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The Awakening

Reviewed by Peter Adamson

In 1976 writer Eric Pringle submitted a treatment for a story called The Angurth, about living alien stone creatures worshipped by fearful humans. The idea was never taken up, although it reappeared in one manifestation as David Fisher's The Stones of Blood, and later in Pringle's own Season Twenty-One two-parter The Awakening.

“They be troopers.”
“No, just Twentieth Century men playing a particularly nasty game.”

Season Twenty-One is something of an oddity, and one of transition. Certainly the most popular season of the Davison Era, it is seen as something of a foreshadowing of the short life of the sixth Doctor, where the Doctor's decisions become more rash and come at greater cost, his adversaries returning with more regularity and adopting ever more violent means of subjugation. With this in mind it is not surprising that a story such as The Awakening is easily overlooked, carrying few of the flashes and bangs of Warriors of the Deep or Resurrection of the Daleks, and being set in as mundane a location as a contemporary English village. Yet The Awakening is a special story; in which the fifth Doctor is allowed one of the last stories in which he is an innocent, discovering his adversary by accident, yet remaining in control to the end.

“Something is coming to our village. Something very wonderful ... and strange.”

The Awakening has a clear advantage over its predecessor in its intelligent script and generally well selected cast. Sandwiched between studio-bound stories, there is a pleasing use of locations taking in much of what Dorset and regions have to offer. This is complimented by the studio scenes, which are well lit, and cleverly designed. If I have one niggle, it's that Little Hodcombe appears to be perhaps too little, with no more than twenty other inhabitants - it's a wonder they had the numbers to fully recreate the area's historic battle (and just why did I expect James Belich to pop out from a nearby tree wildly gesticulating himself through another battle description?). In fact, the village seems to be so sparsely populated as to make Sir George's sealing it off from the outside world unnecessary. This having been said, the main villagers acquit themselves well, with a few surprises. Polly James, late (and later!) of The Liver Birds provides a believable Jane, with a good opening scene - though it's a shame she closes the first episode with a rather odd and lengthy scream, which comes across rather as an abortive attempt to try out the ‘scream blending into theme music sting’ finally realised by Bonnie Langford in episode nine of The Trial of a Time Lord. James' casting provides a neat sense of closure in this, Davison's last season; her Liver Birds sparring partner of course being Nerys Hughes of Season Nineteen's Kinda. Glyn Houston returns to Who after an equally solid performance in The Hand of Fear, and provides another unusual casting coincidence being a veteran of The Brothers; his colleagues from that series would be due to appear as the sixth Doctor and the Rani in the next season. Denis Lill, one of New Zealand's few contributions to the programme makes a fine ‘villain’, aided surely by Pringle's script, which neither demands over the top hysteria nor melodrama moustache twirling (though he clearly has the 'tash for the job...). Keith Jayne's Will Chandler has frequently been admired as potential companion stock, and indeed a ‘ historical’ companion in the mould of Jamie might well have turned out to be a better choice than Peri, though perhaps this would have come too soon after Matthew Waterhouse's time on the series. The last two guest stars, Frederick Hall as Andrew Verney and Jack Galloway (Willow) come across less well. Verney, despite being a significant character in the story's plot development simply doesn't live up to expectations, and Willow is played at both extremes - though his implied misogyny (bullying Jane and Tegan, and later walking in on Tegan unannounced while she is changing) is an interesting touch.

“You speak treason?”

Characterisation of the Doctor and his companions is quite good, with Peter Davison being allowed to show a more patient Doctor alongside a bewildered Jane and temporally marooned Will. His scene in the churchyard showing the boy the gravestones of the region's forebears is neither heavy handed nor sensationalised, but oddly warm. Once more, the believability of Pringle's dialogue allows for a good performance from the core cast, although it's a shame Janet Fielding has little to do (perhaps like Verney this the real ‘curse on Tegan's family’ suggested in The Discontinuity Guide?). Turlough gets more to do however, discovering Verney and getting in on the action in some scenes despite the writer's reported unfamiliarity with the character. This may be due more to Eric Saward's influence perhaps, as there is clear evidence of the script editor's hand in the inclusion of background details for the Malus featuring Terileptils.

