The Ten Thousand are a glorious work of art – ten thousand would-be warriors, represented in gold and glory as a monument not to war, but to peace. They’re a symbol of everything the Doctor believes in, and everything we too would want – peace, not war. Love, not hate. Unity and common cause, not strife and violence.
Except when the Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard go to visit them (out of hours, naturally, because it’s the Eighth Doctor), while their beauty and sculpted skill seems undiminished, there’s something not…quite right.
When the time travellers try to blag their way into seeing the famous artist behind the monument to peace, they’re told she’s seeing no-one – fifty years on from sculpting the ten thousand soldiers of the incredible display, she’s planning something even bigger and better than the original.
This is when having a time machine comes in really handy. They might not be able to see her now, the Doctor reasons, but they might be able to see her then – back in the day when she was putting the final touches to her dazzling monument to reason and peace.
And so, displaying that delicacy of trans-temporal touch that has become the Doctor’s gift by the time he reaches his Eighth body, they do just that, popping back those fifty years to meet the artist behind the Hall of the Ten Thousand.
Except something’s still not quite right. In fact, something, in that time and place, is altogether more wrong. Jaine Fenn gives us a good deal of context for the monument when it’s a new commemoration of a peace between the north and south territories of a planet that was set to tear itself apart. But then…there’s the thing that’s wrong.
It’s Charley who spots it, and it would be utterly spoilerific to reveal it for you here – when you hear it in this new Short Trip, it’ll make you jump, and gulp, and drive a wave of nausea all the way through you.
The Ten Thousand are not, perhaps, everything they’ve always seemed. But perhaps – just perhaps – they’re something more. More, and worse, and horrifying.
The story itself is a delicate cat’s cradle of powerful emotion on the one hand – what would you do to stop a war that would cost the lives of lots of people? Where would you draw the line of suffering for peace? – and time travel tinkering on the other. When you’ve seen a grim thing existing fifty years from now, what can you do to make any damn part of it better? The Doctor and Charley dart deftly through the minefield of causality, knowing they cannot do anything terribly much to undo a dreadful act, but that maybe, just maybe, they can prevent something worse from happening down the line. And, as it turns out, that they might be able to salvage one thread of hope from a situation which, make no mistake about it, goes from beautiful to incredibly grim in a handful of heartbeats.
But hold on to your celebrations. Jaine Fenn does not intend to let you off the hook quite so easily. From a premise that feels inherently straightforward – the celebration of a peace that ended a war – Fenn takes you on a trip that gets grimmer and grimmer, gives you a glimmer of hope, and then shows you the Eighth Doctor lying to Charley by omission, and reveals the consequences of their actions. There’s a kind of peace, a kind of justice at the end, absolutely, but there’s not really anything that would warrant a full-on whoop.
Hall Of The Ten Thousand is a fitting release for November – the month in which the UK commemorates those lost in wars throughout history, particularly the wars of the twentieth century. Its story is grim, going behind the simplicity of remembrance to the reality of war, and particularly the reality of decisions made for ordinary fighters by high-handed people who thought they were acting in their ultimate interest. Whether they were right or not is almost a moot point, though it’s a reality with which the Doctor and Charley have no option but to contend. Ultimately, the story is a morally complex maze of action and restriction, of what felt right and justified to stop a war, and what will break the heart of anyone who fully understands the cost of that action. It’s a powerful piece that never shies away from conflict, power or a punch in the heart. It’s not a trip that will leave you smiling, but it’s one you need to take. Go – visit the Hall Of The Ten Thousand today.
They have a tale to tell you. Tony Fyler