Saturday, 8 March 2014
This story in a nutshell: The Doctor visits New Earth and discovers things aren’t quite as they seem…
Mockney Dude: There is a world of difference between Tennant’s faltering performance in this episode and his confident portrayal in Partners in Crime (which I have recently watched) and what really stood out here was that he is trying too hard to impress. There's actually a great deal of his performance here that reminds me of Peter Davison in Four to Doomsday, a nervous actor trying to find his feet in an important part and choosing manic energy and squeaking voices as a default setting. The Doctor’s vicious advance on Novice Haim in the face of the slave pharmacy really hits home how righteously angry he can when he feels strongly enough about a cause. Although I do wonder if it would have been more effective had Tennant chosen to underplay it a bit. Still I wouldn't want to face that torrent of abuse myself. When he says that there is no higher authority than him you have to wonder if he hasn’t gotten a bit to big for his boots as this is exactly the sort of thing I used to criticise the seventh Doctor for in the New Adventures – taking responsibility for the universe and insisting that things were done his way. I’m not sure what gives him the right, he understood that in Genesis of the Daleks but maybe he has been at this lark too long now to see that he can’t manipulate the entire universe into one that he is happy with. Perhaps the loss of the Time Lords has given him something of a God complex, which is something that would develop and build momentum throughout his era and finally explode in his penultimate story. But the first stirrings of that behaviour begins right here. Cassandra inhabiting the Doctor doesn’t work at all for me and not just because Tennant acts like a bad drag act but because of the same reason that The Twin Dilemma troubled so many people – you shouldn’t make the Doctor act like a complete twat in his first full story. There are compensations though; Tennant's reaction after Rose/Cassandra kisses him is a scream and his non-reaction to the decontamination lift really made me chuckle. Tooth and Claw would set up his Doctor far more effectively for me, everything is a bit too self indulgent here.
Chavvy Chick: Since when did people being happy get so annoying? There has been a shift in the dynamic between Rose and the Doctor since Tennant took over and it is now less of a marriage of equals and more about stressing how deliriously happy they are travelling together. People who are happy together don’t have to constantly drive home the fact – that’s what insecure people do when they think they are happy. Trust me, I do it all the time. I really wanted somebody to pass me the sick bucket during the scene where they are lounging on the grass talking about their ‘first date’ – its so cloying I think my blood started to clot. Davies is capable of much subtler characterisation than this and it feels like he is praising his own success a little too much. Cassandra calls Rose a ‘dirty blonde assassin’ which isn't exactly true (she had nothing to do with her murder) but it's very funny nonetheless. Cassandra inhabiting Rose’s body allows Billie Piper to drop all the gooey stuff and have some fun as a seriously bitchy tramp and strangely enough she is much more appealing in that role (‘Nice rear bumper!’). New Earth does set the scene for some overdone moments of happiness between the Doctor and Rose in series two...but as has been pointed out elsewhere Davies was setting up their downfall in Doomsday from afar and trying to make sure that the finale hurts. We might have to experience the smugest Doctor/companion pairing to get there but the pay off sure is devastating.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Goodbye trampoline and hello blondie!’
‘That’s all they are…flesh.’
The Good Stuff: The effects landscape for New Earth is startling after a season that shied away from giving us this kind of impressive planetary surface for budgetary reasons. It is a stirring mixture of modern (the spectacular cityscape) and retro (hover cars). The Cat People make up is really shows the difference between what was capable in 2006 and what was capable in 1989 – the Cheetah People from Survival would have benefited from subtler, more detailed make up such as this (and as a cat owner for years those noses are so uncannily realistic). I like the idea of a run of stories in the same time period that fleshes it out more each time the Doctor visits. The End of the World/New Earth/Gridlock builds up a detailed picture of a time in a way that a 45 minute episode rarely has time to. I do think it is a shame that there wasn't a New Earth tale in series four (in place of The Doctor’s Daughter for example) so Davies took the story right through to his departure. After her attention grabbing debut in The End of the World it wasn’t going to be long before Zoe Wanamaker was back as Cassandra and whilst the character doesn't have the same impact as she did in her debut, she is still a great deal of fun with her bitchy asides and grandiose schemes of body snatching. There is a great deal more depth to her this time around which is rewarding, this isn't simply the case of bringing back a popular character for the sake of it (something that both the classic and new series are both guilty of) but Davies has decided to add layers to her now he has opportunity to revisit her. Shots of the huge underground warehouse housing millions of cloning pods are impressive, it’s a similar effect that they used in Star Trek for the inside of the Borg Cubes and just as memorable. Cassandra’s quietly horrific reaction to being inside the clones head is the one point that I felt Davies managed to add a little depth to his plot without pushing too hard. It's a subtle reaction in a story that is lacking any. The final scene almost makes watching this story worthwhile on it's own, a beautiful moment of redemption for Cassandra where she greets herself at an earlier point in her life and reminds her that she is beautiful. It is so gorgeously played and directed that it feels like belongs in an entirely different episode.
