04 May 2004The Awakening, by Paul Clarke
29 Oct 2005The Awakening, by A.D. Morrison

After the badly plotted and ill thought out 'The King's Demons', 'The Awakening' (which is also essentially filler material) demonstrates how to make perfect use of the two-episode format. It is a well-paced, compact little story with enough of a plot to fit its duration without trying to be over ambitious. The idea of an ancient alien menace awakening within the church of a sleepy English village is of course recycled from 'The Dæmons' (as is the exploding church at the climax and the idea of a village sealed off from the outside), but 'The Awakening' uses the concept very effectively. The Malus is an alien war machine sent to clear the way for an invasion that never came; feeding on psychic energy, it is reawakened after being buried under the church of Little Hodcombe for centuries, whereupon it seizes control of local magistrate Sir George Hutchinson and uses him to set about generating the psychic energy it needs to revive fully and complete its programme. The war games are its means of doing this, and after the Doctor uses the TARDIS to stop it feeding on psychic energy from the village and Sir George is killed, it realises it has failed and self-destructs in last ditch attempt to clear the area. It is a very economical plot, but one that works extremely well; the Malus provides a memorable monster, Sir George provides a human villain, and there is plenty for the rest of the supporting cast to do. 

Part of the success of 'The Awakening' is that it is often very creepy. The ominous crack in the church wall builds suspense from the start, as smoke starts to pour from it and it gradually widens over the course of Episode One. The disfigured beggar, revealed to be a psychic projection from the past, is also rather sinister, as is the projection of a wizened old man that appears to Tegan. The increasingly dangerous war games further fuel the atmosphere, as it becomes clear that something is very wrong in Little Hodcombe, helped largely by Denis Lill's manic performance as the unhinged Sir George. Will's terrified account of seeing the Malus builds nicely towards the Episode One cliffhanger, and once the Malus itself appears it works very well. For one thing the large prop of the Malus' face is very impressive, and the fact that it seems irrefutably malevolent without actually speaking is to the credit of scriptwriter Eric Pringle. The smaller prop of the Malus projected into the TARDIS is equally sinister, and on a personal note I rather like getting the chance to see what the whole creature looks like, since it remains buried beneath the church except for its face. 

The acting throughout is exemplary, from Denis Lill's Sir George, to Glyn Houston's thoroughly likeable Colonel Wolsey, and Polly James very slightly eccentric Jane Hampden. Special mention must go to Keith Jayne as Will Chandler however; the character is very well scripted, and Jayne tackles the period dialogue very convincingly. Will's angst at killing Sir George is superb; so terrified is he by the Malus and the evil wreaked via Sir George that even he Doctor doesn't chide him for pushing Hutchinson into the Malus' jaws. The regulars too do very well out of such a short story; the presence of Tegan's grandfather results in predictably response when she discovers that he is missing, and leads to a rather charming final scene in which the Doctor is gently coerced into agreeing to stay in Little Hodcombe for a while. I always rather like any suggestion that the TARDIS crew has had time to relax and have fun, since it makes it easier to believe that the Doctor's companions are willing to endure so much stress with him. Davison is great in this scene, petulantly complaining that he's had a hard day, but suspiciously easily convinced to stay and relax for a bit… In fact the Fifth Doctor is magnificent here; after the futile bloodbath of 'Warriors of the Deep', here he quickly and efficiently identifies and neutralizes the threat of the Malus with relatively little bloodshed. Turlough also gets a surprising amount to do, and Pringle captures the character well; he takes action when it is essential to do so (such as when he and Verney knock out Willow and his associate from behind), but prioritizes his own safety over reckless heroism. 

The production is exemplary; the sets are astonishingly good, especially the ruined church which never looks like a mere studio set. The sets also complement the luscious location filming beautifully. Peter Howell's incidental music captures the pseudo-historical mood perfectly, and Michael Owen Morris directs the story with modest skill. 'The Awakening' is one of the finest examples of the two-part Doctor Who story and is an impressive addition to Season Twenty-One.

