One Mile Down

Posted in Audio by - May 18, 2019
One Mile Down

Released May 2019

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Unfortunately for the Doctor, attempts at holidaying for rest and relaxation and to show his companions the wonders of the universe rarely result in anything resembling a peaceful respite, the TARDIS’s uncanny tendency to materialise in the middle of conflict- known or unknown- often consuming his attention. Visiting the beautiful underwater city of Vallarasee with Donna in Jenny T Colgan’s ‘One Mile Down,’ he sees firsthand how much things have changed since he last swam through its serene beauty, and as Judoon patrol the streets of the newly-enclosed airdome while leaks continue to form throughout, it will take his most persuasive argument to convince them that disaster is soon to follow.

The setup for this story is elegant in its simplicity yet laden in complexity with plenty of nods to Earth’s colonial history and the continued imposing of one set of cultural norms over another established set. Whereas once the native Fins allowed helmet-wearing tourists into their homes, they now wear helmets themselves to survive in the air that has made their home so hospitable to these visitors. Wooed by promises of rich rewards from an organisation that clearly has no desire except to gain positive reviews while reaping its own financial rewards, the Vallarasee natives must also pay for the use of these helmets while likewise being charged for the developing leaks because of assumed vandalism. The vibrant history and culture of this society is made clear even as the tourists simply seek the ultimate photograph and revel in the discovery that they just may be the last visitors to ever see this location, and the hints of a class system combined with the powerful pride of the Fins help to create a dynamic environment to lend an air of poignancy to the impending inevitability of its collapse.

Of course, the travesty that has befallen this city which parallels the fate of so many historic and unique societies on Earth is made all the more powerful because of a stirring performance from David Tennant who holds nothing back as his Doctor rails against the insidious evil of capitalism and the tourism industry wreaking destruction on such a massive and intimate scale simultaneously. To make matters worse, Jadoon patrol the streets while enforcing the very letter of the law, but as the Chancellor of Vallarasee points out, their impartiality and independence seems to only manifest when convenient for the corporation’s agent in charge of this setup. The tense relationship between these two individuals is clear from the start and further develops the tenuous nature of this enterprise, and the arrest of the Vallarasee chief engineer simply for asking questions and pointing out the faults developing in the airdome foundation proves the true dynamics and power structure that so contrast with the harmony promised. The Doctor is all too happy to get arrested when the actions he takes to save others are deemed a crime so that he can meet those in charge, and he quickly finds himself in a race against the clock to discover the truth and concoct a solution as Donna and thousands of other air-breathers soon find their air supply quickly diminishing.

As with the previous story, Howard Carter’s sound design is an absolute highlight of this release, perfectly portraying the continued approach of water seeking to reclaim its territory. With brilliant performances that highlight the politics driving those in charge and the intense danger of those within the city, the multifaceted approach this story takes in developing its conflicts is likewise masterfully developed. However, with such an engaging combination of an aquatic race and setting, this particular Doctor and companion, unexpected romance blossoming, robots enjoying rights, and the Judoon enforcing the law, it is somewhat underwhelming that the genuine threat is exactly what was advertised at the beginning. Of course the aim is to build up an air of suspicion around Andrea, and the end result is absolutely one that makes sense on a very personal level, but to see this particular element of the encroaching culture pervade an individual and drive him to such extremes lacks something of the emotional punch intended even if it provides a nice bit of unfortunate symmetry. Similarly, while the Judoon are an absolutely brilliant addition to the story that force the Doctor to think on his toes to underscore just why the H2O scoop’s use is justified, the junior Judoon Clo has a more Muppet-like voice that grates in this context without carrying the power of the full Jadoon. This is an admittedly intriguing attempt to develop the race into something more well-rounded, but it’s a vocal choice that may end up appealing more to some than others. Still, ‘One Mile Down’ certainly does not lack ambition, and despite a few aspects that don’t quite deliver the intended impact, it’s still a solid piece of layered storytelling on a very alien world that is sure to entertain.

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