The Bad Stuff: The Millennium Centre is clearly the Millennium Centre and not a hospital on New New Earth. That might seem like facetious comment to make but sometimes you just have to say it like it is. Shooting scenes in the abandoned areas of the hospital gives the show a cheap and nasty look – I was having flashbacks of The Invasion of Time. ‘Oh My God! I’m a Chav!’ is a funny line but it does throw open that question of whether the inhabitants of the universe 5 billion years in the future would be talk in 21st Century slang terms. I doubt it. Davies stretches broad comedy to his limits in giving Cassandra some painfully unfunny cockney to drawl. Should a story that is supposed to be a treatise on slavery and medical experimentation really be hung with such camp and slapstick dressings? The idea of the Sisterhood's medical breakthroughs all being the result of slavery and torture is a powerful one but it hardly has time to be considered when we are being distracted with farcical body swap scenes and Tennant camping it up. Doctor Who has a good track record of confidently switching between comedy and drama but the two genres are presented at such ends of the scale that one actively fights the other. I would much rather this was a seedier episode that concentrated more on the darker underbelly of the Sisterhood's operation. As a result New Earth feels like a watered version of both stories that Davies is trying to tell. Not only that but they don't feel like they should be part of the same episode at all. The only point in which Cassandra's body swapping has any impact on the 'clone meat' plot is when she (in desperation) has to pop into the body of one of the victims. Otherwise the two plots exist side by side, fighting for dominance. Why would Cassandra snog the Doctor when he was the one that tried to kill her? Or is that Rose's deep rooted feelings bubbling to the surface? Mind you how can Rose have such affection for this new Doctor...she has only just met him! If Cassandra can read Rose’s mind surely she can see that she doesn’t understand any of the technical jargon she is pouring from her mouth. Or is this a really obvious marker for the kiddos at home to explain how the Doctor knows that Rose isn’t Rose. If so it makes long me for the days of sophisticated plotting and characterisation of the classic series. A dazzling city filled with fit people who are unwillingly (and unknowingly) sucking the goodness out of force bred clones to keep healthy – this should be really powerful stuff but because we never get to visit the City and meet the people and force them to understand the implications of the secret behind their prolonged lives it has no bite. We just assume that once the hospital was shut down the secret was leaked. Cut out the body swapping nonsense and make this a split narrative set half in the hospital and half in the city and show the cause and effect of the cures that are being administered and the shock knowledge of how they came about. It's not like Davies not to make the drama cutting and personal but he avoids holding a mirror up to society who just want a quick fix at the expense of a tortured species and instead focuses on them as a slave race who need to be liberated in a very clichéd Doctor Who plot. You could cut out the whole sequence of the Doctor and Rose leaping down a lift shaft for a start which adds nothing but spectacle and wastes time that could be spend add a little substance to the scenario. Spraying the clones with the various solutions and watching them all hugging each other is not only an insultingly easy solution but also irredeemably twee one. What was Davies thinking? The kids in the audience aren't so simple that they need things boiled down quite this simply. The more interesting consequences like what happened to the Sisterhood now they have been exposed is ignored altogether.
Result: With a slave race being exploited, the villain doing a very bad impression of the companion, a new Doctor making his debut and making a tit out of himself and a scene with a character screaming ‘let me out!’ from inside a plastic cubicle it is heartbreaking to see Davies paying tribute to another classic tale – Time and the Rani! Considering the effects work, the make up and the amount of extras on display it is an oddly cheap looking episode that dodges the dramatic bullet at every turn when what was needed was a sizzling re-instatement of the best of the first series. As a comedy it fails because it isn’t very funny with some arch and embarrassing performances from the leads and as a tragedy it bombs because there is simply no time to give any substance to the situation. It's agonisingly sentimental in places (I always take a sick bucket for the first scenes with the Doctor and Rose) in a way that Doctor Who has never dared to be before and it swaps mature storytelling for a childish tone and overly simplistic solutions. Contradictory to this, the last scene manages to be one of the best moments in the entire Davies era for its stark emotion and you have to wonder what this could have been like had the whole piece been written this powerfully. New Earth reminds me of a dopey puppy that desperately wants to be liked but unfortunately all it deserves is a good kick. There's a much stronger story to be told that ejects all the body swapping frivolities and focuses more on the dark underbelly of the Sisterhood's operation and it's effect on New New York: 4/10
Tuesday, 4 March 2014
Archaeological Adventuress: Okay...this is going to get a little bit complicated. In Living Memory chronicles the lives of three different versions of Bernice Summerfield as set up in Judgement Day a million years ago so do try and bear with me. Benny is writing her diary once again and because it has been so long she isn't sure what she is supposed to say. The Epoch say that she is the threat and she is the scheme, whatever that might mean. She can deal with robots, mad scientists, religious nut jobs, intergalactic mobsters, bounty hunters, Gods...anything they care to throw at her really. She can't believe that she would ever forget Peter and is furious that the Epoch would take something so precious from her memory. It was never their intention to take away everything so he never had anything to fight for but it certainly seems to have worked out that way. Apparently Benny exists at al points in time, at the start and end and all points in between. She never shuts up, or at least at any point she is aware of. She always makes it up as she goes along and things usually turn out for the best. The Bernice's have to decide which of them should throw themselves into the vortex for all time and it falls to the one who has been on Legion for months and forged a relationship with Peter to hold back. She's the mum he knows. Before she goes, the paradoxical Benny orders her counterpart to use the Epoch technology to do something for herself for a change. To change the timelines and get back all her friends. The whole of time and space is open for them to re-map and have one last grand adventure.
