Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Sandman written by Simon A Forward and directed by Gary Russell


What’s it about? The Clutch is a fleet in constant motion, ships jostling for position, in an endless migration between the stars. For the Galyari, forbidden by an ancient curse from settling on a world ever again, the Clutch is home. But the curse travels with them! The Sandman, a figure of myth and folk-lore, preys on the young and old alike. He lurks in the shadows and it is death to look upon him. All too soon after the TARDIS arrives, it is evident that the Doctor and the Galyari share a dark history, and Evelyn is shocked to discover that, on the Clutch, it is her friend who is the monster. The Sandman, according to the tales, also goes by the name of the Doctor!

Softer Six: Well, hardly! This is a story, which harkens back to the spiteful, arrogant, bullying sixth Doctor we caught glimpses of during season 22…and then some! In sharp contrast with The Rapture here you have a writer who has studied his allotted Doctor and worked out a way to show new sides to him by highlighting characteristics that he is well known for. Even though the sixth Doctor is presented as a murderous, homicidal villain given the number of people he dispatched in his television era and his spiky attitude and dark humour this exaggerated portrayal is well within the realms of possibility. What I really like in The Sandman is how it shows exactly the same turn of events from Galyari history and shows just how easily they can be interpreted very differently, one has the Doctor as a monster who tore of the hides of Galyari soldiers and venomously destroyed their memory egg and the other sees him as the saviour and protector of the Couscerou driving the Galyari invasion force away. It became somewhat indicative of the new series that the Doctor would turn up, make everything better and be applauded for his efforts. The Sandman shits all over that sort of hero worship and sees the Doctor deliberately playing up his fiendish status to keep the Galyari in check and make sure they don’t encroach on other peoples territory. It’s a very sixth Doctor way of going about this and really plays up his theatrical nature.

The Doctor is drawn to dingy places. He is insatiably curious which does make him appear more than a little nosy. He’s a little overdue for his visit to the Clutch. The Doctor is a bad memory to the Clutch; the memory of him will never leave them. He passes off his materialisation in Mordecan’s hold as a navigational error but he wanted to show Evelyn the Clutch from the outside. Is he a happy accident or an occurrence waiting to happen? To some he’s the devil incarnate. Using the Doctor as a mythical villain that this race use to threaten their young is a delicious idea, terrified of the bright colours of his coat. He slips rather too easily into his accusatory, vicious Sandman role but then he has always enjoyed adopting larger than life personas. He is wonderfully theatrical as he confronts Voshkar on the battlefield, holding up dead skins and turning their memory egg to dust. He admits it is hard to maintain the illusion of a fearsome monster whilst being on the run! He beautifully describes regeneration as shedding skins and being born anew. He hopes that he is good for a spot of bedtime reading for a while yet.

Learned Lecturer: This is not one of Evelyn’s stronger stories because she is entirely eclipsed by the Doctor’s role in events. However Forward rather cleverly uses her as the audience’s reaction to the Doctor’s revelations, absolute horror. It is easy to forget that although they have enjoyed some verbal sparring Evelyn has only known the gentler sixth Doctor that kick in being in her first story, The Marian Conspiracy. To be suddenly confronted with this murdering bullyboy Doctor she is genuinely shocked and admits that she doesn’t like it. She is less confrontation than the Doctor. I love how Evelyn is still awestruck by the wonders that the Doctor shows her and it is through her eyes that we see the splendour of the Clutch. She always imagined the devil would be better dressed.

