appearing. As the Viyran again manifests and tries to regain molecular cohesion, he is able to control the ruffling enough to allow his would-be companions to escape their confines, setting in motion a distinct three-pronged narrative laden with tension, pace, and intrigue.

‘Ruffling’ picks up the narrative with Charley and Robert on the run from both the identical men and the law. Naming their Viyran friend Bertram who is slowly taking on human form as he rests and recovers from his molecular fragmentation, the two are actually able to take a moment to reflect on their situation, allowing India Fisher and James Joyce a chance to show the softer and more reflective sides of their characters as Charley apologizes for dragging Robert into this while Robert feels as though he must be a coward. With so much action and strange goings-on pervading their time together, the two have rarely had a moment so intimate at this, and each performs admirably to lend a very human component to the great mystery around them as reports now surface of nurses in one hospital ward leaving fifteen patients needing vital procedures simply lying on beds in the corridors. Intriguingly, Bertram posits that the Prolixity is an intelligent phenomenon that may have reacted to something fundamental in them to bring them to this particular area, feeling an innate trigger within himself and suggesting that something like a virus may be afoot.

As Charley and others see Nelson move on his column and as seven children die when a lollipop man fails to signal traffic to stop, Naomi and Rab find themselves unwitting partners of the government search after pleading their innocence and suggesting that the search be widened to include anything suspicious at all given the information and inklings of correlation Rab has put together. Interestingly, as the travelers are brought in once more, Robert manages to make a joke and suggests that he is truly coming into his own, his desires of being an explorer or someone other than himself in the first series starting to slowly manifest here against all odds. Though Charley does finally let her true anger and exasperation show as Woking takes Bertram for individual interrogation and scans due to his unique physiognomy, all parties agree that something big is going on that nobody in any walk of life or organization yet comprehends, a fact they realize necessitates mutual cooperation amongst the groups even with inherent distrust still present.

‘Seed of Chaos’ begins to flesh out the threat and its consequences almost immediately as Bertram must again use his unique powers in the tunnels to protect the expanded group from the relentless pursuers. With trains still running, a permanent fix quickly arises for their immediate situation as Bertram continues to realise the scope of his power and later furtively suggests that there is a code that needs deciphering when a strange field inundates the group. With news of bread and milk deliveries stopping, Naomi and her compatriots enter her newsroom, using videos and photographs to try to convince those in power that the threat she is describing is real no matter how strange it sounds, evidence that is shot down as being faked and exposure to the mysterious energy field an event that even Rab and she do not remember.

It is in this story that the bigger scope of the problem is finally revealed after the group uses the television signal to get an airlift for the injured Woking in response to Rab seemingly forgetting or simply not caring to call for an ambulance as requested. Anarchy has broken loose in London, and the investigators are informed that evacuations, curfews, and cleanups are in place as more incidents ensue, Charley’s suggestion of shutting down the entire Underground also being implemented. Studies have already commenced on some of the individuals who had been passengers on the trains through Embankment Station that Rab’s data pointed to, revealing a newfound lack of empathy with no apparent change in aggression or hostility. With Bertram stating that his ruffling and changing of appearance are not normal attributes of his race as he reflects on how such a subtle change to humans’ neural coding can be so disastrous to the race as a whole, the scene is set for a pivotal finale as he does something even he does not understand to again save his companions from imminent danger.

‘The Destructive Quality of Life’ may be something of a divisive entry simply because it is so vastly different from the urban drama of the preceding three, providing an intriguing explanation to the empathic change in certain humans but traveling offworld to do so as Charley, Robert, and Bertram awake suspended high above an unknown world and Bertram takes on a distinctly insectoid appearance. Charley and Robert alone are soon witness to a cull of human-ish slave forces on this world by beings they come to realize are a sort of proto-Viyran, and after Bertram arrives on Earth speaking of a certain machine but offering little more information other than the assured death of his two associates, Rab mysteriously receives an electronic diary entry from Charley seemingly confirming that she is dead. Not one to miss an opportunity at information, however, Rab sends a response and shockingly learns of the ten years of harsh slavery and culls his two acquaintances have endured and survived as they have been forced into physical labour and made to collect a strange material on countless occasions, a harrowing element that Fisher is able to relate incredibly emotionally.

It perhaps should not be surprising than an alien element is involved in the strange goings-on that are spreading and reducing humanity’s population so drastically. However, given that there are equivalents of concentration camps in Slough and elsewhere as threats of both conventional and nuclear bombings loom large, it almost seems redundant to have the alien world slave labour aspect also added in since direct parallels between the two are not necessarily drawn. That sounds harsher than it really is because it does allow a truly fascinating series of revelations by Bertram to unfold and the threat itself is an immensely intriguing spin on the usual endgame for menaces encountered, but with how dark and grounded in modern reality the preceding three entries were it may have been all the more intriguing to see the final part of the narrative locked within those same confines and parameters given how jarring this instalment’s events otherwise seem. Nonetheless, the dire state of London and beyond as well as the cryptic cliffhanger for Charley and Robert after a very emotional turnabout are wonderful moments to end this series on and bode well for anywhere they may end up, both in terms of locations and narrative stylings.

As Nicholas Briggs has written and directed all four stories, there is an incredibly steady tone and pace from beginning to end with a storyline that flows naturally, the plot making the most of each of its characters as their distinct paths both intersect and diverge as needed while their backdrop continues to crumble. Indeed, the majority of this arc would be perfectly at home within the confines of Big Finish’s own Torchwood or Counter-Measures series with only subtle tonal variations needed, a complete departure from the first series of Charlotte Pollard but one that works to great effect by revealing the worsening human condition when the unknown arises and law and order break down. Showcasing the dynamic range of both India Fisher and James Joyce while incorporating a pitch-perfect supporting cast led by Dan Starkey as Bertram, series two firmly highlights the breadth of topics and tones this series can faithfully sustain and deliver.

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