Super Villain: I hope this version of Braxiatel makes it into the next era of the Bernice Summerfield range otherwise I have to wonder what the point of him was (besides them wanting to continue to use Miles Richardson). We haven't learnt a great deal about him, he hasn't come face to face with his evil predecessor and his story hasn't come to any kind of climax. He was just sort of there because Brax is always there. Weird.
Jumping Jack Flash & Mysterious Girl: A shame that in what could be their last story Jack and Ruth spend the majority of the time as either different personas or caught up in the convoluted plot mechanics at the end of the story. We don't really get to spend much time with them or explore their characters. As such it is hardly a fitting send off for either of them.
Standout Performance: Unusual to hear Sean Carlsen playing a part that isn't Narvin (from the Gallifrey series). I kept expecting a twist that somehow he had wormed his way into the Bernice Summerfield series via Braxiatel. Bowerman excels, as ever and I think she could play this part in her sleep now (although there is never any danger of her phoning it in, she's always superb). It could be the last time that this cast of regulars are all together so relish this opportunity.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'You've sliced a hole in history itself! Have you any idea how dangerous that is?'
'And now it's all over for Bernice Summerfield!'
'This is the first time we've had you all in the studio at the same time, isn't it?' 'Apart from the script I wrote, you mean?' 'Funny enough I always forget about that one' - I had to chuckle at this.
'Would actors have red glowing eyes and look like a Killoran?' ' Tom's...method.'
Audio Landscape: Lading bay doors opening, ship descending, birds chirruping, a cow mooing, a cock crowing, the Epoch stomping about, rain falling, mobile interference, phone ringing, a door opening,
Musical Cues: Enough terrific soundtrack giving the story a good kick up the ass on occasions. The closing piece of music that builds to a dramatic and optimistic crescendo is particularly excellent. The final musical suite was gorgeous and it really feels like an end of an era...more than the story did in fact.
Standout Scene: 'Or we use the Epoch's technology one last time. Use it to find the people we've lost. Bev and Adrian. Jason' 'Antonio' 'Lara' 'Leo' 'My home...' 'There's nothing stopping us now. Nothing at all. We literally have the universe at our fingertips. So come on...one very last great big adventure! Out there...real life! What do you say?'
Result: I've heard some very dramatic things said about In Living Memory, some stating it is a fatally misjudged piece. I don't think it is anywhere near as bad as all that although it is spoilt by one very unfortunate error - there is no way this should have been the season (and potentially the series) finale or the final story of the Handcock/Russell era of the Bernice Summerfield range. If this was a mid season affair and touting the same ideas, I think it would have gone down a lot more favourably. The problem is that these two men have posed a number of mysteries that they feel have to be answered before they move on and so instead of presenting a piece of drama (much like The Curse of Fenman before it) instead we get a series of long winded explanations trying to tie up plot elements that occurred in releases three years previously. If their aim was to push the range forwards away from the complicated arc plots into more standalone territory then clearly they failed because this is precisely the sort of tidying up that Eddie Robson had to do with his superlative two parter Resurrecting the Past/Escaping the Future. Not only that but the finale is hopelessly complicated and technobabble ridden, not so much elucidation of the Epoch/triple Bernice storyline and more a ridiculously complicated way of pushing a giant reset button. It left me wondering if this storyline had been worth pursuing if this was the outcome and pondering whether the series should have simply pushed ahead with an anthology series of standalone adventures. So what did work here? For a start it is fantastic to have the entire cast working together again and as an endorsement of the actors that Handcock and Russell have brought together to front this range, In Living Memory stands proud. Where I imagine Bernice, Peter and Brax always being part of this series, I hope this isn't the last we have heard of Ruth and Jack. Especially since they do nothing of worth here beyond playing other parts. Where some found the fourth wall breaking scenes in the sound booths a chore, I thought they were a rather nice flourish. It is smug as hell with far too many in-jokes but as a piss take of the 'behind the scenes' featurettes and a puzzle within a puzzle for Bernice to try and figure out I thought it was quite imaginatively done. It is another superb opportunity for Lisa Bowerman as well, acting her heart out as multiple Benny's and doing her damndest to try and make this web of explanations make sense. To her credit, she almost succeeds while you are listening, it is only when you start to think about it afterwards that it all falls to pieces. Besides I would listen to Bowerman read a shopping list and she is given plenty of witty lines and moments to shine here. The final scene leaves the series in a state of flux and an opportunity to mould itself into whatever it wants to be. I have no idea what the Bernice Summerfield range has to offer next but needless to say that I am still head over heels in love with the character and am excited to listen to what is coming. Whilst I have some issues with the over arching storylines that they have produced (more often than not promising far more than they ever delivered) over the past five box sets, I have been impressed with the overall standard of individual adventures that have been told. I do feel that Handcock & Russell are departing just as they have hit their stride (the Missing Persons box set has had two standout classics) but it has been a fun ride with them at the helm. In Living Memory is an average conclusion to their tenure, which is a shame, and it doesn't really sum up the enjoyment they have provided along the way: 5/10
The Kraken's Lament: 8/10
The Temple of Questions: 6/10
Private Enemy No.1: 9/10
Judgement Day: 8/10
Brand Management: 7/10
Bad Habits: 9/10
Paradise Frost: 9/10
Vesuvius Falling: 9/10
Shades of Gray: 9/10
Everybody Loves Irving: 5/10
A Handful of Dust: 5/10
HMS Surprise: 8/10
The Curse of Fenman: 4/10
The Big Dig: 10/10
The Reverent's Carnival: 7/10
The Brimstone Kid: 7/10
The Winning Side: 10/10
In Living Memory: 5/10
Many Happy Returns: 10/10
Sunday, 2 March 2014
What's it about: Bernice is lost in the ruins of an alien world. Long ago, something arrived there. Something arrived and found an idyllic civilisation: a city of wonders full of artists and scientists and poets… Something came to this world and destroyed it. Wandering the ruins, Bernice tries to solve the mystery. What came to this planet? What wiped out its people? Was it a plague? An alien invasion? Bernice Summerfield explores all that remains of paradise. And she discovers the name of the creature that came and wiped it out...
