Friday, 29 July 2011

Kingdom of Silver written by James Swallow and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: The Doctor arrives on Tasak in search of refreshment, armed with nothing more than a kettle. But this is a time of crisis for a civilisation about to enter an industrial age. Mindful that a devastating war is only recently over, the wise and revered Magus Riga will do almost anything to save his people from the follies of the past. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And the planet Tasak is host to ancient powers buried deep and long forgotten. Can visitors from another world avert disaster or will their intervention drag this innocent world into the Orion War?

The Real McCoy: The TARDIS picked up the output scans from the city so the Doctor lured Temeter too him like a mouse scurrying after cheese. He thinks that people find him quite agreeable when they get to know him so perhaps he has been away from people for too long! He didn’t come to Tasak looking for the energy trace he was just on a stop whilst he was on his way to find some tea. When people don’t believe him he says that that really isn’t his problem but again it usually is. Sylvester McCoy sleepwalks his way through the first episode as if even he doesn’t know what is going on but as soon as the Cybermen get a mention that is something he can grasp hold of and suddenly his performances rockets somewhere into the stratosphere. The Doctor is panic stricken and desperate to make the people understand the danger of the Cybermen. It’s so nice to see somebody upping their game and letting rip some emotion even McCoy’s hilariously hysterical ‘You’re making a terrible mistaaaaaaaakkkeeee!’ is fine. He suggests he is far from in the employ of the Earth military…but he was once – he’s full of fibs in this story! The Doctor firmly believes that you cannot domesticate Cyber technology. Why is it always so much worse than he originally thinks?

Standout Performance: Don’t get me wrong I think that Terry Molloy is a fantastic actor and he has recreated Davros for audio in such style as to own the role now…but my God could they have given him a duller part in this story? I also hate it when they get actors to double on roles and play extra parts with daft accents and his northern drawl as the train guard does not disguise that this is the same person. This is one of the first examples of Nicholas Briggs turning up in a bog standard role (this time as trooper) – keep an ear out for his voice because like Gary Russell he will pop up all the time.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘A statue carved from steel!’

Great Ideas: The silver is a curative compound, which has been made available in recent months. After spending an episode with Temeter I was ready to suggest that he was the dullest one off companion ever and yet the surprise that he is android does explain his monotonous behaviour. There are android agents scattered across the galaxy scouring space for Mondasian relics and the Earth military are scavenging Cyber technology to use against the androids in the Orion Wars. Tasak is a Cyberman tomb world, one of the thousands spread across the galaxy. Reger’s new machines and medicines are scavenged from what remains of a Cyber tomb.

Audio Landscape: Clock chiming, a kettle whistling, a train chugging along a the tracks, the Cyberman hypnotic noise from Wheel in Space, great clunking Cyber footsteps, steam discharge.

Isn’t it Odd: Is it my imagination or does the first episode of Kingdom of Silver sound an awful lot like an audio recording of The Dominators? A bunch of pacifists who have learnt their lesson in war discussing nothing in particular and all with ridiculous names? ‘We’ve grown beyond such things. What the heart offers us is our true future based on knowledge, science and advancement.’ There’s even an island a few kilometres off the coast – just like the radiation island on Dulkis! And the island is volcanic! I’m not sure if it was because I couldn’t recognise anything in any of the characters or because the planet was sold to me in chunks of awkward exposition but I just couldn’t get a grip on this place. It never really comes alive and as such I didn’t really give a damn when the Cybermen were revealed. Frankly they couldn’t make this populace more emotionless automatons than they already are! Why do they insist on keeping the appearance of the Cybermen under wraps and then package their involvement into a twist at the end of episode one when there is a great smiling example slapped on the cover? Some of the dialogue is shockingly clunky: ‘We truly live in a silver age, Doctor!’ ‘The road to hell is paved with good inventions.’ The second cliffhanger features a Cyberman breaking from a tomb and saying ‘You will become like us…’ – we’ve moved on from The Dominators, now we’re in Tomb of the Cybermen! Then as we head into the last episode it is like scenes out of The Age of Steel from the new series with pneumatic drills converting away in a Cyber factory. Add in the androids and you have a large dose of Sword of Orion and not a great deal of originality.

