Friday, 1 March 2013

REVIEW: The Minister of Chance episode 4: 'The Tiger'



Today, the Minister returns, stepping through a door cut into the very fabric of space and time and into your download folder. It’s the fourth and penultimate episode, but it’s been a while since we last heard him, so a brief reintroduction and recap might be in order:

The Minister of Chance is a powerful and mysterious being of undisclosed origins, although, unofficially, he is in fact a Time Lord. In his current incarnation, in this radiophonic production, he is played by Julian Wadham, having toughened up somewhat since his debut appearance in the Doctor Who webcast Death Comes to Time, played by Stephen Fry.

Having arrived in the land of Tanto on a distant world, the Minister investigates terrible events that portend to an unwelcome future. The Sezians have invaded Tanto and are enforcing their cultural hatred of science upon the locals, and all the while gearing up for war against the neighbouring nation of Juro. However, this seemingly local affair threaten to have repercussions far beyond, and other forces are at work here…

Really, though, it’s all about Kitty.

‘The Tiger’ launches straight into high gear as relations between the neighbouring nations grow ever more precarious. There’s action from the off, grippingly evoked by some ingenious sound design. It’s worth re-listening to episodes one through three before taking on part four. The listener has little opportunity to pause to get their bearings, and this is a refreshingly complex story – not one to half-listen to while doing the ironing. Thankfully, all episodes are available for free on the Ministry’s website, so there’s no excuse not to catch up from the beginning.

The cast is as impressive as ever, but what less can you expect when the likes Julian Wadham, Paul Darrow, Paul McGann and Jenny Agutter are taking part? Agutter shows just what a talented actress she is as her character, Professor Cantha, becomes hugely important to the events in Tanto, building on the foundations laid by earlier instalments. Her championing of science is nothing new in a science fiction setting, but is portrayed with more thought and reasoning than in many stories. The Sezians’ belief in magic is a thinly-veiled commentary on the nature of theistic religion, with the ‘stuff just happens’ approach unable to stand up against the relentless logic of empirical enquiry.

The religious parallels are equally clear in the presentation of the higher echelons of the invaders’ society. Sylvester McCoy gives the impression his theocratic (thaumocratic?) leader, the Witch Prime, would be a canny opponent undermore ordinary pressures, but he cannot stand up to Paul McGann’s Machiavellian Durian, continually climbing the ladder to ever greater reaches of power. He may, however, have exceeded his reach this time. Paul Darrow steals every scene he’s in, and, although his appearances are tantalisingly few in this episode, his viperous character the Lord Rathen drives events from the background.

As the Minister himself, Julian Wadham is perfectly cast, combining an educated superiority, a natural charm, and a ruthlessness of purpose into a convincing portrayal of a god amongst men – one whose powers we are only now realising the extent. He’s a more dangerous character than his original incarnation, and, much like the production of a whole, succeeds because he is no longer beholden to the Doctor Who universe. Stepping out from its progenitor series, The Minister of Chance can take its inspiration in any direction its producers choose.

Peter Guinness is equally impressive as the Horseman, a dark figure whose motives are only now becoming clear. Finally, this frightening character is given not only a proper confrontation with his equal number in the Minister, but is afforded some development. His part in things starts to become clear as the complexities of his character become apparent.  Also worth singling out for praise is Tamsin Greig, whose character, the Sage of the Waves, provides further commentary on the trappings of religion and power.

However, it really is all about Kitty. Lauren Crace brings this captivating and hugely entertaining character to vivid life. Seemingly nothing more than an innocuous, if uncompromisingly assertive peasant girl, Kitty has slowly revealed hidden depths as the serial has progressed. A woman of great strength and resourcefulness, and a seemingly limitless supply of swearwords, Kitty is far more important than she may first appear, and her presence as the Minister’s companion is surely no accident.

‘The Tiger’ builds on the foundations of the earlier episodes, teasing us with answers to earlier questions before challenging us with yet more mysteries. Events lead to a thrilling cliffhanger, and episode five looks set to be a gripping conclusion.

Download episode four from the Ministry here.

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