Archaeological Adventuress: Trapped on a world with no supplies and barely any water, close to exhaustion and de-hydration, Bernice stumbles across the ruins of an ancient city. It is the sort of thing that under any other circumstances she would be incredibly excited. Unfortunately she cannot remember any of the events depicted in the carvings, it is almost as if it happened to somebody else. She cannot remember being the woman who destroyed the world. They called Bernice the Sky Witch because she literally fell from the heavens into their laps. It has been a while since Bernice has fallen head over heels in love with somebody on their looks alone - her role as a mother has changed her in that respect - and Theon's stunning beauty turns her head and tickles her fancy. He seems to have sent out a whole flotilla of stone masons out to depict their athletic activities - how humiliating. Theon declares Benny the most amazing woman he has ever met...and he offers her his hand in marriage. The relationship between Benny and Theon is very believably written and played, the pair of them in love but joking about her supernatural ability to crush him and destroy his city. Benny thinks she is doing the right by using the ship and it's weapons as a deterrent but forgetting that these are desperate people who will go to any lengths to destroy their enemies. She is appalled that he killed all of the retreating Garren, not even giving them a chance to surrender. Indirectly she is responsible and she knows that. In the most dramatic way you can imagine, Bernice gets to experience the Rapunzel life. Stuck at the top of a tower to 'celebrate her achievements', she is forgotten and has a birds eye view of the city going to wrack and ruin as the people of this world misuse the technology she brought with her.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'Here I am now dying of thirst first, dying of hunger with sunburn coming a poor third and I'm reading fruity postcard from a holiday romance that I can't even remember!'
'Oh drop dead!' - not the best of retorts when you are accused of being a supernatural being capable of cursing the populace.
'Take me to your bleeder!'
'The truth is there are no heroes or villains. We're all on the grubby side of in between. And sometimes our behaviour tips us one way or the other because we're striving to be better or just because we're afraid.'
'You have helped bring us to a golden age...'
'You are the only unhappy person in this world!' 'That's because you slaughtered all the unhappy people!'
Audio Landscape: Screaming wind, chatter on the streets, Bernice falling from the sky screaming, chants of 'Burn her!', birds singing, coughing, crickets humming at night, screaming, flames raging, stabbing, growls, firing the weapons on the ship, laser pistols, flames crackling, the radiation burning bright, screams of 'Free the Sky Witch!', screaming, the Epoch ship descending.
Standout Scene: Lisa Bowerman's final, powerful monologue. Unforgettable.
Result: 'You have to know how to use these things...and no-one asked me!' Stunningly good, the Russell/Handcock period of the Bernice Summerfield range delivers its strongest story as the penultimate adventure. The Winning Side is a staggeringly powerful story, beautifully written and performed and strong enough to stand up there with the other greats of this series. Bernice is trapped and alone on a world that initially appears to be like any other in this series (complete with a King to shag her and a Courtier to distrust her) which slowly and dangerously turns into a nightmare as they greedily rape the transport she arrived in of technology they are not ready for. Lisa Bowerman delivers her strongest performance for many a season (and she is always excellent) and she is backed up by a pair of awesome guest turns from Geoffrey Beevers and Hugh Skinner. Like The Big Dig, Scott Handcock proves why he is the best in the business in the directors chair, giving the story an incredible pace but allow us to take the time to savour the nuances in the script and performances. I've been singing James Goss' praises for some time now (ever since his stunning pair of companion chronicles The Scorchies and The Last Post) but this is his finest achievement to date, a script that genuinely innovates this series - not an easy thing to accomplish given it's longevity. The dialogue is sharp, the story continually surprises and it affords the actors some incredible opportunities. It is a very generous script. What else is there to say? Even if you're not sure about Bernice Summerfield and her whacky world you need to check this story out. Like Just War, Absence and Year Zero, they deserve to be ripped out of the range they are a part of and made available to a wider audience. Sublime: 10/10
Saturday, 1 March 2014
What's it about: “Welcome to the White Rabbit. What’ll it be?" “You can start by locking and bolting the doors. Then everyone in here can keep real calm…” Bernice and Irving were expecting another quiet night at the White Rabbit saloon – their only customers a veteran prospector named Toothless Bob and timid schoolteacher Miss Hannigan. But the evening takes a sinister turn with the arrival of the Brimstone Kid, a wanted outlaw, and the terrifying bounty hunter Cazador hot on his trail… Soon, Bernice and Irving find themselves caught up in an adventure involving giant, flightless crows, buried treasure and the galaxy’s most ruthless detective agency.