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For some reason in my memory I used to remember The Awakening as being part of Season Twenty, probably due to its rather subtle pace and emphasis on atmosphere and suggestion, very Season Twenty-ish traits, and against the grain of Season Twenty One’s generally more gung-ho approach (bar Planet of Fire) to the programme. In this sense The Awakening was a welcome meditative two-parter after the bull and bluster of the messy Warriors of the Deep; even the following story, Frontios, though including some typical Chris H Bidmead scriptorial sophistication, still seems at least visually very symptomatic of its season, the least intriguing of Davison’s three seasons, although it concluded in arguably the most dramatically powerful story ever, Caves of Androzani.

What I like about The Awakening – and in this it shares some similarities with its two formulaic predecessors, Black Orchid and The King’s Demons – is its good straight-forward story telling, unpretentious execution, intriguing atmosphere, convincing pseudo-historical realization (though of course most of its historical details are meant as a Civil War re-enactment in the modern day) and seeming deftness of ease at feeling more like a four-parter than a two-parter. Even though the storyline fits neatly into its 50 minutes, with all threads tied up nicely, the story contains a fair amount of plot detail: Civil War re-enactment conjuring up dormant historical forces, alien energies and inevitable time disturbances; the Malus’s place in historical Earth superstition; its craft, a probe from Harkol, leaving deposits of Tinclavik, a ‘squigy’, malleable metal from the planet Raga (cue the Terileptils from The Visitation pleasingly and subtly alluded continuity worked in from Season Nineteen). Even the characters are, for such a short excursion, believable and fairly engaging, especially George Hutchinson, played by the impeccable and always engaging Dennis Lill (who was to recognize the impressive, follically-challenged portrayer of Dr Fendahlman beneath that cascade of hair?). Will Tyler is a memorable character also, and I always remember wishing he’d joined the Tardis crew at the time, his Stig-of-the-Dump-esque incongruity beside the infinitely more intelligent Doctor providing a highly enjoyable and comical combination (not to mention bringing the flame-haired, angst-ridden Turlough in to the bargain).

The sets in this story are typically convincing and detailed for the series’ long tradition of historically accurate backdrops. The Church set in particular is extremely well done and exudes a sufficiently eerie atmosphere; the details on the wooden pulpit are particularly impressive, showing carvings of what we later come to see in corporal as the alien intelligence known as The Malus. The later scenes with the strange gargoyle entity clinging to the wall of the Tardis are brilliantly done and very memorable. My favourite scene of all is the one towards the end in which a ghost Cavalier and a trio of ghost Roundheads are conjured up by the Harkol probe to threaten the lives of the Doctor et al; subtly realized, real actors in costumes painted white, these apparitions, apparently somehow physically manifest from the past, are suitably tangible and eerie – their realization goes to show how this sort of thing should be done, and how it can be done far more convincingly than CGI effects, with the right atmosphere and direction.

Perhaps the only real qualm about the story is the unnecessary and convenient plot device of including Tegan Jovanka’s grandfather, Andrew Bernie; although the crew intend to visit him in Little Hodcombe, it is still slightly peculiar that an Australian should be living in a hamlet in the British home counties. Having said that, they couldn’t exactly have a relative of Turlough’s living there due to his alien origins.

Over all then, a highly enjoyable story, deftly scripted by Eric Pringle, strangely memorable considering its brevity, as were the other two Davison two-parters at the time – Hartnell’s The Rescue excluded, no other era of Doctor Who managed to achieve such satisfactory examples of this 50 minute story formula than the Davison era. His two parters never seemed rushed and yet always seemed filled with detail and variety of plot elements, and in this glowing example of the 50 minute Davison era speciality, there is even time at the end for a little banter in the Tardis over a cup of tea. Consummate Who.

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