Ship in a Bottle

Posted in Audio by - December 29, 2018
Ship in a Bottle

Released March 2017

With the Doctor, Liv, and Helen trapped on a shuttle hurtling into a future that no longer exists with no chance of escape and the end of the universe nigh, Doom Coalition 4 opens with an emotional bang with John Dorney’s ‘Ship in a Bottle.’

Given that the action at this point in time is very much split between the continued development of Padrac’s plan to ensure Gallifrey’s survival at the cost of literally everything else and the Doctor’s determined quest for personal survival after being so unceremoniously disposed of at the end of ‘The Crucible of Souls,’ it only makes sense that Dorney should elect to focus solely on the latter’s plight in intimate detail rather than attempt to flit between the two storylines concurrently and inevitably lose some emotional investment in each along the way. Accordingly, while bottle episodes- to which this story’s title provides a nice allusion- are often used as a cost-cutting measure by minimising non-essential cast and limiting settings, the setup is absolutely crucial not only to proving just how perilous this trap is but also to developing this lead trio much more than any single story has to date.

The plot being minimal to the extreme as the three look for a way to escape from this ship that offers no immediate solutions to their one-way entrapment, each character is afforded ample time in the spotlight with strengths and faults boldly on display. Of course, previous developments have not been forgotten, and Liv and Helen are quick to take the Doctor to task for seemingly abandoning them; though emotions are frequently running on high for everyone throughout, however, the Doctor is particularly emotional because he believes that every move he has taken going right back to his assistance with imprisoning the Eleven has helped Padrac with his plans to reach this very point. Whereas he sees his former self as a master manipulator, he is so down on himself that he believes even a child’s game would be too much more him now and that his uncanny luck while muddling through predicament after predicament is sure to end sooner than later. Rarely has the Eighth Doctor who is so naturally full of hope and energy been this despondent, and as glimmers of that inherent enthusiasm do break through as sails and one final explosion present themselves as options, Paul McGann gives a miraculous performance that showcases a wounded and angry side to his incarnation that is every bit as enthralling.

This more fatalistic representation of the Doctor, in particular, allows for Liv to truly step up and inspire the Doctor to press on no matter the odds while gaining his assurance that they work better as a team and that he will not try to leave them again. This is a woman whose training has forced her to deal with loss and running out of options before, but she feels in this case that it is her personal mission to save the universe they belong to, especially once the Doctor states that they must currently be in an aberrant timeline since they have been to the future that still exists previously. While Helen doesn’t necessarily have the same professional or life experience as Liv, she, too, proves just how vital she is to this group and provides both a source of unending hope for the Doctor as well as a voice of reason for Liv that is strengthened by the memory of the death of her grandmother. Each scene is steeped in both powerfully overt and nuanced emotion, and all three leads excel throughout to create a stunningly moving and resonant piece of drama.

While Padrac ultimately would have had a far easier time simply killing the Doctor and his companions rather than shunting them off to this non-future he was so sure they could not escape from, ‘Ship in a Bottle’ follows in the footsteps of the previous set’s ‘Absent Friends’ by offering a much more intimate and smaller-scale affair that brings its characters to the forefront with remarkable effect. Given that the approaching conclusion to this epic will undoubtedly feature much more bombast and action as the plot careers all over the place, this is a welcome respite that shows just how much trust has developed among this TARDIS trio despite the friction that still remains, and the uncertain ending to this tale perfectly caps off a profound character piece buoyed by strong acting, direction, and sound design to open Doom Coalition on a remarkable note.

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