Monday, 27 February 2012

Project: Destiny written by Cavan Scott & Mark Wright and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: 1999: Leaving her infant son behind, a young mother named Cassandra Schofield departs Bolton, seeking a better life amid the lights of London. 2004: Despite the best efforts of the time-travelling Doctor, 'Cassie' Schofield dies on Dartmoor, a vampirised victim of the sinister organisation called The Forge. 2021: All grown up, and a nurse at St Gart's Hospital, Thomas Hector Schofield – known as 'Hex' – meets, and becomes a companion to, that time-travelling Doctor… but remains unaware that his alien friend knew his mother, and watched her die. 1854: In the Crimean War, Hex takes a bullet, and is seriously injured. The Doctor promises to return him to St Gart's. 2025: Now. In a London ravaged by a deadly contagion… destiny awaits.

The Real McCoy: Why don’t these writers play to McCoy’s strengths? There have been over 120 main range releases now and a quarter of them have belonged to McCoy which is more than enough to judge where his strengths and weaknesses are and yet in stories such as The Dark Husband and Project Destiny (which by this point the character should have been perfected) they are still giving him the opportunity to drag a story down with hysterical dialogue, unconvincing angst and anger and lots of painful gurning (all of his low points). I remember speaking to a writer who had written for both the sixth and seventh Doctor’s and he admitted that they had deliberately given McCoy less sophisticated dialogue to say because they knew he wouldn’t be able to handle overly verbose scenes like Colin Baker could. If he could realise that than why don’t Scott and Wright do the same thing? My point is when the Doctor lacks any credibility what hope does the rest of the story have?

There are a few notes of agonised panic in the first episode where the Doctor’s concern for his friend feels very real before the hyperbole starts. When he realised who Hex was he wanted to take him with him to make things right. Why didn’t he then? And there has been ample opportunity to sit him down and have this conversation and the Doctor isn’t exactly one to shy away from awkward confrontations – so why has he waited until now to let Hex find out about his mother in the worse possible way? Frankly his overly secretive and manipulative ways have come back to bite him in the butt and he deserves everything he gets. Probably not the reaction the writers were looking for. There’s an odd growling to his voice when he is trying to comfort Helen when his lovely soft purr would have been more appropriate surely? As if Ace and Hex having constant pops at the Doctor aren’t enough, Lysandra and (naturally) Nimrod have issues with him as well! Its hard to consider the man a hero when his friends and his enemies all pulling his character to pieces. Brilliantly every time the Doctor see him he says ‘Nimrrrrod’ in a very dark burr. McCoy really goes to town when the Doctor succumbs to the virus but it sounds like he is straining a particularly nasty poo. The Doctor gets to show how clever he is by…talking telepathically with contaminants? Big woo.

Oh Wicked: Oh Ace, you are such a quandary to me. At times I think you are the best companion of all time (Ghost Light, Survival, the Settling, A Death in the Family) and at others you are the absolute worst bar none (Dragonfire, Battlefield, The Rapture, The Dark Husband). Unfortunately this is erring on the side of the latter with only a few tentative steps into the former…and after she was handled so deftly in the last trilogy too! Like McCoy, Sophie Aldred’s strengths are not histrionics and angsty dialogue (‘I didn’t know she was my muuuummm!’. ‘I don’t want anything to do with you!’) so what is the point of characterising her as such? Big Finish have learnt their lesson the hard way with this character that injecting some adult restraint into her is the best way to go (the mentor/pupil relationship with Hex in The Settling was the best we had ever seen of her on audio) and yet Project Destiny sees Ace at her most hysterical and unsophisticated since The Rapture. Its doubly annoying because I really thought we were getting somewhere with this character but as I have heard Aldred say herself recently in an interview there seems to be two schools of writers. One that still sees her character as the angst ridden child that is as volatile as her explosives and one that wants to develop her into something more refined. Fortunately Steven Hall is up next with a competent repair job for the character because as portrayed here this is not a companion I would want to pursue.

