Wednesday, 29 June 2011

He Jests At Scars written and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: The thing about meddling with time is that one moment something is real, the next, it's been erased. Probability become just a possibility. Established truth becomes a theoretical falsehood. Like dominoes, as one timeline falls, the others come cascading down around it. You can engineer new timelines, new possibilities but before long, the distinction between what is, what was, what might be and what never can be becomes blurred. Out of this grow myths, lies and legends. The Doctor was one such legend, but no one knows whether he truly ever existed. Well, not now they don't. The Mighty One, ruling the multiverses from the eternal city of Chronopolis has made sure of that.

Evil Doctor: The Valeyard is characterised with such extraordinary subtlety that he snaps the neck of one of the cute wickle Pakhars just so we know he’s evil. What good is power if it sits around with no one making use of it? Throughout his lives he has let objects of power and influence pass through his hands but never again. He is a conglomerate, composite Doctor – a 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th Doctor all in one possibly superior mind and body that has absorbed (via the Matrix) all those future Doctor memories and experiences. He is weaving new and far more interesting patterns in the fabric of space and time… but why exactly? If the Valeyard has the collective intelligence of all the Doctor’s incarnations then surely he has enough common sense to realise what he is doing is catastrophic even to himself. Oh right but he’s a villain isn’t he? So he has to behave in stupid and overcomplicated ways because that’s what’s expected of him. Its thoroughly tedious – especially after David Bishop’s far more interesting bad Doctor in Full Fathom Five. Hilariously he calls his past selves stupid when he is the one who wants to allow the Romans to conquer space so he has an army to back him up on his adventures. Yaaaaawn. Its inexplicable that anybody would think that they could pull this many threads out of the timeline and not make it unravel – you never once believe in this character.

Alternative Ginge: Spare us the thought of Mel becoming a violent, aggressive bully who calls people things like ‘lice infected crud.’ She even says you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry! Mel is looking for the Doctor and if she doesn’t like what he has to say she is going to execute him. Mel kills the last Tharil and doesn’t give a damn. Russell takes the time to voice fandom opinion of Mel (holier than thou, squeaky voice, etc) which is kind of like shitting all over the good work done with her character in the audio range. Criticising something that handled badly in the series in a story that is handled unbelievably badly has a certain irony to it don’t you think?

Great Ideas: The Doctor never escaped the Matrix at the end of Trial of a Time Lord because he went back to try and save his nemesis. The Valeyard has wiped out the all the time sensitive races and kept one example alive.

Audio Landscape: Clanking chains, Gallifreyan staser, rocks falling, a Pakhar voice, seagulls, Silurian doors, screams as the time vortex is tossed aside, the destruction of Gallifrey.

Musical Cues: Appropriately for the weakest Unbound story, the title music is shite as well.

Isn’t it Odd:
· The first scene is unpleasantly written (with far too much emphasis on weak characterisation and insults) and directed (with an ugly echo to events that makes the scene sound untreated).
· Of all the people Gary Russell could have included as the Valeyard’s companion he chooses Ellie from the Sarah Jane Smith audios who is only a very minor character from that series. For anyone to get the link they would have to be extremely geeky and otherwise she is a complete nobody.
· Megalomanical malefiecence do not belong in the same sentence together let alone next to each other.
· The Time Lords are so stupid in this story that they need Mel to point out that the Valeyard changing history willy nilly is a bad thing. Before points this out their attitude is ‘Well he hasn’t changed that much.’ And then its suddenly all of time and space has been thrown out of whack and they start panicking. There’s a word for characterisation this shocking – delinquent.
· Why didn’t Russell take this opportunity to ask why the Valeyard is so evil rather than taking it as given and having him twirl his moustache at every given opportunity. That would have made a far more interesting story.
· Naturally the Valeyard destroys Gallifrey with the Doomsday Weapon because…well just because. That’s what villains do, isn’t it?
· When the Valeyard commits accidental murder of his fourth self preventing him from becoming his fifth self I was desperately hoping that this whole sorry mess would be over. Its not even enjoyably complicated – it’s a run of idiotic moves by the Valeyard that cause more problems to solve than benefits to himself – its just ridiculous.
· Then things get even more daft when the Valeyard figures that by destroying Logopolis before the fourth Doctor visited means that he could never have gone there in the first place to be killed in the time ram! This skips through so many hoops of illogic I can’t even be bothered to discuss it.
· The eternal city of Chronopolis turns out to be…Brighton. Big woo.
· ‘I will be a God!’ – that was the one cliché the Valeyard hadn’t succumbed to. Nice to see he goes the whole hog.
· ‘Right now your brain is being munched by the Web of Time!’ – where’s the script editor?
· Why is the Valeyard doing what he’s doing… ‘because I want to.’ I’ve stepped in dried up puddles with more depth.
· The Valeyard visited his previous incarnations at many different times and places and tried to convince them to do things differently and when they disagreed he killed them all. Can this script get any more ridiculous?
· When the Valeyard rants about meddling with the continuity of the Doctor’s life’s it might have well have been Russell talking directly to the audience.

