After a short delay to re-subscribe to the main range, we’re back with the trio of the Sixth Doctor, Constance and Flip. Tackling the “problem” of older people’s role in our society, The Middle does a good job of tackling this issue while also creating a very alien yet believable dystopian society. Not without flaws, but pretty damn good! Let’s take a look!
It’s L/Wren Mrs Constance Clarke’s birthday – and Flip is determined to make it an anniversary to remember.
The futuristic colony of Formicia, where the pampered populace pass their days in endless leisure, seems the perfect place for a ‘Wren Party’. But all is not as it seems. Looking down from the Middle, the skyscraping tower that ascends as far as the colony ceiling, Formicia’s overseers can see that the Doctor doesn’t fit in – and it’s not just his coat that makes him conspicuous…
“The End is the Beginning,” say the propaganda-like posters all over Formicia. Because to be part of this perfect society comes at a price. And the Doctor’s already in arrears.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
The Doctor (Colin Baker) – The Doctor isn’t a stranger to… most things in the universe, but he is undoubtedly surprised when he finds himself strapped to a mech suit and told to fight a war with an army of over 70s…
Constance Clarke (Miranda Raison) – Despite being on an alien world, the now-turning 35-year-old WREN from WWII is still finding herself watching from the sidelines as everyone else fights on the battlefield…
Flip (Lisa Greenwood) – Flip is now a married woman, but she’s also still 19 and has no problem cutting loose and having some fun, even amongst the backdrop of an alien world she knows nothing about…
Olivia York (Hollie Sullivan) – Olivia is fed up of living in Formicia, her father taken from her in order to join “The Middle” and work, never seeing her again. Olivia will get her revolution, but at what cost?
Janaiya (Sheila Reid) – Janaiya is getting used to the war, he mech suit makes her strong, she gets to see her husband again, and generally she’s doing her bit. It’s just a shame really that “her bit” is a bit pointless…
The Middleman (Mark Heap) – The Middleman is just that, a middleman for a large corporation and is in charge of the Formicia settlement. He knows the truth, and he’s expecting good returns…
Great cover, featuring lots of new things that had to be created, especially the mech suit around the Sixth Doctor picture!
The core concept and the world that’s created around it is great sci-fi. From birth to 35 you have no responsibilities and are free to just have fun, from 35 to 70 you have to work at the giant building in “The Middle”, then from 70 onward you’re drafted into a war to fight using mech suits to cover for your aging bodies. This way the elderly are “useful” and the young get to continue to work. It’s a horribly efficient system, made worse due to the fact it’s all an experiment ran by a large corporation who are just testing ways of using the elderly as a method they could then sell on, unknown to the people themselves, obviously (the bull-like aliens they face in the war turn out to be hard-light holograms, to use a Red Dwarf phrase).
There are some familiar beats here, The Doctor not wanting to take part in a war ends up getting someone killed, and later he submits and begins helping (still in a non-violent way) so no-one else gets punished for his actions (that’s a lesson he obviously forgot in his Eighth incarnation, judging by the recently released Time War Series 1 set!), Constance finds herself away from the action and behind a desk, much like what happened to her in WWII and hates it, Flip… gets to hang around with someone and talk like a modern teen to the attempted amusement of the listener (more on that later…), and a corporation gets to be evil and non-caring to the general public, but overall the setting does wonders to elevate the story beyond its parts.
The guest cast are great as well, particularly Shelia Reid as Janaiya and Mark Heap as the soulless Middleman, while The Doctor and Constance are on fine form. The ending was quite satisfying as well, though I honestly don’t fancy the rebels chances in actually over-throwing anything, but The Doctor himself points that out and hopes that it just means the evil corporation leaves the planet alone and its people can return to the surface. It’s a happy enough ending, really.
Flip has been quite good in the last few releases, with Constance grounding her a bit and two working off each other well. Sadly, in this story, Flip slides backwards into completely obnoxious mode, complete with over-excited jokey tones and once again laughing at immediate danger, robbing any scene she’s in of drama. How her personality slipped so far backwards is annoying, as it was to listen too!
There isn’t anything here directly connected to another piece of Who (beyond previous stories with the companions, obviously!), though I will say the unpleasant upper-class bastard keeping a bunch of people underground and convincing them that the above ground is uninhabitable is a story used during the Second Doctor TV serial “The Enemy of the World”, though it was for different reasons in the end.
A great depiction of a unpleasant future society, a great guest cast and The Doctor and Constance being on fine form cover for a return of obnoxious Flip dialogue to create a really good story. I would like to see the writer, Chris Chapman, have a crack at another story, maybe without a “modern mouthy girl” companion involved…