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26 February 2014 @ 09:01 pm
The Randomizer: The Awakening  
This strikes me as being a generally rather under-appreciated story. Davison's two-parters tend to exude an air of understatement and The Awakening lacks even the eye-catching features (Pure Historical, the Doctor Plays Cricket) of The Black Orchid. However it does show that Doctor Who of the period was often more successful when relying on experienced actors and historical settings, than when it was attempting "gritty" monster-driven stories.

Obviously, The Awakening doesn't really count as a historical story, but it gains many of the advantages of a historical story in terms of competent costuming and set-dressing. In fact the set-dressing here must have been even easier than for a proper historical given that the odd anachronism could be allowed to creep in. The only monsters in the story are also meant to look like statues which must have made the prop-builder's task easier and reduced the risk of producing something that looked cheap.

So The Awakening is the story of an English Civil War re-enactment gone wrong and events spiralling out of control into actual violence. On this viewing, it occurred to me that it is, in fact, almost a Sapphire and Steel story. If you took out the handwave explanation at the end involving alien technology and replaced it with something involving entities trying to break into time then there is nothing that would have been out of place in Sapphire and Steel. In fact the deliberate evocation of history, the weakening of the links between the time periods, and the ghosts and illusions are all pure Sapphire and Steel material. In that light it is interesting to observe how differently Dr Who is treating the material, mostly downplaying the intangible scares and giving us protagonists who are far more directly engaged with the people they meet. It is also interesting how rarely Doctor Who tangles with this kind of "time mash" territory, when it was the grist to Sapphire and Steel's mill. Neither show, frankly, was ever particularly good at portraying actual human violence and The Awakening is noticeably lacking in any real atmosphere of building threat from the re-enactment itself. We are told about it an awful lot, but the closest we really get to seeing it is a bunch of mildly disgruntled looking extras being told they'll have to burn a straw dummy instead of Tegan. The main exception is the opening scene, a tightly shot and directed sequence which conveys the danger of a small woman surrounded by mounted men armed with pikes, but that atmosphere is never really re-captured once the story gets going.

The Awakening benefits from having no really weak performances, though it is probably fair to say that the cast never stray far from the obvious interpretation on the page. Glyn Houston is particularly notable as the solidly reliable Ben Wolsley but even he is mostly just being solidly reliable. Janet Fielding is notably better here than she was in Logopolis, and Mark Stickson as Turlough does well with what little he has though, as in so many of his stories, he spends most of it locked up.

I recall a review at the time noting, with surprise, the reconciliation between Joseph Willow and the other villagers. It is an interesting point, Jack Galloway's Willow flies under the radar somewhat in his role as henchperson in chief avoiding the normal overt sadism of the Who villain, but he definitely isn't a nice person. Where Wolsey slowly comes around to the belief that the War Games have got out of hand, Willow clearly relishes the whole thing, right down to the small cruelties such as threatening to undress Tegan himself if she will not wear the clothes provided by Sir George. The warmth with which he is welcomed back into the fold seems at odds with his earlier actions.

"This is really rather good," tame layperson noted towards the end. "They should have made them this length more often, less running around." Which was, I believe, rather RTD's point (or one of them at least). The story definitely benefits from not being stretched out over two further episodes of capture-escape. There is much to be said for telling a smaller story in the time it requires (even if it may be bad for budgets). It is also worth remembering that the John Nathan-Turner era was capable of producing this kind of competently made modest story, even in the midst of its gorier excesses.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/110992.html.
 
 
 
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on February 27th, 2014 07:13 pm (UTC)
IIRC the first Sapphire and Steel had Roundheads too!

To be honest, this story has never really impressed me and I remember it mainly for the Doctor telling perhaps his sickest ever joke ("The toast of Little Hodcombe"). Watching it a few months ago when I bought the DVD (primarily for the under-rated The Gunfighters in the same box set) it seemed better than I remembered, if nothing special, with some good direction and performances.

That said, I'm not sure I share your enthusiasm for the 2x25 minute length in eighties Who - for all its brevity there still seemed to be a lot of running around, just with a less complex plot.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on February 27th, 2014 07:49 pm (UTC)
for all its brevity there still seemed to be a lot of running around, just with a less complex plot.

A criticism that can also be levelled at the modern series.
daniel_saundersdaniel_saunders on February 27th, 2014 10:54 pm (UTC)
Agreed there is a lot of running around in the modern series, but I wouldn't accuse Moffat-era Who of conceptual simplicity!