Dilation – Starring Sioned Jones , Rebecca Ross, Angus Brown & Ras Barker. Written & Directed by Max Hochrad – Download (B7 Media and Par-Sec Productions)
Creating new riffs on time travel sci-fi is never easy – some smart-alec has always been down the path before you, and more often than not, they’ve killed your grandfather, or kissed your teenage mother at the Enchantment Under The Sea dance.
Max Hochrad takes a different approach to many though, inasmuch as rather than take us from our present and drop us either forward or back in our timeline, to give us either future science horror or known social past, he focuses on the ‘here and now’ – albeit a dystopian version of the here and now – as the future, and zaps a 1970s time traveller into our midst, with no idea how their world has gone so massively wrong.
So far, so Adam Adamant Lives!?
Nope – tonally, we’re much more in the territory of late seventies, early eighties apocalypto-drama – Think Survivors from Terry Nation, or a sliiiightly more functional version of Threads. Power has become a major concern in the ‘present’ of Dilation, cities are dark, technology – and therefore to a large extent, societal cohesion and government – is mostly in the hands of the Forman Corporation. Very much at the top of the tree, Forman controls such power structures as there are, either overtly or behind the scenes of a Britain without the ‘shackles’ of the democratic malarkey we know and mistreat.
Into this nation of increasingly isolated individuals, paranoid groups and scavenging survivors leaps Amanda Higgs (love what you did with the name there, Max), an energy scientist from the seventies who has apparently been missing for forty years. Essentially, due to some equations of energy, motion and a time dilation factor, she’s travelled along a fast path, while the world beneath her has gone at its own pace – think Planet of the Apes, but over much shorter timespans, so we’ve only had time to devolve into societal raggedness, rather than to be entirely superceded by simians. She’s initially overwhelmed by both the physical effects of her dilated journey and the bewildering awfulness of the world in which she’s arrived. She has old friends and colleagues both in charge of this dystopia, and outside the system, trying to just get by. As the drama escalates, Amanda has to fight harder and harder to survive the lattice of traps laid to get her on side with Forman and help it consolidate its power, and she’s increasingly unsure who to trust or what, if anything, her place could be in this strange, decentralised, impoverished and fragmented world.
Making friends with Marnie, an almost itinerant tinkerer and hitter of things with sticks, Amanda finds herself coming more and more to the notice of the Forman Corporation and its thuggish powerbrokers, who want to co-opt her to their newish order and use her science and her skills to tighten their grip over the production of energy. If she won’t come willingly, they increasingly let her know she can be forced to do their bidding. But the longer she stays in our world, the more an idea builds in Amanda’s mind – a way of changing things for the better, for everyone. But can she get the job done before time runs out for her?
It’s worth mentioning that Dilation is produced without a scrap of fat on its bones – there’s very little, if any, ‘Oh look, they’re gaining on us!’ dialogue here to set or keep you in the scene, so Dilation’s not an audio story to listen to while doing other things – like the best of books, it needs you to lock in and give it the respect of your careful attention, otherwise there’s every likelihood Dilation will run away from under you and leave you gasping, wondering what the hell is happening now. But if you give it that respect, Dilation’s cast repay you with complex relationships, both historical and modern, quite the elegy on living in a world getting increasingly bleak (and who doesn’t need that these days?), and a convincing thriller-cum-race against time with a world-saving twist.
Sioned Jones as Amanda convincingly delivers the almost hopeless weariness of someone not only displaced from their time, but from all the emotional relationships that underpinned their world, and all the seeming certainties of society she took for granted, while Rebecca Ross as Marnie brings an edge of uncertainty to her uneven relationship with Amanda and a punchy survivor-attitude to her interactions with her sort-of-friend and sort-of-boss, Packard, played by Angus Brown. Packard’s the kind of survivor who, if pushed jusssst far enough will turn you in without a second thought, or turn you into soup when the weather gets cold. Here, Angus Brown puts in a performance that’s just on the right side of innovation – we understand the character, but neither Brown nor Hochrad’s script pushes him too far into grotesque. We’re always aware that he could go there, but the restraint of both actor and writer make Packard more interesting for what he doesn’t do.
All in all, Dilation’s a story you have to dedicate an hour and a quarter to – don’t listen while you’re driving or ironing, because you’ll lose the thread of the stripped-back storytelling. But give it your time and attention, and it’ll give you a satisfying twist on the time travel thriller, spiced with a thing or two to teach us about our own society and interactions. Tony Fyler