Result: Frozen Time, The Dark Husband, The Death Collectors and now Kingdom of Silver…that’s four below average to terrible McCoy releases in a row. I’m starting to wonder if the McCoy renaissance isn’t because his stories become especially good (although naturally I will reserve judgement on that until I listen to them) but because his Doctor finally starts yielding some consistent quality! The last story I would suggest needed a sequel would be Sword of Orion (still hard to beat for sheer dullness) and Kingdom of Silver is infected with that stories drabness and lack of humour but also adds a tediously generic Doctor Who planet into the mix as well. This is Ken Bentley’s sophomore directional effort and it isn’t any more impressive than his debut, quiet and ineffective in the first two episodes before unleashing a torrent of noise and actors shouting in the last. I have heard some of his later McCoy efforts and I know he becomes one of Big Finish’s standout directors but these are faltering first steps. Spare Parts worked so well because Marc Platt managed to create a believable family and showed us their horror as one of them was converted but none of the characters in this story register so it is hard to give a damn if they do all get converted. I’m not the biggest fan of the Cybermen so perhaps I’m not the best person to appreciate this story but as usual they seem to be include because rather than to add anything to the races mythology. Kingdom of Silver plunders the Troughton era for its material and there is nothing original of note: 3/10

Keepsake written by James Swallow and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: Sifting through the technological junk of Reclaim Platform Juliet-November-Kilo, the Doctor discovers evidence of a personal tragedy involving some friends of his. Where will the story of their fate lead?

Standout Performance: Terry Molloy is far more effective when he plays villainous characters and his even, emotionless delivery in this tale is terrifying because of how controlled it is.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We couldn’t stop it. They opened us up like books. Read every word of us in the time it took to take a breath. We belonged to them’

Great Ideas: The TARDIS can be high maintenance at times but that is all part of the joy of travelling with her. The Doctor suggesting that when you start browsing in shops you end up with loads of things that you don’t want and forgetting the very thing that you came for is perhaps my biggest retail curse! The amount of times I have done that! Ever since humanity has been using Cybermen technology they have been on the offensive. They built the androids in their image and since they have rebelled they have tried to destroy them and since they have began integrating Cyber tech into their own bodies it seems like they are more human these days. Temeter and Sara are covert deep cover operatives used for long duration assignments in the Orion conflict zone. The Cyberman base on Tasak was a key military base with the war against the Earth. It’s fascinating that their android masters do not consider saving billions of human lives by preventing the reactivation of the Cybermen a worthwhile goal…perhaps they were infected by the Doctor’s humanity after all? They took Sara apart and plugged her remains into a basic shell and put it to work on menial tasks. The holographic representations are all she has left of her old life – what a terrible way to go just for feeling for another person.

Audio Landscape: ‘With a single Command they switched off all his warmth, all his emotions, all his…humanity’ – the relationship between Sara and Temeter is much more interesting in this tale because we get to see how such emotional attachments are considered acts deviancy. Having you feelings snatched away so suddenly is an act of emotional rape and its horrific to experience.

Isn’t it Odd: I wouldn’t have bothered using the Doctor in this story at all – his brief scenes don’t add anything to the story and the ‘companion chronicle’ approach with Sara proves to be gripping enough to hold up the piece on its own.

Standout Scene: The revelation that Sara has been stripped of her consciousness and trapped inside such a menial device is heartbreaking and exposes the lack of feeling amongst her superiors. They truly are androids and they only have time for one thing – to kill the humans that created them. Anybody who takes on the emotional behaviour of a human is punished accordingly.

Result: We’ve had a three parter and a one parter that have been directly related before (The Wishing Beast) but this is the first time a writer has thought to take characters from one story and give them more depth in the one part coda. Its probably the best approach yet although I do find it disheartening that once again a lot of the best material has been saved for 25% of the release to the detriment of the other 75% Telling the story from the point of view of Sara was a wise move because it really allowed us to understand their insignificant lives as tools for a war that should never have taken place. The final twist is heart wrenching and it’s almost enough to make me want to go back and listen to Kingdom of Silver again to re-evaluate the relationship between these two characters: 8/10

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