Archaeological Adventuress: Benny to her friends, that infernal Summerfield woman to her enemies. There isn't a university on Legion but if there were she would be a Professor. Irving likes to label Bernice as competent rather than good because the latter suggests moral fortitude.
Super Villain: One thing that this Brax has in common with his predecessor is his love of money. He can be counted on to do practically anything so long as the price is high enough. It turns out this has all been a heist to entrap a very different kind of treasure Braxiatel himself. Unfortunately they have got the wrong Braxiatel and when the crimes are laid bare (larceny, theft, vandalising a religious icon, assault, fraud, corrupting the clergy, arson, criminal damage) that becomes increasingly more obvious. The other Brax is one of the most wanted men in the galaxy.
Audio Landscape: Club music, party atmosphere, hover cars, hydraulics, footsteps on the boards, growling, computer voice, alarm, flying on the land crow, smashing a bottle, walking into a cave, an explosion that brings the 'diamond mine' down.
Isn't it Odd: The second that Miss Hannigan came into the bar I had feeling that she wasn't everything that she claimed to be. It's the nature of these Bernice Summerfield CDs that with their economic number of cast members the characters have to come packaged with surprises to justify their inclusion. Throughout I wondered if she was the real villain of the piece. It doesn't affect your enjoyment of the piece one iota to be proven right on this occasion. Cheekily, Llewellyn has Bernice point out the twist halfway through the story by mocking Cazador's wish to take a genetic swab from her to prove that she is not the Brimstone Kid because she's a woman.
Standout Scene: How bizarre to take out Legion is such a frothy story. It was location for the range to establish itself in (indeed Everybody Loves Irving spend an inordinate amount of time setting up a new base of operations for them to work from) and yet most of the stories seem to have taken place away from Legion City itself. I don't know if it is because the production team want to move on or that Big Finish want try the series in fresh hands but it feels as though the series is keen to hurry along into another format just as it was starting to establish itself nicely. A shame, I could see real potential for another couple of series set on Legion featuring Bernice, Brax, Peter, Ruth and Jack. Gary Russell and Scott Handcock have successfully rebooted the series and promoted an engaging new cast of regulars. What a pity to lose all of that so quickly.
Friday, 28 February 2014
What's it about: Bernice Summerfield has never been to Moros Prime before - and it’s unlikely she’ll be rushing back. Moros is a world of diplomacy and warfare, ruled over by a variety of creeps, dandies and outright weirdoes, where cybernetic implants are the latest fashion accessory and the native humans are ethically harvested for their organs. Peter Summerfield, however, has a job to do: heading the security team at the country estate of Willem van der Heever, the effective ruler of Moros Prime. Because Van der Heever is throwing a masquerade ball – which means fancy dress, fluorescent peacocks and an almost certain attempt on his life. Van der Heever is not without his enemies… But as Bernice and Peter uncover more about his past, whose side will they end up taking?
Archaeological Adventuress: Van de Heever has been reading up on Bernice's old papers before she turned up. He believes in being thorough and knowing the people that visit his world. When she wants to go snooping she talks herself into it. Literally. The coverage that Bernice will give on the events here will be nuanced but positive and that is the only reason she is kept alive.
Dog Boy: He is many things but normal barely begins to describe him. His newfound respect and friendship with his mother is a massive plus. As much as the dissent between them provided a moment or two of decent drama, it isn't something I would have wanted to have played out long term. Plus the chemistry between Bowerman and Grant is so strong that keeping them apart was a crime. It is lovely to hear him making digs at her, laughing with her rather than working against her. Peter's presence is something of a mystery. He's been requested to make sure that security is tight for Van de Heever's party but he already has a security team in place. Why specifically request an outside to do a job that you are already paying people to do? He is allegedly the best at his job in the quadrant, which is quite high praise to live up to. Peter's half Killoran lungs give him an advantage over the others when it comes to the gas attack.
Audio Landscape: Fastening seatbelts, door opening, birds screaming and tweeting, a shuttle coming in to land, heart monitor, trickling water, ticking clock, screams, bedlam, gas hissing, choking.
Standout Scene: Did Peter die on Moros Prime during the gas attack? Why can't Bernice remember he own son anymore? Why are people suddenly being deleted from her life?
