Tuesday, 3 May 2011

I.D. written by Eddie Robson and directed by John Ainsworth (with four stories in a row under his belt is this the new Gary Russell?)


What’s it about: In the 32nd Century, the Doctor finds himself on a planet piled high with discarded computer technology. Picking over these remains are an army of Scandroids, a collection of unsavoury, illegal Data Pirates and a team of researchers from the mysterious Lonway Clinic. This is a world of organic-digital transfer and 'personality surgery' which the Doctor finds disturbing enough, until something far more deadly starts to emerge.

Softer Six: Only the second story in nearly 100 releases that sees the sixth Doctor travelling alone – Excelis Rising is the only other I can think of. Of course it isn’t long before he finds a pretty girl by his side and Baker and Sara Griffiths enjoy a pleasing, fractious relationship. ‘Hello!’ he screams as he leaves the TARDIS announcing his presence in the most melodramatic of ways before being apprehended by a Scandroid, surely record time for the Doctor! He is not a moron, he insists! He’s never claimed to be anyone he’s not. What an appalling waste of resources says the Doctor of Obsolete City. The unexplained is his speciality and whilst he’s looking for the TARDIS he wants to help as well. Criminal and obscene is how the Doctor views personality therapy, although he is used to the idea of personality alteration! He’d forgotten what a decadent era this was. He finds in moments of breaking bad news he breaks out into verse! He hates liquid hardware and wishes this time period would rethink their special needs policy. He’s not the sort of fellow who skips out when the going gets tough and he doesn’t want a reward for his help! ‘When did you take charge?’ ‘A while ago, didn’t you notice?’ he answers. I loved his philosophical stance on personality surgery, condemning the research because it allows people to improve themselves with none of the effort that makes it worthwhile. Unleashing their hate and aggression and ugliness and allowing that to consume them. He likes having something to look forward to like a really good argument! He likens the infection of Kendal’s personality to that of a spreading of a disease. The Doctor doesn’t have many rules but one of them is that he wont create one monsters to destroy another and he wont sacrifice a human life to do so. Sometimes all you need is the eye of a talented amateur which is exactly what he is! Claudia asks him if he is capable of doing so much why isn’t he insanely rich to which he responds there are plenty of things that he can do that he chooses not to.

Standout Performance: Its interesting to see Sara Griffiths playing a new role in Doctor Who especially one that is so far removed from Ray in Delta and the Bannermen. It is fascinating to see that Griffiths sounds very comfortable on audio, far more comfortable than Sophie Aldred usually does and it does make me wonder how she would have fared as a companion.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We don’t need to understand them to sell them anymore than we need to understand you to sell you.’
‘Death is never a footnote!’
‘Couldn’t we have given it a personality with a slightly smaller ego? Even mine would have done!’

Great Ideas: A story full of insidiously clever futuristic concepts that will leave you wanting to turn off your computer and return to the Stone Age! Obsolete City was supposed to be part of a recycling project that fell through decades ago, the authorities tried to keep quiet about its failiure. Floating homes house data pirates, holding private sector licences trading for appearances but secretly stealing the data from the technology that has been dumped here. The Lonway clinic specialises in personality therapy, artificially changing how people behave and they steal peoples personal data from this scrap yard in space to implant. Stealing peoples identities. Most clients just want to change a part of themselves that they aren’t happy with but for a price you can take on someone else complete personality. Its never been legal. The Scandroids are just trying to deliver the data as instructed by the data itself is the killer. This is a time period when your mother can be killed and your first thought is how much money you can exploit from it. The data feeds itself into your brain and gets straight to work but it doesn’t just change your mind. A programme to find the nearest brain pattern and replace it with Dr Zachary Kendal – in this case it was Tevez. A pioneer of personality surgery with no moral scruples. The volunteers in Kendal’s obscene research were all equipped with a suicide implant beforehand. There is a wonderful sequence where two versions of Kendal, one in the Scandroid and one in Tevez and neither the original, have a psychological debate over which one of them is the real thing. Robots can’t deal with the way a human personality fluctuates. Gabe infects Tevez with the virus whilst Kendal is still inside her head and the two start to battle it out for supremacy over her mind. The creator and the virus fighting it out inside someone else mind. When Claudia says she wants to stay behind to destroy Kendal’s work I didn’t believe her for a second – more likely she would want to exploit it for profit.

Audio Landscape: Fabulous old style Cylon-esque voices for the Scandroids, hydraulic limbs, laser beam, a discreet atmospheric breeze, the thrumming engine of the scooter floating across Obsolete City, big, clunking Scandroid footsteps, Marriot becoming technology, his voice modulating into a mechanical drawl, the Scandroids knocking the stuffing out of each other,

Musical Cues: Steve Foxon is always good value for money and he laces the story with a pleasing futuristic theme that feels both pacy and exciting.

Isn’t it Odd: Despite a decent location and the sixth Doctor on fine form the first episode feels like a retread of Robots of Death with the Scandroids on the rampage and the first cliffhanger feels very Trial of a Timelord with the Doctor screaming in that high pitch Colin Baker scream (you can almost see the dramatic zoom in on his face!).

Standout Scene: Basically the entire second and third episodes are great, once the introductory dullness is out of the way and we can start exploiting the wealth of imagination such a technocratic society can provide.

