Released February 2004
After the relatively straightforward and traditional ‘The Creed of the Kromon,’ ‘The Natural History of Fear’ takes things a rather unique and unexpected direction with a more cerebral tale, reminiscent in some instances to 1984, that Paul McGann famously called one of his favourites during recording.
From the outset when the booming Voice of Light City is heard, it’s clear that this tale takes place in a very oppressed and troubled society. The ruling elites believe they know best for their working class, and the catchphrase ‘Productivity through happiness’ underlies everything they stand for, creating a steady state through brainwashing and propaganda and focused only on the ultimate outcome. This is a society where free will and questions are not allowed, especially since questions bring about further questions, and through the course of events a continuing message about identity and its importance is delivered.
The society itself is an incredibly valuable setting for this tale. With any sign of individuality instantly revised and nobody owning even a name, the current situation is accepted as absolute. The law is unbreakable, even to the Editor himself, and it’s interesting to see some exploration into the inherent flaws of this type of society. Just as ‘Scherzo’ proved to be set within a closed experiment suffering from outside influence, ‘The Natural history of Fear’ is set within a sociological experiment that has finally reached its only inevitable outcome in revolution.
Despite the setup and the importance of identity, though, it’s the misdirection through this topic that proves so effective. Everyone undergoes the brainwashing reversion, and so nobody is sure of who he or she was before the revision. Because of the casting, the obvious conclusion is that the Editor, the Conscience, and the Nurse are going to be revealed as being the three main cast members who simply need to regain their memories, especially as each begins to question the society and surroundings. The fact that the infotainments being broadcast around the area are based on old Doctor Who serials, based on true events and memories, seems to even further support this notion.
Yet as the end of the story approaches and there is still no distinct resolution in sight, it becomes increasingly apparent that those assumptions are unfounded and incorrect. With no glitz or glamour whatsoever, the Conscience coolly tells the Editor that the Doctor, Charley, and C’rizz left Light City a very long time ago, unemotionally stating that all three are bipedal and asking the Editor how many legs he has, to which his reply is eight. It’s a conceit that can only be played out in audio, but the end result is an absolutely stellar twist on preconceptions that works exceedingly well.
Ultimately, though, it’s not the clever insights into politics, sociology, or individuality that carry the story; that distinction goes to the incredibly strong performances of the three leads, in particular Paul McGann. As his Editor gains more prominence while events unfold, McGann portrays a subtly increasing sense of conflict and madness as he tries to stop the oncoming revolution by rebelling himself. While it would have been nice to have a few more stories for C’rizz to develop before taking this sidestep, it does not detract one iota from Conrad Westmaas’s presence and dominance. ‘The natural History of Fear,’ like ‘Scherzo,’ manages to achieve a tonally unique and exciting story, taking full advantage of the unique opportunities the Divergent universe affords the heroes and the authors.