Result: 'The King is dead...long live the King.' An interesting enough story but hampered by some economic direction that never really gave Moros Prime a sense of place. Martin Day has written a clever little piece that only requires a few characters to fill in the details of an entire world, characters who go on to shirk off their masks like those at the masquerade ball and reveal their true identities and motives. It's fantastic to have a good old fashioned Benny and Peter story but the emphasis has really changed so they both have resourceful role to play in the story, working together to pick apart the mystery of Van de Heever's past. I hope that Peter makes it into the phase of Bernice's life because the chemistry between Lisa Bowerman and Thomas Grant is very believable. We have come a long way with Peter and now he has grown up and serves as a strong participant in these adventures it would be a shame to lose him. To be frank none of the other spin off ranges have been around long enough to boast this kind of development of character. The Revenant's Carnival really comes alive in its final fifteen minutes but it is a shame that until then the soundscape is so scarce and the whole piece is so reliant on the dialogue to build the world up around us. I'm not saying that is a poor approach because audio drama relies on description to create pictures but it usually works in tandem with the soundscape to create a vivid picture of where we are. Dialogue heavy scenes can be a little wearying on their own. This is not a poor story by any means; the plot is surprising and there is another bombshell ending that is starting to build a frightening picture of the future of Bernice Summerfield. A lonely future. The execution of the first half aside, this is an intelligent little tale: 7/10
Thursday, 27 February 2014
Box Set Synopsis: When Bernice Summerfield was invited to participate in a cult archaeology broadcast on the mysterious world of Saravas, she could never have imagined the secrets she might unearth there… or the terrible Truth that would stalk her back to Legion. With friends and family by her side, Bernice quickly finds herself flung into the face of danger: either combating deranged despots at terraformed garden parties, appeasing gunslingers in the White Rabbit bar, or simply attempting to survive on a barren desert planet, all alone… The odds are stacked against her, and this is undoubtedly the end for Bernice Summerfield… but she’s determined to go out fighting!
What's it about: Bernice has been invited to appear on a very special live edition of the archaeology series Big Dig: a programme she grew up with as a girl… which now makes her feel very old. Not as old, however, as the mysterious stone robot she unwittingly uncovers during an excavation on the planet Saravas. With no other trace of civilisation, this could be the only clue to the Truth of the planet’s inhabitants. But when Ruth and Jack start acting strangely, Bernice realises there was a reason things were hidden… and secrets aren’t the only things to be buried. Welcome to the biggest Big Dig ever!
Archaeological Adventuress: Bernice has always been something of stroppy diva so you would think that reality television would be made for her. She wonders why everybody around her seems to be so young...but ponders that maybe it is because she has gotten older. She's hardly considered an A-lister, despite a rousing introductory speech by the presenter of The Big Dig. The reason that Bernice loves archaeology is because it turns you into an idiot and makes you realise you don't know the first thing about the universe. Among the accomplishments she has listed are being part of the dig that unearthed Domainia's internal moon, helping to resurrect the Five Kings of the Hobblecraft and even giving away the Blue Blood Nebulae at its wedding to the Loki meteorite! Astonishing to think that of all the adventures we have experienced with Benny, there are so many more that we haven't. Everyone has heard about Saravas, one of the great impossible digs. Nothing beats field work and it has been an age since she has had the chance. All archaeologists have an obsession of finding something that can be named after them and Bernice has finally discovered something that might qualify. That's if the idiotic reality TV presenters don't get in there first. Bernice's impressive Golonaut becomes a Rockbot in the wink of an eye. Talk about dumbing down. Bernice is not so quick to jump to the conclusion that the 'Rockbots' are an army, she's seen too much in the universe to jump to the conclusion hat every species is warlike. She refuses to flirt with her co-presenter just to bump the ratings up. She might not have much integrity but she would like to protect what little reserves she has left. Bernice takes an incredible risk waking into what appears to be blistering sunshine to prove a point but sometimes you have to bold to make your point. Shepton tries to get into Benny's head too, suggesting the only reason she knows that Jack and Ruth can't let her down is because she doesn't trust them. Big Dig is one of the reasons she got into archaeology in the first place, it is one the reasons that she is the woman that she is today.
Standout Performance: Watch how effectively Phillip Bird switches from tedious reality TV show host to dark puppet of the Epoch. It's such a vivid switch in character that for a moment I thought they were being played by different actors.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'Now you are going to make me feel very old' 'Don't worry, you're amongst archaeologists. The older the better.'
'Try harder. Since we've started digging we've lost ten million listeners.'
'I'm sorry did I miss the meeting where everyone decided I'm now a man hungry tart?' 'We had to have a meeting?'
'Technology this advanced occurs only on planets confronted by war. It's a sad truth but peace stunts imagination.'
