The Helliax Rift

Posted in Audio by - April 18, 2018
The Helliax Rift

Released April 2018
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

UNIT has an undeniably crucial role in the history of Doctor Who, forming a first line of defense for Earth against alien incursion and other threats of the unknown and for a long time giving the Doctor a sense of family and purpose while stranded on Earth. And while the Doctor became a crucial part of the day-to-day operations of UNIT as its unofficial scientific adviser alongside the likes of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Liz Shaw, Jo Grant, Sergeant Benton, and others, he always remained fiercely independent and unafraid to go against orders when he believed his way was better. When the Doctor left to once more explore space and time, UNIT understandably took on less of a prominent role from the Doctor’s perspective, his visits and assistance becoming less frequent and his assumed acceptance within the group becoming somewhat less openly assumed as Doctor Who survived outside of the television medium. While the advent of Kate Stewart in the new series would come to reaffirm the Doctor’s importance and approval within UNIT’s ranks, ‘The Helliax Rift’ by Scott Handcock focuses on an era between the two Stewarts when more traditional military rule and order is key, kicking off a new UNIT trilogy that will encompass adventures from the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctors’ times.

In the classic series, aside from a few moments that questioned the morality of those leading UNIT, there was never any denying that UNIT was firmly positioned as a force for good, but ‘The Helliax Rift’ delves into the murkiness that a group in its position would necessarily confront, suggesting that its attempts to find and explore the unknown may not always be perceived as inherently good compared to other possible courses of action. Of course, this new iteration of the familiar group needs individuals to help develop it, and Russ Bain does admirable work as its leader, the no-nonsense and irrascible Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis Price who would just as soon shoot the Doctor as deal with his more improvisational and less regimental ways. Accompanied by Genevieve Gaunt’s Corporal Linda Maxwell who has a chip on her shoulder as she determinedly sets out to prove her worth, there is an incredibly structured feel to this organisation that sets the scene wonderfully for the direct contrast that the anomaly of the Doctor presents even if the three don’t spend a tremendous amount of time together in this story. Perhaps unsurprisingly, however, it’s medical officer Lieutenant Daniel Hopkins who gains the Doctor’s confidence, and Blake Harrison does exceedingly well as the more open-minded bridge between the two sides as he fills the companion role while joining the Doctor on his search for mysterious alien signals after they together find the mysterious alien spaceship dubbed the Fallen Kestrel.

With the crashed spaceship and its surroundings undamaged, it seems that the mystery is not quite as straightforward as the evidence suggests, and the story soon brings the Morden Clinic into focus as a mysterious patient from the woods is brought within its confines. Handcock does well here to again subvert expectations, setting this locale up to be some sort of alien torture and dissection lab before the arrivals of the Doctor and then of the Helliax alien reveal a far more complex and intimate tale that ties back to Morden’s very tortured past and the continuing importance of one particular alien to the Helliax and her alike, aspects that Deborah Thomas plays very well. While in no way excusing her actions, the script portrays Morden as a sympathetic figure and at least provides a strong motivation for her luring and studying of aliens as she tries to do what is best for the feeble creature in her charge. Indeed, with the empathic, telepathic, and telekinetic powers of the Helliax on display as he likewise tries to do what is best for the creature after receiving an emotional telepathic cry for help, an interesting power struggle for custody plays out that the Doctor ultimately provides a peaceful resolution to that initially draws the ire of UNIT and its more determined actions.

‘The Helliax Rift’ is well-directed throughout, and the shades of grey within which each of the parties act ensure that everyone is on equal footing with no clear-cut villain at any one time. Though not a direct consequence of this intriguing narrative decision, the primary aspect where this story falters a bit once the pace and mystery truly start to pick up following the first episode is with creating a meaningful sense of tension or danger even as the Helliax attempts to escape, action often only be threatened or else occurring either in the background or simply through dialogue since nobody is truly right or wrong and everyone sees sense in the explanations and motivations offered. This makes logical sense within the context of the story given the shifting thought processses accompanying the delivery of new information even without deep moral exploration, but ’The Helliax Rift’ is often a more subdued piece that its visual nature, bigger ideas, and set pieces might otherwise suggest. Still, Peter Davison and Blake Harrison make an engaging team together even if this is a one-off excursion that is drenched in emotion, and the scene is wondrously set for a new phase of UNIT’s history to come to life following an enjoyable debut that has only skimmed the surface of prime figures Price and Maxwell.

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