The First Wave

Posted in Audio by - May 16, 2019
The First Wave

Released November 2011

Serving as the concluding act to the Oliver Harper trilogy that opened with ‘The Perpetual Bond’ and continued with ‘The Cold Equations,’ Simon Guerrier’s ‘The First Wave’ finds the TARDIS and its crew caught in the inevitable path of their own history as they arrive on the planetoid Grace Alone. With the Doctor apparently killed to join the massacred crew, Steven and Oliver attempt to survive against narrowing odds and the dangerous Vardans.

There is no doubt that the character of Oliver Harper has been an immensely successful addition to the First Doctor era, a man who felt his only course of action was to run away from the society that so ostracised him for simply loving another man but who then suddenly found himself wholly accepted by two individuals from another time and place who didn’t give that characteristic a second thought. Fittingly, although Oliver tried his best to hide that facet of himself and accordingly formed a strong foundation for the character to develop, it’s not even mentioned here, a strong signal of just how comfortable and accepted he has already become on the TARDIS both with his companions and with himself. However, he remains acutely aware that his own time will remain out of reach for him, and Tom Allen gives a marvellous performance that combines an element of grim forlornness with Oliver’s usual intelligence, determination, and courageousness that makes his eventual sacrifice all the more impactful while staying true to the character and his beliefs. That he continues on with the Doctor through his journeys in an energy-like state which cannot interact with the real world is a fitting coda that again touches upon how profound and formative his time aboard the TARDIS was while providing the Doctor with a blunt reminder of what he has been through and lost during his first regeneration.

Of course, given that Steven is still coping with the recent losses of Sara and Katarina and the fact that he is still clearly suffering from survivor’s guilt in ‘The Massacre’ which this serial precedes, it was always fated that Oliver would meet a tragic end to fuel Steven’s passionate outburst. This is another of the times when the Doctor insists that history cannot be changed even if the records show that his companions and he will meet their ultimate demise, and the fact that he seems so willing to sacrifice everyone to ensure history runs its proper course is a stark reminder of the rules this particular incarnation of the Doctor holds so dear. Guerrier has effortlessly weaved in decades of characterisation for both Steven and the Doctor that foreshadows what is yet to come for them on their known adventures, and Peter Purves gives a mesmerising performance as both characters that is laden in emotion and amply meets the challenge that the increasing stakes for his friends and all of Earth present.

As strong as the performances, script, direction, and sound design are, it’s the superb treatment of the Vardans who are not always portrayed as the most competent or formidable force that truly holds the narrative together to create an altogether satisfying experience. Guerrier spectacularly exploits the fact that this is a race composed of energy that can move along any wavelength, drawn to Earth by the increasing amount of signals and noise emanating from the people and machinery there. The Vardans here are capable of reading thoughts so that no secret can be withheld from them, and the conundrum Steven faces when considering sending a warning signal to Earth that may or may not be taken seriously but that would instantly give away his position is a strong personal plight that nicely complements the utter destruction the Vardans could wreak with control of the TARDIS like they seek. This is the appearance the Vardans so deserved for their introduction, and the unsettling and anxious atmosphere that pervades events further helps to secure the place of ‘The First Wave’ amongst the very best of The Companion Chronicles.

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