Great Ideas: Saravas is a world which is renowned for being frustrating in almost every way. Only one rainy season per decade, no seas and an atmosphere that essentially comes and goes as it pleases, Saravas has remained unpopulated for 5000 years. What happened to its inhabitants all those years ago? They left almost nothing behind to clue up modern day archaeologists. That sounds like that sounds like a job for Professor Bernice Summerfield. I love the way this story starts off like your bog standard Bernice Summerfield adventure, another dig on another dusty old planet and how it lures you into thinking (for the first 20 minutes at least) that this is going to played out along very similar lines. The people of Saravas didn't write - it was the greatest of sins to record anything in writing. Proving that some archaeology is just guess work most of the time the arches are initially coined as temperature gauges, when the sun is visible through all three arches the planet gets roasted. Or at least that is the best guess. I understand Hamish Steele to be something of a Doctor Who fan and so I am certain he must be aware of the humiliating tale of Paul Jerricho who played the Castellan in Arc of Infinity mistaking Colin Baker for a general dogsbody and asking him to head off and fetch him some coffee. That is deliciously spoofed here with both Jack and Ruth being mistaken for members of the crew and being hopeless at whipping up a round of drinks. Don't let the idea for Celebrity Shark Jump leaked out, ITV would be all over it. Mind you I can think of a few celebrities I would like to see have a go. Showing just how blustery and overblown these reality TV shows are, The Big Dig opens with an incredible fanfare before falling into awkward silence as the scraping and brushing begins (with painful commentary). Another great gag is Bernice discovering the artefact and having to cover it over and relive the moment all over again because the microphones weren't on when she discovered it. Shepton's slow descent into villainy was very nicely handled, starting with a few offhand comments on air before he was hidden behind the scenes where he could start manipulating everybody one at a time. Benny figures that if you can control the suns, you can control the people. The 'this is the truth' sequences took the risk of becoming repetitive and predictable but the way Steele uses Shepton's manipulation of the Big Dig crew to tell us more about them was inspired. The real Saravas is a network of ancient, colossal tunnels. With the mikes still rolling, we get to experience everything first hand from Benny once the illusory Saravas is stripped away. Shepton forcing Ronnie to believe that her boyfriend is having an affair whilst she is away is horribly cruel, she is crushed by the revelation, choking up bile but forced to accept that it is the truth. The brains of Saravas are the archives of all knowledge on the planet, maintaining the truth of what has happened. An entire planet hidden away from the rest of the universe. Saravas is not a planet but a construct, a facility. One that was set up to determine the impact of truth on primitive minds. The natives of Saravas were part of an experiment, one that sought to create new types of worlds. Worlds that might be indestructible. Saravas was constructed through deceit and the Rockbots, the Epoch were the enforcers of these lies. The Epoch were the Gods of this world and then they constructed other worlds, other planets throughout the cosmos. Once they mastered other worlds they started to map out new realities, mapping and re-mapping history, time and again. All the legends of Saravas were formed by the Epoch but it was the people that believed them. The stories became the truth and it eventually reached Bernice Summerfield when she was a young girl. They knew that she would come one day so they invented the legends when she was a girl. The 150 million people listening to The Big Dig are going to start killing each other, escalating the threat even further. '150 million lives are nothing to the Epoch' - absolutely chilling. I can remember in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS that I was appalled that the knowledge that the knowledge the Doctor shared with Clara about her 'impossible girl' status was wiped. The Big Dig pulls off a similar trick by having Benny forget about all the developments she has learnt in this story. But there is a massive difference - the events in this story did take place and they do have massive ramifications for the range at large and Bernice in particular. Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS pressed a big reset button and made all the events of the story that have played out absolutely pointless. A bit like The Curse of Fenman. At the end of this story Bernice has lost her too closest friends. And she doesn't even remember. Given the title of this box set, I'm sensing a theme... Bernice was the only survivor on Saravas.
Isn't it Odd: As soon as there was a mention of giant metal men I immediately thought of the Epoch but that didn't make the escalation of their threat any less gripping. It is about damn time somebody started to connecting all the threads that began in the Epoch box set but it has been such a long stretch of stories since then you could be forgiven for having forgotten most of the information mentioned here.
Standout Scene: The gripping moment when Bernice realises that the suns are aligning sooner than anybody expected and everybody is about to get roasted alive. Live on air. Not only is this a startlingly dramatic moment but the upshot of this development is what pushes Bernice towards the truth of the function of the arches, dispelling all previous theories. The last twenty minutes are absolutely superb, the reality of the situation spilling out in the most dramatic fashion and the story transforming from one thin to something very different.
Result: Fulfilling the same remit as The Curse of Fenman by bringing the audience up to date with elements of the plot from the past, The Big Dig gets about as much right as finale of the New Frontiers set got it wrong. For a start this is a extremely strong story in its own right and one which builds up to its revelations through a plot that adds layers and layers until the bombshells are appropriate to drop and demolish the lot. The Big Dig kicks off like a standard Bernice Summerfield adventure but slowly gets darker and more twisted as it goes until the fantastic final twenty minutes when I was kept on the edge of my seat with the gripping developments. I might be in the minority but I thoroughly enjoyed the Epoch set that kicked off this period of Bernice's life and have been longing for some kind of follow up for the central menace of that story. The Big Dig re-introduces the Epoch very effectively, giving those who weren't on board four box sets ago a chance to keep up with the developments. The characters are well served as well with the regulars and guest cast coming alive vividly and all of them being manipulated in directions out of their control. Their true colours come to light when the pressure is on, allowing us to experience who they really are whilst the cameras roll on. Not only are the Epoch built up as a genuinely fearful adversary but there is a shift in Bernice's reality at the end of this story and two very important people are stolen from her life. This looks ready to be the most gripping of story arcs the range has ever attempted, as long as they can keep this momentum going. The way the whole story plays out on air and all the terrifying developments are broadcast to 150 million viewers back home is just the icing on the cake, reminding me brilliantly of Ghostwatch. Full marks, I haven't quite been this glued to my headphones by a Bernice Summerfield adventure in a long time: 10/10
Wednesday, 26 February 2014
What's it about: It’s Advent Day on Legion: a time that traditionally calls for celebration; a day spent with the people you love, when all the family come together, setting aside their differences… or when they bring old scores to settle. An old foe has been biding her time, manipulating the people and events around Bernice Summerfield for as long as any of them can remember… She knows so many secrets – the secrets they’ve all been hiding – but not everybody wants to learn the truth. Today is the day Avril Fenman comes to Legion. She comes to claim her son… and to set Bernice on her final, lonely battle. But will her friends stand by her, one last time?