Great Ideas: The Sandman comes for children who misbehave; he tears off your hides and weaves them into his coat. The story opens strikingly on the murder of several children, not your typical Doctor Who introduction! The Clutch is a fantastic idea, like a shoal of fish, a collection of spaceships migrating across the stars consisting of freighters, mining ships, manufactories, refineries, whole vessels given over to living quarters. The visiting ships are hyperspace capable but the Galyari ships aren’t and like any sensible fleet they travel at the speed of their slowest component. An exodus on this scale is measured in generations. Nrosha’s children had their skins torn off before they had a chance to shed them. The Galyari are rather like chameleons except they have excellent eyesight. Crime is a complete anathema to them. Traffic is the governing computer and the Orchestrator is the conductor of the Clutch. They trade in weapons technology, which the Doctor has been trying to ban on his visits. We enjoy a story within a story as we slip back into the past and see just why the Doctor has got such an infamous reputation on the Clutch. Their travels has returned them to Galyar but their cities lay in ruins and their home had been overrun by vermin. Voshkar led the rebellion but they were massacred as the enemy burrowed from the ground to attack them. The Doctor emerged from the battlefield to confront Voshkar as the general causes molten lava to run through the Couscerou warrens. The Doctor informs him that his coat is made from the skins of Galyari dead. The Shouskobra, a race memory egg, a living repository and biological databank of each colony they seed, is destroyed. It turns out that the Galyari have seeded (read: invaded) many worlds and have rather unimaginably called them all Galyar! The Doctor willingly terrified the Galyari to give them a chance to leave in peace, sacrificing his good name to stop any more murders. He destroyed the Shouskobra because they didn’t belong on this planet. Nrosha is torn to pieces by Voshkar, who is still alive after all this time, mutated into a sickly and homicidal monster. He is The Sandman who has been killing the young, using their skins to build a new Shouskobra. The Doctor uses the birds from the aviary to give him his just desserts, he is pecked to death.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘So you see Evelyn, I am every bit the monster they perceive me to be…’
‘The Clutch will serve no longer as an intergalactic marketplace! I will forge it into a battle fleet!’


Standout Performance: I have always adored the most sadistic side to the sixth Doctor, dishing out a punishment his villains truly deserve and so Colin Baker’s theatrical turn as The Sandman had me grinning from ear to ear. ‘To look upon me directly is death!’ he declares malevolently. It is over the top but deliberately so and it’s just a little bit chilling with it. Ian Hogg would be a close second, he spits and growls and gives a full-bodied performance as Voshkar.

Audio Landscape: The Sandman once again shows off the skill of the Big Finish directors and sound engineers. Forward has written an alien environment in every sense of the word and Gary Russell never shies away from the exotic, unfamiliar feel of the location. The opening scenes see the growling terror of the Sandman as he murders Nrosha’s young. I love the intercom squeak and the growl of the Orchestrator’s gliding chair. We get to experience the splendour of the shifting ships of the Clutch. When the Doctor and Evelyn step onto the factory ship they surrounded by noises, a growling, echoing space, a busy way station. Heavy gunfire signals Voshkar’s military campaign followed by the cheers of the crowd, the rain boiling on the rocks and the enemy bursting from the ground. There is a terrific sequence where the Doctor and Evelyn are split up either side of an airlock. The scenes in the aviary are overpowering with birdsong. Activity abounds in the Warrens, a mezzanine of social activity. Voshkar runs into the aviary and is attacked by the birds, a truly terrifying death.

Musical Cues: Russell Stone has been the most consistently excellent musician and he does not disappoint in The Sandman. The score is magical as Evelyn is revealed the wonder of the Clutch. There is an epic sweep to the music of the first episode that matches the majestic feel of the writing. Stone offers a driving, forceful electric guitar score as the Doctor confronts Voshkar on the battlefield.

Standout Moment: The end of episode one is like a slap in the face as the Doctor reveals himself to be the villain of repute.

Isn’t that Odd: The cliffhanger reprise in episode three is cheat revealing a line (‘Time we were going!’) that wasn’t in the previous episode. The cliffhanger to episode three is confused and poorly directed, I would have closed this episode with the far stronger and simpler revelation that Voshkar was still alive.

Result: Much like Simon A. Forward’s novels this is a dense and fascinating piece of storytelling, which is triumphantly brought to life by Gary Russell. Each episode is very different to the last; episode one introduces the Clutch, two explores the idea of the Doctor as a villain, three is an exciting hunt and four draws everything to a satisfying close. The Galyari are definitely one of the more interesting original species that Big Finish created and the Clutch is marvellously conceived. Any story that allows Colin Baker to justifiably overact with such delicious villainy is okay in my book but if I did have a complaint it would be that the story sidelines Evelyn too much and the last episode gets bogged down in alien science that baffled me. This story wont be to everyone’s tastes because it is quite ‘out there’ in terms of its content but to step out of your life for an hour and a half and immerse yourself in an alien culture you can do no better: 8/10


Artwork by Simon Hodges @ http://hisi79.deviantart.com/

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