Monday, 20 June 2011

The Condemned written by Eddie Robson and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: "Dr John Smith – you’re under arrest. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court..." Manchester, 2008. The TARDIS lands inside a run-down tower block, beside a dead body – which leads to some awkward questions when the Doctor is found there by the police. Made the prime suspect, how can the Doctor prove to the no-nonsense DI Patricia Menzies that this is not the open-and-shut case it seems, and that she’s actually investigating the death of an alien? Higher up in Ackley House, a girl named Maxine watches the Doctor being taken away in a squad car. Someone wants her to find out what happened in that room, and isn’t going to be happy if she doesn’t come up with the goods. But she’s got hold of someone who knows – someone very important to the Doctor. A deadly conspiracy is at work – one whose effects will be felt far beyond the walls of Ackley House

Softer Six: You would imagine that the similarly pitched, middle class tones of Colin Baker and India Fisher would grate as they join forces but nothing could be further from the truth. Put simply they are a superb team with instant chemistry and a massive unresolved plot device fuelling every moment together and making them far more interesting a combination than any other Big Finish Doctor/companion pairing. Another thing that really works and shouldn’t is how easily the colourful and gaudy sixth Doctor slips into CSI Manchester mode and fits into the world of the criminal underground and police investigations. With his acerbic wit on full power and his deductive reasoning shining he proves more than a match for Manchester’s finest. The relationship between the Doctor and DI Menzies is another one of those chance encounters that clicks into place instantly and she is booked in for a return appearance (yay!) as soon as possible.

He hadn’t realised that dimensionally transcendental time machines disguised as police boxes were quite so commonplace. He is trying to gather up as much intelligence about Charley as possibly and he notices her slips of the tongue, her period dialect and her clear knowledge of the TARDIS. The Doctor has a way with cats…or cats have a way with him (the latter is probably far more accurate). He should take this as a note to himself, when there are armed police surrounding a tower block don’t go out on the balcony waving your arms screaming ‘HELLO!’ He genuinely believes he can bluff his way out of anything but when faced with the stony face of DI Menzies he realises that his appearance at the crime does look highly suspicious and so leaks her the information that her corpse is in fact an alien. Menzies believes him simply on the evidence that he is assured when he talks about the extraterrestrial. In a moment of wonderful insanity the Doctor uses the DNA splicer to become the murder victim and puts on a horrendous northern accent (‘I think I must have misjudged me medication!’). He always likes to work in an unofficial capacity. The Doctor’s embarrassed cough when Aldrich says he is as human as they are is lovely. We finally see the effect if the Doctor takes aspirin and he scoffs a whole chocolate bar to counteract the effects (well he does like the hazelnuts). Clearly a man of the eighties, when asked if he has a mobile the Doctor replies ‘good grief, no!’ When Charley asks him to trust her he steps back and lets her do her thing. There’s no weapon he enjoys more than one that destroys itself! One way or another Charlotte presents a mystery to be solved…

Edwardian Adventuress: The greatest strength that breeds from Charley hopping Doctor’s is that she is her own person now with far too much experience at this time travel lark to be holding onto his arm and going ‘what’s that Doctor?’ She can think on her feet, she’s brave and inquisitive…she’s a kick ass character that has finally been let off the leash. I love the sense of desperation in her character from now on as she tries to give the Doctor enough titbits to keep him happy but not enough to force her to tell him the truth and have him kick her out. Imagine being so happy to find the Doctor alive after watching him die but not be able to tell him and poor old Charley has to feign ignorance that (gosh wow) she’s been rescued by a time machine! She has been travelling with the Doctor for so long now she knows the TARDIS inside out no matter what it looks like and she has to stop herself from doing things that come naturally to her like turning on the scanner and opening the doors. It’s a wonderful new take on her character that is going to be great fun to explore. When she was a girl she had to go to London or make her own Indian but nowadays you can just pop down the shops at night. Charley saw the Doctor die and she knows that if he survived he would never stop looking for her (not knowing that he found her note that said she wanted to leave him). It’s an insanely cruel twist of fate for the character. Charley believes she is talking with a fellow prisoner in the tower block over the phone and gets all of her problems off her chest in an extended therapy session. When asked why she doesn’t just tell the Doctor the truth she answers ‘to say its not that simple is a colossal understatement.’ Charley, held hostage, hears the TARDIS dematerialise and thinks that the Doctor has left her behind and rather than overreact she figures she will just have to look after herself. Wey-hey, when her handcuffs crumble Charley kicks the crap out of Maxine and locks her up! She’s had enough time to think up a cover story that skips over awkward questions…amnesia! Oh Charley that’s the oldest trick in the book!

DI Awesome: Anna Hope returns to Doctor Who in a completely different role to the one she played in the New Series (Novice Hame from New Earth and Gridlock) and aces the cynical, hard-hitting role of DI Patricia Menzies. Her wit is so dry you will need a drink before the story is over. Ugh, that line even made me groan. She has an answer to every one of the Doctor’s excuses (my favourite being ‘You don’t exactly look like a cat burglar!’) and is so pleased that this is the one week the security cameras weren’t bricked in. We’ve had tough female authority figures before in Doctor Who but Menzies is the first gritty salt-of-the-Earth police Inspector that feels like the real thing. Any other Inspector would be accused of having an overactive imagination but Menzies doesn’t have an imagination. Even when the Doctor embarrasses the hell out of her she still wants to work with him to find out what is going on. She finds it worrying easy to get used to all this talk of aliens. At the end of this eye opening adventure she wearily states that although this has changed her whole perspective on life she still has to go back to the station and fill out all the paperwork and find adequate explanations!