Notes: This was a very techno junkie time for Big Finish with Nocturne, I.D and Exotron all featuring prominent robots that feature on the covers. This is easily the best cover of the three with the Scandroids making an impressive robotic nightmare reaching out to grab the audience. ‘The human resources costs is already too high!’ shouts one character reminding us of Robson’s recent success in the eighth Doctor range.

Result: A technophobic nightmare, I.D. starts as a traditional Doctor Who adventure but evolves into a gripping little science fiction thriller packed with some terrifying industrial concepts. I really appreciated that Robson stuck to his guns within this decadent and pampered time period and pretty much characterised the story with unlikables from exploit-your-mothers-death Gabe to out-for-herself Claudia, making the villainous Kendal a tree in a forest full of nasties. This also has a knock on effect of making the colourful sixth Doctor more charming than ever. As a three parter the pace is brisk and exciting and a lot of the padding that usually drags down these audio productions is cut away. I.D. is not a work of genius, it lacks humour and told in real time means we really don’t get to know that characters as well as we could because they are always reacting but this is a superb exercise in world building and an engaging action adventure: 8/10

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Urgent Calls written by Eddie Robson and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: Earth, 1974. An innocent phone call. Okay, it was a wrong number, but there can't be any harm in that. Can there?

Softer Six: He has rather too much intrigue in his life at times. He feels he has to get across how serious matters are. By doing so he saved Lauren’s life. The Doctor is the only person that Lauren can talk to, the one who will believe her. When asked what the odds are that they should have two accidental phone calls together the Doctor starts working out the odds. Picking up other peoples phones seems to be a compulsion with him! If he kept in touch with every person he saved he would never get anything done – it’s a bit like that when you’re a Doctor. Lauren develops a morbid curiosity for what could have happened to her if the Doctor hadn’t intervened for which she blames him. A change of scene usually works for him, in fact he always seems to be doing it. The Doctor is a great believer in luck and thinks the harder you work at it the more he has. He can go on holiday anywhere he likes but seems touched by Lauren’s admission that she would like to take him away on the holiday he helped her to win. It is his policy to stop cultures from keeping technology that is too sophisticated that they can handle.

Standout Performance: Once again Colin Baker shows his mettle in the audio, this time mastering the two hander. Kate Brown is so incredibly normal as Lauren she really impressed me, its just like you or I being trapped within this crazy adventure. I loved her assertion that the Doctor really doesn’t go in for small talk or even ask how she is each time they speak and that people might be more willing to help him if he were a bit nicer to them!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Whatever I think is right’ says the Doctor when Lauren asks what he does.

Great Ideas: The skin around Lauren’s fingertips is cracking and swollen and the Doctor orders her to hospital. She was asked to sign the Official Secrets Act after she was operated on. A metal worm had been hugging onto her spine, making her unwell. Both of the times they spoke on the phone was at a time when Lauren needed and wanted to talk to the Doctor. A sophisticated bio engineered virus transmitted through telephone which causes you to dial wrong numbers and co-incidences so that the person you call is a person you can help or someone who can help you and you pass it on to them and so on until it reaches the end of its lifespan. Incredibly versatile, adapting to the way humans communicate. As a result of the virus Lauren has won a holiday, found an old friend and had her life saved. If the virus was turned into a deadly weapon you could assassinate somebody just by phoning them up.

Audio Landscape: Ring tone, traffic in the distance, chatter at the telephone exchange, old fashioned dailing pad, radio programme, party atmosphere.

Isn’t it Odd: To say that I wasn’t convinced by this new format is something of a dramatic understatement. Don’t get me wrong I like the idea of three part Doctor Who stories – after all those Gary Russell produced stories that bulged under the weight of too much padding (imagine if Zagreus had only been three 25 minute episodes - bliss!) it is lovely to be able to enjoy some Doctor where the story takes priority and the fat is cut away. But one parters? Surely 25 minutes isn’t long enough to tell a decent story in! Colour me impressed when their very first attempt at this odd new formula turns out to be a totally success! I’m still glad they didn’t stick with this formula though because they have managed to sort out a lot of the padding problems with the four part stories and embarked on a very satisfying trilogy format instead which has revolutionised the audio format for Big Finish.

Standout Scene: Lauren’s ponderings on how people can go about their daily lives knowing that there are aliens out there is very thoughtful. Her admission that she is more bored within her daily life knowing that is the case was a startlingly quiet but wonderful observation. Its how I feel sometimes when people turn their backs on imaginative storytelling and inventive ideas – my life feels enriched by imaginative possibilities and sometimes I wonder how people can go about their daily lives turning their backs on the creative, the artistic and the inspired.

Notes: As the Doctor and Lauren’s relationship builds we get to snippets of information about what the Doctor is up to in various adventures including passing a random call box, answering the phone in someone else’s office and winding up in jail!

Result: Astonishingly good, I have almost written as much about this one part little gem as I did about the three part thriller it shares the case with. The relationship that develops between the Doctor and Lauren is delightfully appealing and ultimately upsetting and I have rarely seen a writer handle the concept of a character getting in touch with the Doctor and having their life transformed for the better quite this beautifully and simply. The strength of the performances and the writing means that the ending feels abrupt and you yearn to hear more from this couple but the idea of Lauren posting a letter simply addressed ‘the Doctor’ and assuming he will get it is a touching final sentiment. She’s let wonder and absurdity into her life and well never look at things in the same way again: 9/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/94-Doctor-Who-ID

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