“Malus come - Malus's got a war in him!”

The Malus is an interesting form of enemy in that it is a perfect machine, never behaving in an illogical manner or offering any intercourse with the Doctor or his companions. Indeed, though it has a “medium” in Sir George Hutchinson, we never get the traditional ‘conversation with the entity’ seen in other stories such as Paradise Towers, because the Malus is nothing more than an organic machine. The Awakening is at its most basic level a ‘runaway train’ tale, even down to the last scenes, where the alien presence fulfils its ‘program’ and destroys itself. Despite this, it retains a sinister presence through the effective use of psychic projections and the very large face behind the church wall -never fully revealed or animated. The role of the Doctor then is not to reason with it nor outwit it, but to actually destroy it without destroying the village at the same time. Fortunately this can be done relatively easily, with few deaths necessary (only the foolhardy die at their own hand - even Sir George doesn't need to be killed to exorcise the Malus and seems to die just as a gesture of crowd pleasing). Though this might throw doubt on its actual effectiveness as a weapon of war (especially if you have a resourceful Time Lord on your side), it provides a more satisfactory conclusion, with Willow granted an opportunity to redeem himself aiding Ben and the others in restoring the village.

“I don't like it.”
“Then admire the craftsmanship.”

As noted above, there is a refreshing departure here from the visual aspect of violence otherwise seen in Season Twenty-One, made more significant with the story's focus on one of England's most bloody episodes. Despite this, there are some scenes which either invoke the atrocities of the Civil Wars (for example Will's description of the fate of the original May Queen, the Doctor's response of ‘The toast of Little Hodcombe’ being, I would hope, an inclusion of Saward's), and the sinister appearance of the ‘solid’ phantom Roundheads is capped by the death of a trooper at the story's climax. Although occurring off-screen and apparently edited to render it less shocking, the fact that this is a beheading witnessed by all is still quite shocking. It's hard to tell whether this is yet another Sawardian touch, or a reference to the fate of Charles I. The Malus' ‘death’ in the TARDIS is by no means any more pleasant, and in fact the scene in which the ‘little gargoyle’ version climbs the Console Room wall remains one of my favourites of the story, coming across rather better than the cosy reunion of everyone at the end in the same locale, though this is a very minor letdown.

“It's perfect in every detail.”

Writing a ‘nostalgia’ piece for Telos 11, I once lamented the loss during editing of the filmed and deleted sequence featuring Kamelion at the start of the story. A year later I made a spectacular gaffe by suggesting on a mailing list that should the story ever present itself for a ‘Special Edition’ treatment, a version of the missing scene be staged to fit in seamlessly. After all, it would just require some TARDIS walls, the Kamelion prop, Janet Fielding and the voices of Peter Davison and Mark Strickson... and Gerald Flood. Oops. Having seen the story now for the first time in nearly ten years, I can finally say that this would be a mistake - the original scene, though a continuity dream, is most effective being absent, allowing a more unassuming entry point for the TARDIS crew, and a shorter build up. The story is after all, only two episodes long. Of course, The Awakening has been released under the watchful eye of the Restoration Team, a section having been ‘repaired’ after a damaging scratch made to the film. The question then begs, what could be done on the part of the Restoration Team to improve the story? I'm at a loss for ideas, save for replacing the “BBC Micro” stars (© The Discontinuity Guide) with a better effect - but this is churlish. The story by no means suffers due to this effect, and stands up quite perfectly without any modifications.

I've come this far without recalling a certain famous and ‘hilarious’ out-take from the episode, nor The Dæmons, and I'm happy with this, suffice to say that the concept of the Doctor staying in Little Hodcombe to allow Tegan to visit her grandfather at length and Turlough to enjoy a cup of tea is a definitive Davison moment for me - as much a part of his era as the Brigadier and Yates enjoying a pint at the end of the Pertwee version. The Awakening is both brief and memorable, well deserving its Handbook title of “a little gem buried within [Season Twenty-One]”, and providing a welcome moment's pause before the inevitable rigours of that season's latter half.

This item appeared in TSV 55 (October 1998).

Index nodes: The Awakening