Monday, 13 January 2014
REVIEW – DOCTOR WHO – AFTERLIFE (MILD SPOILERS)
So I finally got around to listening to Afterlife. It’s been sitting on my desktop for about a month now. Recently, I uploaded it to my phone and spent the afternoon in the pool listening to it in blissful tranquility. The result: Funeral in the Swimming Pool!
“Of course I know what it means! Everyone I’ve ever met. Everyone I’ll ever meet. They’re all dead Ace! Every last one! Flick a switch and I can reach a time where every soul that has ever set foot inside the TARDIS is long departed. Or I could go back and see them. The times when they were alive – somewhere – somewhen! They’re all still there.” – Doctor [Watch out Doctor! Clara’s going to ask you this again five incarnations from now]
Afterlife takes place almost immediately after Gods and Monsters. Those of you who follow Big Finish extensively will know that Hex is dead and Ace blames the Doctor. Lysandra and Sally have left and Ace is distraught. The Doctor is distraught too, but as he mentions, he can’t allow himself to feel every loss in his life, otherwise he’d just stop functioning altogether. I found this explanation somewhat cold, yet understood why he said it. Being that old and losing so many people tends to leave you with a hard heart. Ace unfortunately doesn’t understand this and urges him to do the ‘human’ thing, fully aware that the Doctor isn’t one of those. I suspected that part of her eventual request was to punish him for essentially failing to do what he does best – win! Her request: Take a trip back to the 2020s (Hex’s time period) and atone for his mistakes by telling Hex’s aunt about how let the young man in his care die.
Plot wise, this story is about aftermath and how different people react to the same event in different ways. In this case – death! The Doctor is a bit callous, only agreeing to Ace’s request out of fear of losing her friendship. Ace is going through the five stages of grief (very slowly) and there are some others who take the news even worse than her.
Afterlife is split into two parallel running story plots. The second bit features a gang war story format with Hector Thomas – aka Hex? You thought Hex was dead? So did I! The mystery of why Hex is suddenly alive again as a gangster is intruding, but the question of why he can’t remember Ace or the Doctor or anything about their travels is the one that yanks you deeper into this story. Afterlife also features a variety of bizarre and diverse set of characters. There is the charming, but bit chav-like Miss Finnegan and her lovely boys Barry and Robby and one must’ve forget Hilda Schofield, Hex’s aunt, who ends up in a worse state than Ace.
One of the things I disliked about this story is Ace. This happens to all companions at some point, but I personally hate it when they get evaluated to the stage where they think they know better. As much as I personally understand Ace’s grief in this story, I hate her attitude towards the Doctor. She downright refuses to see things from his perspective, acts as though he doesn’t even feel this loss when we all know the only reason he setup the scheme in the first place was to keep his friends safe. This is reminiscent of Project Lazarus with the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe. There, she berates him for not winning in that story and the Doctor has to remind her that he doesn’t always win. Sometimes, he loses. This just proves what kind of pressure companions put on the Doctor during confrontations. What sort of legend he builds himself up to be in their eyes: an individual incapable of losing in life, no matter the odds. In truth, expecting someone to win every single time for 950 years straight is not just unrealistic, but selfish. More so, every companion is warned about the dangers of stepping into the TARDIS, so death is always a possibility.
One very important element of this story is the growing frustration of the Doctor. As the story marches towards the climax, he becomes more and more agitated over ‘getting things wrong’. He tried to save Hex – fail! He tried to cheer Ace up with pancakes and memory wipes – fail! He couldn’t break the news to Hex’s aunt in the proper manner (there is no right way) – fail! He couldn’t give a proper eulogy. All these simple things he keeps getting wrong hangs over his head like a sword until the Doctor finally snaps at the end and punishes the villain in the most cruel and sadistic of ways, promising Ace that the monsters will not be allowed mercy or forgiveness this time. This results in one of the scariest speeches the Doctor has ever given, something that even had my knees buckling.
I’ve said it before and I live by it, there is only one truly ‘dark’ Doctor in the Time Lord’s life and that is this incarnation. Forget about the Ninth Doctor who spent months riddled with guilt and outbursts. Forget about the Tenth Doctor who was ruthless, but prone to second chances, often shooting himself in the foot. The Seventh Doctor is the smartest, the most cunning and often than not, the most dangerous ‘Doctor’ there is because there are few others who are willing to do what he does, to go as far as he goes and who actually seeks out trouble as opposed to the regular routine!
Story rating: 8/10