Wednesday, 26 January 2011
Unregenerate! Written by David A. McIntee and directed by John Ainsworth (can it be true? Not Gary Russell?)
What’s it about: In a run-down asylum, screams echo in the halls as mysterious creatures roam, terrorizing the staff. Patients complain of betrayal rather than illness, and no-one is quite what they seem. Mel knows that the Doctor is the best person to find the answers – but she is stranded on Earth, and the TARDIS has returned without him... Why does a medical facility need to be under armed guard? What procedures are the staff carrying out, and to what purpose? What is the price that must be paid for making an agreement with those who run the asylum? As the answers begin to be uncovered, the Doctor finds that the past may yet come back to haunt him...
The Real McCoy: Unregenerate might be the very reason that the 7th Doctor gets a bad reputation in the audios which is only just being rectified. He spends the first three episodes of this story raving like a complete loony (how on Earth would we be able to tell the difference?). He’s gabbling cod mental dialogue like ‘came and went! Gathering knowledge! Explored! Exploring is gooood! Bibblebobbleboo!’ McCoy dribbles out his dialogue like thick snot and it is uncomfortably embarrassing to endure. ‘Wherever you lay my hat! This is my hat! There! I’ve laid it!’ The list of crimes against his name are endless; terrorist, overthrowing legitimate governments, genocide, theft, assault, kidnapping – its enough to make underworld scum envious! He has recently regenerated and there is mention of the events of Time and the Rani. He’s not a medical man, really. ‘Is that meeee? Am I inside out? Or am I the apple?’ The Doctor and impossibility go together like cats and creosote. He is much more fun as the Doctor we know and love, I really enjoyed his ‘ha ha fooled you!’ hologram in the TARDIS! Come episode two McCoy’s gibbering was giving me a headache and his screaming fit (‘FRREEEEEE MEEEEEEEEE!’) is probably (The Rapture withstanding) the worst we have ever heard McCoy act. This is a note to future writes of Sylvester McCoy stories…do not give him the chance to overact under any circumstances. ‘Oh to feel the hard radiation! The solar winds brushing across me!’ he croons like some science fiction porn star. The idea of the seventh Doctor going mad because of his regeneration is intriguing but impossible considering all that was tied up in Time and the Rani. He’s disappointed that Klyst hasn’t heard of him because he has certainly heard of her. Considers himself from lots of places but originally Gallifrey. ‘Those were living beings!’ gurns McCoy and this is him acting normally…I can’t tell any difference between this and the gimp Doctor! The Doctor suddenly goes off on a rant about how Klyst could get more subjects, stealing them and breeding them, when she has not suggested either – has he really lost his mind? If he genuinely went loopy because he was fiddling about with some circuitry then he has really lost his touch!
Generous Ginge: Mel on the other hand is a different kettle of fish. Its such a shame that her last handful of stories haven’t been great because Bonnie Langford has really got the hang of the character and should be able to impress in stories of the calibre of The Fires of Vulcan and The One Doctor again. Mel is disgusted that the future news contains nothing but footballers haircuts and who won Big Brother! Her relationship with the taxi driver is an unusual one but it works a treat, she doesn’t even learn what his name is and he comes to protect her from harm at every corner. She feeds him lies that he sees right through and she manages to persuade him that she travels around in time and space in a police box just by her honesty. He is an ex bouncer that did debt collecting on the side, this is what Pex should have been in Paradise Towers. Mel bribes him to hang with her. Mel had read the entire Sherlock Holmes canon by the age of nine. Listening to her explore the hospital and comparing it to her pantomime exploration of Paradise Towers shows you how much Langford has grown as an actress. She doesn’t believe in ghosts. She points out that the Time Lords shouldn’t be interfering, that was why they put the Doctor on trial in the first place. Mel is getting the hang of the galactic saviour bit.
Standout Performance: After William Russell and Deborah Watling we have another old companion joining in the audio fun, this time its Jennie Linden from the original Peter Cushing movie. Not quite as good as Russell but miles better than Watling, she plays Klyst with the real degree of gravitas.