Archaeological Adventuress: Beta Caprisis is Bernice's real home world but she always calls Earth her home. Her father survived and her mother was exterminated. The question of her age comes up but that is such a long story I don't think anybody should even try and go there. Brax suggests that Jack ask her himself. Imagine trying to pick apart her timeline and pinpoint an age? That would take a box set on its own. She probably has the right to be a little annoyed that her friends have been spying on her son for some time and thinking he is stark raving bananas and have completely failed to inform her. Especially when there have been ample opportunities to do so.
Mysterious Girl: Good on Ruth for no longer pussy footing around Peter and telling him outright that nobody else can see Antonio because he doesn't exist. Sometimes it takes somebody on the periphery to confront people - had Bernice tried this tactic I think it might have damaged her relationship with Peter for good. Although she has to work on her pitch a little beforehand, telling somebody that they all think he is mad isn't exactly the most delicate way of breaking the news that they have been spying on him and think his boyfriend is a figment of his imagination. Ruth is irritated by Jack's reaction to Benny thinking they are a couple. 'Dear God no!' is quite harsh, I agree. She is nervous when it comes to meeting her sons partner for the first time, someone that he loves. We finally get to see the sort of woman that Ruth was before she her mind was wiped and she wound up a priestess of Poseidon. The daughter of a corrupt despot by all accounts, a thoroughly nasty piece of work that was brought up to think of the public as lowlife scum who deserve to be subjugated. The sort of woman that would order protesters executed and run away if the tide turns and the public gains the majority vote. The thought of having to work appals her. She knew defeat when it was coming and she murdered her father when the support was against him. She figured she could at least use that act in her favour. Our Ruth is shocked by these revelations and thinks that everything she has ever known is a lie. She doesn't like who she was. Jack tells her to remember that person and make sure she is never like that again.
Dog Boy: If it makes everyone happy he will go along to the Advent celebrations that Irving is arranging, even if he cannot really be arsed. Bernice wonders what Adrian would make of Peter now he is all grown up and living his life with another man. I would really love to listen to that scene because I could imagine it might be extremely awkward in all the best ways. Back when he was existing in a forced labour camp all Peter wanted was to be able to find his mum, the only person who had always been there for her. Antonio used to tell cheap jokes about their relationship and Peter never lied it. He thought what they had was serious, something solid, something to hold onto during those dark times. Finally Benny and Peter have a chance to heal their relationship, sharing his loss of Antonio and being able to support him.
Jumping Jack Flash: He was born into a family of lawyers and insurance handlers who neglect to give a damn about what is right and focus on exploit people for every penny they are worth. Jack was different, he did care about their clients and the ethics of their business which made him a great disappointment to his father. Jack's dad has no qualms about sending his son off on a dangerous mission if it means they will obtain a wealthy client. If it all goes horribly wrong and they miss out he can always reap in the life insurance on his son. I'm not sure what I was expecting when it came to Jack's past but I certainly didn't imagine it being quite this comical.
Standout Performance: I've said it before and I'll say it again, Sean Biggerstaff has a gorgeous Scottish accent. A shame he was bumped off here, as I go on to explain later he would have made a fine (and sexy) addition to the cast. His chemistry with Thomas Grant really sells the relationship far more convincingly than the writing.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'I have two...perfectly adequate parents!'
Great Ideas: Fenman gazed backwards through time and saw everybody she needs gathered in one place and she manipulates Braxiatel into making sure that it happens. That is why Braxiatel bought Legion as his bolt hole, the planet where the staging of this grand finale will take place. The first mention of Toothless Bob who would go on to play a much more essential part in The Brimstone Kid. Antonio Tulloch was real but he died on Bastion. To wipe out the Deindum, Brax and Benny created a paradox but it went slightly wrong and reality fractured and was rebooted. After the defeat of the Deindum Peter woke up on a slaver ship with none his friends around him. We learn that Adrian and Bev are rebuilding the Maximaderas solar system after bringing down the Deindum almost single-handedly. Fenman travels and controls people through crystals, they are scattered through time and she focuses finds and inhabits them. Avril wants Peter because she considers him her son, not Bernice's. The Braxiatel Collection is now run by...other people (Irving gives us no more explanation than that). The Epoch re-mapped the solar system for their schemes.
Standout Scene: The reveal of Antonio was probably the best surprise of the box set. After spending so long trying to convince the audience that Peter is bonkers, it is a great surprise for Ruth to be able to see him too.