Standout Performance: Colin Baker. India Fisher. Anna Hope. All on top form. Despite some strong attempts the stories around this don’t have a hope.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘They should just come out here! There’s lots of things going on!’ – Charley sums the story up very well.
‘Don’t leave me down here in the dark!’
‘Ghosts have reconnected your phone?’
‘He is the darkness.’
‘I killed someone for you. You don’t know how that changes you. Kill someone for me and we’re even.’

Great Ideas: Hilariously the Doctor mentions it is a relief to not hear the usual ‘its bigger on the inside than the outside’ spiel but of course Charley is used to a TARDIS that is much larger and says so. The Doctor picked up her distress call. A DNA patch rewrites and stabilises your DNA and can make you look like whatever you want. Aldrich helped patch up one alien and after a good recommendation from his client soon became the Doctor of choice on Earth for all visiting aliens. Aliens that breathe water that have been drowned in air! The scene where Charley is inside the broken lift where Sam suggests he might be able to…and then it starts working again says everything you need to know about his character. Antonia was having an affair with Sam who went into the building to murder her husband but he never came out again. When Sam opened the briefcase he was absorbed into the building. It’s a form radiation that changes the state of whoever comes into contact with it and allows them to permeate their environment. He has been causing the murders ever since, as the darkness. Greg was never involved in any abductions, Antonia lied about that because they don’t do divorce where they come from and she wanted Sam to put her husband out of the way. Nobody wants to work the high-risk planets like Earth and one of the incentives is that the government will arrange a huge insurance pay out if there are any accidents – Antonia wanted to pocket the dosh after Greg was killed. An invasion of Earth by inhabiting its architecture – imagine the possibilities! The process isn’t reversible and Vorath plans on reducing the tower block to dust before Sam can learn how to use his new sentience against his invasion plans.

Audio Landscape: Never before has the TARDIS console room sound been so important as we try and work out which Doctor has picked Charley up, morse code, the TARDIS engines grind in the distance, a hissing cat, purring, squeaking doors, an echoey tower block, phone ringing, police sirens, police scouring through the flat, the melting transformation of the victim, people typing and talking in the police station, Charley in the rickety lift, sopping wet blokes in the shower room.

Musical Cues: David Darlington’s creepy as hell music cuts in as soon the Doctor and Charley notice a body on the scanner and leave the TARDIS.

Standout Scene: Basically any scene that has the Doctor and Menzies working together. The end of episode three has some really chilling build up with Charley stumbling around trying to find Sam in the basement that eats the light. The scene with all the phones going off at once is one of the most effective audio scenes for sometime, creepy, weird and mad as hell. The end of episode three is chillingly well done.

Notes: The whole timey wimey idea of Charley jumping from the eighth Doctor to the sixth was a pretty inspired one on Big Finish’s part and proof that other people were doing this sort of thing long before the inspired River Song – Time Travellers Wife madness began in the New Series. What’s so good about the idea besides the nagging feeling of discomfort behind the whole situation (especially when we come to really enjoy spending time in the company of these two) is that it gives both Sixie and Charley a whole new dimension to play about with. Suddenly she is a shifty, crafty sort of character who doesn’t want to lose her ride around the universe despite the fact that he cannot remember her when they meet again in the future. And Sixie is always one step behind for a change and whilst he grows ever fond of Charlotte it sees the return of his more abrasive side as he gets frustrated with her evasiveness. Its an awesome combination that powers an incredible run of stories, so good that people were chomping at the bit for the next release with them which was exactly what Big Finish needed at this stage.

When the Doctor first meets Menzies (her arresting him, naturally) he simple says ‘typical’ with an air of predictability and which turns out to be a very important line. The timey wimey nature of these stories gets even more insane when the Doctor meets Menzies in his personal timeline before this story when he was still travelling with Evelyn in The Crimes of Thomas Brewster. So the Doctor goes through this apparent first adventure with Menzies having already had an adventure with her previously but knowing that he knows he has to keep his gob shut about it! There are so many people lying through their teeth in this story it’s hard to know who is telling the truth!

Result: The Condemned comes as a bolt from the blue with its gritty down to Earth storytelling and the sense of quiet menace that chills the blood throughout. You’ve got two terrific innovations for Big Finish to play around with - the dazzling new sixth Doctor /Charley combo and a bright spark of a character in the shape of DI Menzies. Colin Baker’s Doctor fits snugly into the world of crime and killers and India Fisher gives another very strong performance. Eddie Robson provides a gripping story to hang these accessories on with an impressive guest cast of characters all of which are more than meets the eye and tied up with the murder at the beginning of the story in some way. It is superbly brought to life by Nick Briggs who manages to push his impressive actors to the forefront whilst never once compromising the forbidding tone of the piece. Sam manages to be both a tragic victim and a brilliant ally and the revelation of what has happened to him is beautifully realised. The potentially catastrophic idea of Charley swapping Doctors was make or break for Big Finish because it could so easily be the point where people said that Big Finish had jumped the shark but what actually happened was something of a renaissance for a company that took a risk and won and they are still reaping the rewards of that shot of awesomeness this story gave them today: 9/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/105-Doctor-Who-The-Condemned

1 comment:

Sam Palmer said...

Question: would it be a bad idea to listen to the Six and Charley stories before reaching the point she leaves Eight?