Saturday, 9 April 2011

The Relics of Jegg-Sau written by Stephen Cole and directed by Edward Salt

What’s it about: The colonists knew the risks about Jegg-Sau. With a flimsy atmosphere, no mineral wealth and exhausted soil, only the strongest and most determined could hope to make a home there. But with nowhere else to go, they went ahead, allegedly funded by a stock of valuable relics and art treasures stolen from Earth. But the colony failed. Jegg-Sau was deserted once more, a home only to carrion and rusted dreams. But Bernice Summerfield believes the relics remained, and she's come a long, long way in search of them. What she'll find is that others have reached Jegg-Sau before her. She'll find herself cat's-paw in a dark outpost of frailty and obsession. And she'll find the robots

Archaeological Adventuress: Lisa Bowerman is particularly good in this story, giving the material some real sincerity. The scene where Benny has to convince herself that the people in front of her robots and therefore not real really packs a punch, she cuts the fake Caldwell in two with a Samurai sword with a deafening growl. There is a definite feeling this feeling of getting Benny back out there into the universe, having adventures with much less emphasis on her domestic life. The Robot is her guilty conscience since she cannot lie to it and it will cause her pain if she answers with facetiousness – Benny’s nightmare interrogation! You go on a journey with Benny as she sifts away all the details of the Professor and his daughter’s lifestyle that don’t make sense. She felt a child’s sense of injustice of coming all this way and practically stumbling onto the treasures she wasn’t allowed inside the shelter to see them for herself, to have her own quiet little gloat.

Standout Performance: As ever Big Finish’s attention to detail is extraordinary and they have managed to persuade Michael Kilgariff to come back and voice the Robot once more. Katherine Holme deserves some kudos for imbuing Elise with a childlike menace even when she is being as nice as pie. When she psychotically turns on Bernice for killing her father screaming ‘there’s glass in my face!’ I was terrified for our hero.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Its so big! You could fit a man inside there!’
‘They were quite the most civilised lunatics I have ever met. Almost pathologically polite.’
‘Human greed is ultimately non-productive.’
‘Benny Summerfield digitally remastered. All offending material cut out to please the censors.’
‘Make the blood stop father…’ ‘
Poor sick stupid machines!’

Great Ideas: Stephen Cole cleverly hooks the listener by opening the story with a series of memories being probed from Bernice’s mind to add some substance and backstory to the tale. Jegg-Sau is an old Earth colony world that they abandoned because their bargain basement terraforming ruined the soil within ten years but they left something behind. Treasures that they would reclaim as soon as they had clearance from Earth central to colonise another world. Has Caldwell conditioned his daughter to embrace this backwards lifestyle? It transpires that Caldwell and Elise are both automatons, constructs of the Robot. The real Caldwell was a failed writer and had been researching his past and found himself to be a descendant of Professor Kettlewell, the man who designed and built the experimental prototype, K1. Caldwell had a mad dream of restoring his ancestors standing in scientific circles, to benefit himself of course. He discovered that one of the Robot’s was amongst the treasures on Jegg-Sau and convinced his brother to bring him here with a promise of a share of the treasures. The Colonists discovered that the Robot could build others like himself with raw materials; they cut up the wreckage of Caldwell’s shuttle with their pincers and used the metal to create more Robots. They are alive; it’s a living metal that powers the Robots. Faceless corporations moved in and developed Kettlewell’s work (Torchwood? The Forge?) for themselves, creating more Robots from the living metal. The irony is that the treasures were ruined all along. The Robots knew they were important to the colonists but they had no sense of how to preserve them. The story ends as imaginatively as it began with Benny’s voice crackling through the radio begging fighters to call off the attack as they will destroy the Robots, the one treasure to survive this whole sorry mess.

Audio Landscape: The story drags you in with a scene from Bernice’s POV as she wakes from a terrible accident, water runs constantly behind Benny during her interrogation scenes, the surface of Jegg-Sau is a wind swept wasteland, the Robot’s walk is accompanied by a mechanical twinge of the limbs, the whistling alarm of the Robot in attack stance, the shuttle explodes and rubble collapses, crackling flames, heart monitor, red cross jets screaming through the atmosphere of Jegg-Sau, Elise powers down slowly in her fathers arms, as crazy as the scene might be the rockets firing beams at the Giant Robot is pretty cool.

Musical Cues: David Darlington pleasingly adds in some of the Robot’s original Dudley Simpson theme. During the dialogue scenes there is a psychedelic style of music that sounds like they are swimming about in a glass of champagne, bubbles bursting all around them.

Isn’t it Odd: I can understand the temptation to bring back old monsters to try and lure Doctor Who fans into this range but now the A-listers (Daleks, Draconians, Ice Warriors) and the B-listers (Sea Devils, Rutans) all spent, Big Finish original aliens the Galyari pleasingly given some more coverage and with a big Cyberman confrontation to come at the end of the next season we are left with…the Giant Robot! Its stretching the definition of the term returning monster to its absolute limit, of all the creatures they could have used this is the least likely and yet the oddest thing of all is that somehow, somehow they manage to make it plausible! There is a deeply embarrassing scene in this story where Benny has to explain the purpose of a sex droid called Pickup Misty to the Robot that is entirely out of place – given the gravity of the first 40 minutes of the piece it comes as a disappointment to see such a lurid scene dropped in. Did they really have to make the Robot giant? Like that’s something that happens all the time!

Standout Scene: There is something achingly poignant and very disturbing about the Robots desperately wanting the colonists to return for them and seizing the first visitors to the planet and improving them. They almost sound like abandoned children when they talk of being left behind. They are programmed to maintain human life and so they corrected the human Elise in the only way they know how, killing her and creating a mechanical version. Co-existence with these creatures is impossible because they think like machines, not in human terms and snuffing out a life is like turning off a light switch. Some very interesting personification of the creatures by Steve Cole. The scene where Benny stabs Caldwell only to discover that he is a cyborg and not a robot is unforgettably graphic, instead of seeing wires and pistons she is greeted with a whole lot of blood…

Result: How on earth did Steve Cole pitch this story to Gary Russell? Bernice Summerfield takes on…the Giant Robot! What’s weird is this turns out to be a surprisingly gripping drama which plausibly re-introduces the creatures and even manages to explore them with some astonishing emotion. The script affords Ed Salt to show off his most imaginative direction yet, opening and closing in real style and plenty of action and emotion to inject into the story. It cannot be over emphasised how much realism Lisa Bowerman brings to these stories and without her faultless performance this adventure might not have worked at all, least of all as well as it does. There were a few moments I could have done without (mentioned above) but they are more than balanced by some very uncomfortable moments of drama and the thoughtful tone the story maintains. Goodness knows how The Relics of Jegg-Sau was made but I’m very pleased that it was: 8/10

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