Insurgency by Steve Lyons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It's very difficult to discuss or rate Insurgency separately from the rest of the Gallifrey series. So much of this particular installment is devoted to developing or starting plotlines that clearly won't pay off until later. This might well change my opinion of this story based on how things eventually play out. Insurgency suffers very markedly from a problem that I have with the Gallifrey series as a whole: Many of the characters here are playing very long and subtle games, making decisions based on motives and information that the listener doesn't have complete access to, and misrepresenting their intentions to other characters (and even to themselves).
When it works, it's fascinating. When it doesn't, it leaves me with the uneasy sensation that the writers are cheating: by being so mysterious about everything, they can make the story come out however they want, and justify it by ex post facto revelations about what was "really" going on.
A particular case in point: In the past few episodes, Romana has increasingly been faced with a dilemma: To defend the open, democratic, and tolerant Gallifreyan society that she's been trying to build, she's being pushed to use increasingly secret and undemocratic means. I'm gripped by the dilemma of how to defend civil society against those with no respect for it. (Who wouldn't be, in this day and age?) But I have this uneasy feeling that if Romana fails, it won't so much be because she made the wrong choices as because the writers wanted her to fail.
To the extent this audio has a self contained plot of its own, it mostly focuses on the Gallifreyan academy, and a small group of students of different species. With various people playing on the Gallifreyan's fear of outsiders and the tensions between the other species, things start to get ugly. The audio does a good job of portraying the rising tensions and the strain this places on the friendships between these students. (Although, I can't help but think that they missed a bet by not having this play out as a running thread over several audios, though time and budget constraints probably would have made this impossible.) Finally, a human student named Taylor is pushed to try something drastic to change the balance of power between Gallifreyans and non-Gallifreyans, but it seems that he might have been playing into someone else's hands all along.
On a meta note, the Gallifrey audios do somewhat undercut their own criticism of Gallifreyan xenophobia by so rarely bothering to make the non-Gallifreyan/non-human aliens compelling or sympathetic characters. Though, in fairness, the Monan character, B'arech, would probably have been more sympathetic if Monans weren't apparently required to perform all their lines in a tones composed of various linear combinations of sulkiness and outrage.
There are also some interesting developments in Andred's story. I'm still not sure whether Andred will be revealed to have been a bad guy pretending to be a good guy, a good guy pretending to be a bad guy, or a bad guy who is redeemed, possibly too late to save himself. I say "have been" because it also appears that Andred may really be dead by the end of this audio - and killed by a very surprising person. But this is one of the instances where I think the writers' general policy of mystery and misdirection may pay off.
This audio was also the first in the Gallifrey series in a long while not to feature Brax, and I was surprised by how much I missed the character, given how often he merely fills the role of Captain Snarky Exposition. This audio was sadly lacking in snarky exposition.
Despite the number of criticisms I had of this audio, I very much enjoyed it and hope that the next installment will resolve some of the questions it raises in a satisfying way.
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