We open the story with Ace screaming her head off (‘Commmmee onnnnn!’) and the Doctor says ‘gently Ace…’ If only they had both listened to his advice. The Doctor and Ace gripe and shout at each other when she should just back the fuck away and let him save Hex’s life. Is she the younger or older version here because she seems to want to be both (leaping out of helicopters screaming ‘come one!’ smacks of the younger Ace whereas sitting by the Doctor’s bedside after he is shot reminds me of our new, improved Ace). Listen to how Sophie Aldred plays those bedside scenes though, she’s bloody screaming her head off again (‘How do you know what the Doctor wants? I bet your glad he’s in a coma! Got your revenge now!’) when a quieter approach would have been so much more effective. Seriously listen to the scene and play it over again in your head with her saying those lines with a quietly restrained anger. Its what makes the difference between melodrama and drama.

Sexy Scouse: Pity poor Philip Olivier who is a fantastic actor (and utterly lickable to boot) but is more often than not saddled with some pretty lame writing which fails to exploit his talents. I always hoped that one day they would deal with Cassie and Hex's relationship but I never in a million years thought it would be handled this badly. Olivier struggles with a script that tries to take the character on a complete 180 degree turn from the Doctor’s friend to a potential enemy but by doing so it guts the character of any realism (which has always been his raison d’etre) and esteem. He finds out some tragic news in Project Destiny and it would give anybody pause to consider their relationship with the Doctor but like so much of what is on offer in this story it is lacking any subtlety and so rather than talk this thing through he suddenly decides he hates the Doctor and Ace and his whole life with them has been a lie. None of it rings true after what they have been through together and frankly Hex sounds pathetic saying lines like ‘You know what Ace I can’t believe I used to like you!’ Its such awkward, unworkable reaction that lacks any believability that I was scratching my head at what I was hearing. I didn’t want them to be a happy family again at the end of the story because they have proven to be utterly dysfunctional in all the worse ways at the slightest provocation. It’s a shocking handling of one Big Finish’s best original companions and his actions in the climax where he attempts to bring his mother back to life with a drop of his own blood are the final nail in the coffin. By reserving the emotional fallout of the revelations about Hex's mother for A Death in the Family it guts this story of any drama and instead his reaction just becomes an appalling soap opera response – hysteria and storming out of rooms. Abysmal.

At least Hex questions the morality of them working for an organisation like the Forge. Having him caring so affectionately for the Doctor at the beginning of episode three has the unfortunate effect of making his complete change of heart come the end of the episode (pulling a gun on him!) seem even more unrealistic. Its such a radical shift in character in such a short space of time its hilarious and you might just get schizophrenic whiplash. He also shows a shocking naiveté to go from considering Nimrod and his organisation sinister to suddenly believing every word that he says (especially when it is exaggerated guff like ‘she was like the daughter I never had! I blame myself!’). If I were in Hex’s shoes I too would be angry and hurt but I certainly wouldn’t suddenly become an absolute emotional wreck in about three seconds – that sort of thing only happens in (bad) melodramas. He knows that the Doctor has been infected and yet accuses him of putting on a silly voice when it comes to having a conversation about his mother – has he suddenly become really stupid? Olivier sounds a little embarrassed himself during the scene in the Rabbit where he pretends it’s a normal Friday night drinking session. After his portrayal here I wasn’t that sad to see Hex leave at the end – again that probably isn’t the effect they were hoping for. I reckon Olivier must have been horrified when he read this script but then he did play a horny, hunky gay teacher in Hollyoaks in the City so I guess it isn’t the most ridiculous material he has ever played.

