Gallifrey V

Posted in Audio by - December 07, 2017
Gallifrey V

Released February 2013

With Braxiatel and K-9 both lost to the group, Narvin unable to regenerate, and Leela once more able to see but holding a fierce hatred for Romana following the events of the fourth series of Gallifrey, Big Finish has once more returned to this trio of outcasts trying to survive on a familiar but alien world while always harbouring hope that a path home will at some point present itself. As Leela lives life as an Outsider among the slaves she helped free while Romana and Narvin rule from the Capitol of the Regenerators, old traditions and new ideas collide on multiple fronts while an even darker force waits within the shadows.

James Peaty’s ‘Emancipation’ opens this fifth series at a time when Romana, the Supreme Leader of Gallifrey, is making a series of decisions that is costing her popularity and allegiance within the Inner Council while Narvin is trying to protect the truth behind their presence on this world. While it’s obviously yet to be seen if this lengthy time away from the true Gallifrey and universe will pay off following the last uneven series, the story does make excellent use of a faux newscast to deftly explain the occurrences of the past nine months since the successful assassination attempt on this world’s Romana that allowed the true Romana to claim power. While the majority of the beginning of the actual narrative is focused mostly on displaying relationships that have been established over that time through wordplay and barbs, this at least allows the central premise of the now-free slaves and the rumours surrounding Romana’s plans to afford them more rights as a large deposit of Zeiton ore is found to take hold.

Though a negotiation about mining profit rights is hardly the most exciting development upon which to hinge a story, it does help to flesh out this world that Romana is trying to shift from barbarism to orderly in a manner that the short vignettes of new worlds in the last series could not achieve. While this type of world-building does hint at a return to form for this series, the inability of any of the secondary characters challenging Romana’s rule to achieve any sort of meaningful threat or danger like Darkel earlier on is a noticeable shortcoming in this regard. In the same respect, while it’s a bit disconcerting to see the relationship of Romana and Leela so strained, resulting in a somewhat awkward characterization of Leela but also the superb sentiment that Romana has lost so much in this world exactly because she has lost Leela, there is hope that these dynamic leads will return to familiar ground both interpersonally and in the multiverse as hints about a cure to the Dogma virus through the Regenerator’s DNA that remains untainted by time travel manifest.

On this world where the Regenerators once committed atrocities on their slaves in the name of science, Leela begins to discover the sheer brutality behind that history as Romana and Narvin push forward their desires to get this Gallifrey to discover the secrets of time travel in Una McCormack’s ‘Evolution.’ Bringing together the world’s greatest scientific minds and following the work of one intriguing individual who is able to look beyond the two conflicting theories that have paralyzed research into this area for eons paints Romana in her most proactive light in quite some time, but, unfortunately, having her mention on several occasions just how bored she herself is makes it difficult for this release to really grasp the audience’s attention and imagination. Even with Romana ultimately somewhat less involved in this stories than others to give its plot more time to develop, the running analogy to prisoner experimentation falls rather flat and even the unintended threat and Romana’s accusing of Matthias of treason fails to salvage this narrative thread. More egregiously, Romana and Narvin then discuss the difficult choices they may have had to make if events had not gone their way, explicitly stating how dramatic the treason angle may have been in other circumstances and diminishing further what has been offered here.

Gallifrey usually relies on the relationship between Romana and Leela to provide a sturdy foundation, but the two leads hardly interact at all here. While this choice could be used to deftly develop multiple plotlines, even Leela’s slave strand where she is betrayed by Maris comes off as counterintuitive and superfluous. This is partially because Maris has not been involved at all in either of the two preceding stories set on this world and so no resonance with the character has been created, but it’s also because the audience finds out early on that Maris is working alongside Narvin against Leela’s plan, resulting in Leela playing catch up and making this highly instinctual being seem much slower and less cunning than ever before. Granted, it is difficult to fully invest oneself into a world that it’s clear is only a temporary refuge for the leads as they repeatedly suggest that they will leave at the first opportunity as the Axis regains prominence, but this should not bleed through to the script itself and sacrifice the development of interpersonal relationships and character development in the process. ‘Evolution’ is not explicitly terrible, but it is seemingly misguided in several of its decisions and could have been something altogether more satisfying with a few narrative and dialogue alterations.

David Llewellyn’s ‘Arbitration’ is tasked with closing out this fifth series as Leela’s dogged determination to bring justice to the Outsiders threatens any chance of escape to the Axis. It is in this story that Leela really steps to the forefront, but her impulsiveness seems to get the better of her here as she uses whatever good standing she has with the Outsiders and willingly threatens to risk their lives as she mounts an attack against the overwhelmingly overpowered military. With no real explanation given for why the outnumbered Outsiders actually do manage to take out an opposing force without a single casualty, this thread is another that seems just a bit misguided, something it strangely tries to address when Narvin looks beyond Leela’s noble sentiments and reminds her that these are not her people even on this world, though it is refreshing to see Leela realize the error of taking on someone else’s cause later in the tale. Still, the fallout from the argument for entitlement to mining rights does manage to bring about perhaps the strongest moment of this series when Leela mesmerizingly describes the time when her mother’s friend was taken by the Tesh and she swore to seek vengeance, a bright glimpse of character development in a series that has been surprisingly lacking in that regard.

Ultimately, though, ‘Arbitration’ suffers from the same problems that have plagued this entire set, namely that there is far too wide of a gulf between the charismatic leads of Romana and Leela to compensate for the fact that this is ultimately all inconsequential filler until they inevitably leave this world. While there is something to be said about the seeds of change they may leave in their wake, the ease with which Lord Zacker is disposed of here is laughable, and the fact that Narvin explicitly states that they only care about this world because it ‘seems’ like home is quite a telling sentiment about this fifth series in general. As such, while ‘Arbitration’ is not a bad tale in its own right, it simply seems like it is treading water until the shock reveal of the Daleks at the end that is assuredly going to be the only lasting memory of this series and that thankfully promises a new direction for the series that hopefully brings it back in line with the earlier offerings.

While it remains to be seen if Romana, Leela, and Narvin make it back to the true universe, it has to be said that the fifth series of Gallifrey as a whole is filled with decent stories and ideas that simply lack a sense of true purpose and meaning in this alternate universe. With questionable actions and fairly flat characterization around, the intense drama that provided the foundation for the first three sets has yet to be rekindled, and it’s telling of the importance of this set that the surprise appearance of the Daleks could have appeared at any point from the end of the fourth series onward without sacrificing anything substantive.

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