Continuity Skewered: Like Russell needs a reason to consume oodles of continuity and vomit it out in a narrative – that’s been his raison d’etre ever since he began writing original Doctor Who (and I use the term original loosely). It would have been more of an Unbound adventure if the ‘what if’ had been ‘what if Gary Russell wrote a Doctor Who story that was continuity free?’ So we start with Ellie complaining that the Valeyard moans about her carrying weapons unless it suits him (ala the seventh Doctor and Ace), the Pakhar’s (okay that’s one of Russell’s so we’ll let him off on that count), the Trial is mentioned and to please the fans its ‘as if this whole sorry business never happened’ (groan), Vansell from the Gallifrey series, discussion of the Watcher (its not unheard for a Time Lord at the point of death to receive a visitation from their self in a proto plasmic pupae stage), watching the ‘Hyperion escapade’ with the Valeyard in the Doctor’s role (he leaves the Commodore and his whole crew dead and leaves the ‘augmented aubergines’ to their own devices), discussion of Mel not meeting with the Doctor in a police station in Brighton because the Valeyard prevented it (Russell trying to canonise his PDA, Business Unusual), the Valeyard gave a formula to the Thals and stopped the Daleks from being created, the Galapagos Islands featuring the Silurians (from Jonathan Morris’ far superior Bloodtide), the Doomsday Weapon on Exarius (Colony in Space), he wants to stop himself destroying Logopolis and nick the Master’s TARDIS (Logopolis), Time ramming the Master’s TARDIS (The Time Monster), Tharils (Warriors’ Gate), the Monan Host (Gallifrey series), Urbankans (Four to Doomsday), Moroks (The Space Museum), a de-horned Nimon (Horns of Nimon), Navarino (Delta and the Bannermen), Steven and an extinct bird (Dodo), ‘Lets go back to Kiev and grab that ridiculous Dodo girl’ (Bunker Soldiers), there’s an appalling spin on the Doctor’s speech to Davros in Remembrance of the Daleks, ‘Carrot Juice, Carrot Juice, Carrot Juice’, Mel killed on the colony world of Heritage (Heritage), killed on the Starship Nostferatu II (Dragonfire), Cybermen, Sontarans, Peri, Evelyn, Hex, Ace, Charley, C’rizz…MAKE IT FUCKING STOOOOOOOOP!

Result: This should have been the most exciting Unbound adventure of the lot (the Valeyard’s back!) but the fact that it is possibly the worst audio adventure ever released by Big Finish says something about the quality (or lack of) of the writing. The script is stupid, illogical, crammed full of tedious amounts of continuity in place of characterisation and plotted with all the skill of a child being given sticky backed plot points and shoving them all over a wall willy nilly. Its so absurdly awful you have to wonder why someone didn’t take Russell to one side and say something. His direction is at its lowest ebb too with lots of horrid noise going on in the background of most scenes that are the only distraction from the sweaty bollocks that is playing out in the script. Immature, unsophisticated and soulless, you would be hard to find a single example of audio drama that sets its sights lower than this. I cannot think of a single reason this was made beyond a warning to never do anything like it ever again. What if Doctor Who was really, really shit: 0/10

Buy it from Big Finish here (if you dare...): http://www.bigfinish.com/4-Doctor-Who-Unbound-He-Jests-at-Scars

3 comments:

GusF said...

This story may even be worse than "Minuet in Hell". Gary Russell's writing is frankly awful.

rumblebars said...

I put in a contrary comment to "Deadline" the other day. I need to do that again here. While this is no classic, I rather liked it at times. Maybe it's that I was amused at the way that every move that the Valeyard does eventually backfires so terribly on him - maybe it's just that I like Jayston's voice, but I like it enough that I cannot agree with a zero rating. Maybe a 4 or 5 for me.

I doubt that we'll ever see a "real" resolution of the Valeyard thread, either on TV or on Audio, and while this isn't exactly a great substitute for one, it's something. Definately could have been better though.

-Andy

Joe Ford said...

This one rubbed me up the wrong way from the off and didn't stop until the conclusion. Everything, even the production, seemed ineptly realised. A shame because it is such a fantastic idea.