Naughty Nimrod: In his third story now, surely Steven Chance’s villain is deserving of his own little section? Although similarly lacking any subtlety like the regulars there is still a lot of charm about this silky voiced villain that shines through. It is a genuine relief when Nimrod turns up because finally there is a performer who is trying to underplay his role to bring some menace to the story. One of the few successful innovations that Project Destiny brings to the trilogy is Abberton having made the Forge a public organisation working for the people. I would have loved to have explored that some more. Spin Doctors can do anything these days and he has received a knighthood for his services to the people! Nimrod purring around Hex in the second episode is about as tense as this story gets. When Nimrod attacks the Doctor and explains how he was disgraced after his last appearance and that he had to build up the reputation of the Forge from scratch it was the one character beat that really worked for me. Unfortunately once Nimrod drops his deceptively caring persona he becomes another tedious pantomime villain with lines like ‘I will survive! I always survive!’ Such a waste.

Standout Performance: Stephen Chance is the only person who comes out of this story with his dignity intact. That’s some acting.

Great Ideas: The Doctor landing in London that is deathly quiet in the middle of the day has been exploited before (The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Web of Fear & Invasion of the Dinosaurs) but its such an instantly gripping notion it doesn’t really matter. I don’t know if I mentioned this before but calling the Doctor ‘Lazarus’ because of his ability to come back from the dead is a touch of genius. I really like the idea of the Doctor paying for what he would go on to do in Project Lazarus. Wowza, the cliffhanger of a Time Lord in the vaults is more interesting than anything we have seen in this story and bodes well for A Death in the Family.

Audio Landscape: Guns cocking, a squeaking trolley, a chopper, sonic screwdriver, tracker, crashing down the hospital corridor, heart monitor, the voice modulation of the infected character is pretty scary, Helen going all gooey, helicopter blades rattling, Hex breaking into the rabbit, siren, heartbeat, the exploding building, rubble falling, car alarms sounding.

Musical Cues: As bombastic as the plot but it knows when to calm down.

Isn’t it Odd: The flashbacks to The Angel of Scutari are necessary at the beginning to get the audience up to speed with where Hex is at the beginning of this adventure but it has the adverse effect of being the best thing about the entire story. There’s a scene about nine minutes in where it sounds as though Ace is having strenuous sex and with no explanation for all I know that is exactly what she has stopped off to do in the middle of this emergency. Either it’s a little love note to Jon Pertwee’s mistake in The Green Death or its just another goof but the Doctor says ‘chitinous’ with a ‘shit’ rather than a ‘kite’ in episode one. Oddly Ingrid Oliver is more convincing as a robotic voice than she is as an actual character. I wasn’t sure why we were supposed to be interested in the transformed humans in this story because we aren’t asked to connect with it on an emotional level (unlike Twilight which gave us a tragic victim in Cassie). They talk about the science of changing into one of these monsters which is very boring and we go hunting for them (one bloke going ‘it hurts…it really hurts!’ doesn’t have the sympathy factor because we don’t know this fella from Adam) which lacks excitement but we are never asked to care about them so this plotline is utterly unengaging. I guess the saving grace is supposed to be when the Doctor transforms but with everybody slagging him off and an agonisingly bad performance from McCoy (channelling Unregenerate which had similar gurning and madness) that’s pretty hard to invest in as well. Why the hell shouldn’t Nimrod talk to Hex about his mother? If the Doctor wanted it done in a more appropriate way he should be such a manipulative git! What kind of an idiot uses himself as an incubator for a virus that has proven to be deadly? Has the Doctor gone insane? ‘We don’t have time for this!’ the Doctor screams about the discussion between him and Hex about Cassie…what the hell? Wasting such dramatic possibilities to concentrate on this throwaway contaminants plot? And then the scene where he explains that she is a vampire happens ‘off screen’! Ace shot the Doctor to make Hex realise what he was doing? I’m glad she’s not my friend! Hex just happens to chance upon somebody who once worked at the Forge, has heard about his mother and leaks the information that her remains are in the vault? They’re taking the piss surely? Nimrod is brought down because Lysandra changed one of the codes? How embarrassing for him. What’s even more embarrassing is the fact that she has a complete change of heart about the Doctor for no good reason – its as bad as Hex’s transformation the other and just inexplicable. The Doctor escapes the destructive climax…by beaming out. Hmm…