Great Ideas: The TARDIS materialises to pick up Mel without the Doctor the helm, what is going on? The first episode introduces an intriguing bargain; Louis appears and promises that he can make Johannes’ life a good one if he agrees to come with him t
he day before he dies. He agrees and we cut to the future when Louis has come to collect him, telling him he has had 50 years to prepare for this moment. Mel and the cabbie investigate the Klyst Institute only to discover it doesn’t have a door, just a fake moulded into the wall. The whole building is a hollow fake. The Felegran are a compound species, six beings that can exist as one. The Institute is in space, floating on an asteroid. They have been implanting complex artificial intelligences into people, overwriting the original host. As far as time is concerned all these people have died. The Doctor got involved by overhearing the deal between Louis and Felegran and followed him when he was taken. Louie turns out to be a Time Lord. The sentience grafted onto the Doctor was spread amongst him and Shohkra and so it didn’t override their minds. It was struggling for control of his body, which kept his mind tied up in knots. I loved the scenes of Johannes talking to the TARDIS; it felt very much like the more exciting ideas that were bandied about during the Time War arc of the EDAs. Planting TARDIS minds into people, the Time Lords experimenting on lesser species is like torturing infants. Only a third of the people asked accept the bargain. The High Council foresee a time when the space time continuum is packed to bursting point with time travel developed by less responsible races. They are creating time sensitives so that if these races ever becomes a threat they find their time travel ability gone. Creating a race of puppet pilots whose strings can be cut as and when the Time Lords choose. The Doctor’s TARDIS has lots of new ideas she can teach the pilots that she has picked up from the Doctor. They bond the sentience to the Institute and Yohannes and Klyst are a new race of pilots who go on the run from the Time Lords.
Audio Landscape: Showing that Gary Russell must have been suffering from audio fatigue, episode one of Unregenerate! is the most atmospheric piece we have heard for a while with some very realistic soundscapes (from cafes to mental asylums) with the radio broadcasts cleverly suggesting the different years the scenes are set in and bridging the scenes. Terrifying screams of madness, a trolley squeaking, birdsong, groovy music, a growling taxi engine, rattling in the walls, doorbell, doors bolting during the lockdown, crickets singing at night, the creepiest echoing footsteps, the overlapping voices of Shohkra (you can hear McCoy in there), pressure blowing from the airlock, alarms, regeneration…John Ainsworth always gives 100% in his direction and this story is no different.
Isn’t it Odd: McIntee deliberately complicates an already complicated story by constructing a non-linear narrative that begins halfway through the story and flashbacks to how they got there in episode three. Whilst it does all come together satisfactorily I have to question the logic of compiling confusion on a story laden with technobabble and scientific ideas. It’s a real shame that after episode one’s down to earth atmosphere that we head into space for the usual sort of running about. Rigan is the worst guest character of the last handful of stories and that includes both Auntie and Baiame (both of which were dreadful). She gets ridiculous dialogue like ‘we’ve searched every crevice!’ and ‘shoot to maim!’, she is irritatingly trigger happy and shoots her friend dead and then she tries to commit mutiny because ‘you don’t have good management skills!’ Worst of all were her unconvincing bullying techniques: ‘You’re a brave little girl, aren’t you?’ Finally she declares that she wants to execute everybody! I don’t know where this character is coming from but she ends up all over the pace and Gail Clayton’s performance doesn’t help matters at all. Oddly at the conclusion Klyst decides to throw away all her research and become a TARDIS herself with very little persuasion – it’s like the Master’s turnaround in Terror of the Autons! I would mention McCoy but I’m starting to sound like a broken record.
Result: Unregenerate! is cluttered full of far too many ideas, all of which are pretty good but are competing for attention in a confused narrative. A shame because episode one is the finest we have had for a while, its well paced, intriguing and once again features a Melanie Bush that kicks ass. As soon as we head off to the Institute things derail, the plot comes in massive gulps of information intersped with lots of running around pointlessly. Sylvester McCoy gives the worst performance of any Doctor in this story and I defy anybody to try and defend his gonzo characterisation. The idea of planting TARDISes into people is great but it’s a shame we have to wait so long to get to it leaving little time to explore the idea. Extra points for the coolest cabbie in town: 6/10
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/70-Doctor-Who-Unregenerate!!