File Under Subtlety, Lack Of: This is one time where I am going to drone on so much about the overblown nature of a story that it definitely deserves its own section. The guard who recognises the police box because his granddad was a copper back in the 1960s make this blinding revelation and then gets forgotten about. Spare me the melodrama of the lesbian nurse whose lover was dragged from her home and who now forages about in the hospital like a rodent screaming like a harridan! I couldn’t make this stuff up! Ingrid Oliver’s screaming was when I popped my first painkiller (‘You liiieddd to me!’). ‘Get offfff him!’ ‘Ace noooooo!’ – more shouting! ‘Doctor the heart monitor!’ ‘Oh noooo! Heexxxx!’ is the end of episode one when the Nimrod reveal would have actually been effective. There is a scene which tries to show the story from Hex’s point of view as he wakes up but its just McCoy and Aldred shouting again so it has little effect. ‘Doctor you can rant and rave as much as you like!’ – he accepts that as an invitation. One of the victims turns out to be one of Hex’s old friends, Mark but that is promptly forgotten after one scene. ‘He was still huuuuuman!’ screams Ace during the hunt. Way to drive the point home. ‘Get oooouuutttttt! I’m infffffectttteeedddd!’ – that’s the end of episode two. ‘Why has Sir William sent me down here…he wanted me out of the way, didn’t he?’ – it comes to something when the characters have to spell out the obvious plot mechanics! ‘The hive miiind calls to meeee!’ – more McCoy magic. His choking acting has to be heard to be believed. ‘I win Doctor! I always win!’ – Nimrod’s character examination in a nutshell. ‘You can’t just leaveee him!’ screams Ace as Lysandra behaves heartlessly towards her own infected men. ‘In order to break me he has broken your heart!’ – now the script is trying go all poetic but it would take a subtler actor than McCoy to make that line work. To top off these hyperactive cliffhangers though episode three has to be the winner – Hex: ‘I said out of the way, Doctor!’ Ace: ‘Hex! Nooooooo!’ (GUNSHOT) The Doctor: ‘Arggghhhhh!’ I simply do not know what to say. If that wasn’t enough you get to hear the ‘Hex noooooo!’ scene three times! ‘Get off me Dracula!’ – Ace, naturally. ‘We’re going to dieeee!’ is a Doctor line! The Doctor’s godawful speech to Cassie would be soul destroying (McCoy strains every word and wrings them clean dry of any meaning) if it wasn’t so utterly hilarious with the vampiric growls inserted in! Check out the dialogue below.

Standout Scene: The result of all this dismal shouting is that Cassie is resurrected from the dead into a growling, savage vampire. How exactly? How does one drop of blood turn a pile of ashes into a person? The conclusion sees Hex trying to reach out to this slavering beast. Its cringeworthy in the extreme and I pity poor Philip Olivier having to try and make this embarrassing material come to life. ‘Mam its me Tommy!’ ‘GGWWWRRRRRRRRR!’ ‘Mam don’t you recognise me?’ ‘RWWWWOOOARR!’ Then the Doctor gets involved… ‘Look at the man he’s become!’ ‘RWWWWWOAAAARR!’ ‘You would have seen that if Nimrod hadn’t murdered you! Seen him take his first steps! Cleaned up his knee when he fell! Felt the pain of his first heartbreak and the joy of his first day as a nurse!’ ‘RWWWWOOOAAAARRRR!’ Lets pretend it never happened.

Result: I don’t understand the logic behind the idea that shouting equals drama because in my experience it has the reverse effect. Project: Destiny (in itself a pretentious title) has so much shouting in it you might just need a Paracetamol or two before the end of the story. Although this is a script with serious problems there is so much that might have been salvaged had director Ken Bentley asked everybody to tone down their performances by a half. When it comes to realising the story Bentley is on fire (and the score is bombastic and cinematic in all the best ways) but it feels as though he has completely lost track of the actors which plummets the adventure into a hysterical soap opera. As a trilogy it follows the same pattern as most (not all) sequel stories…they get worse as they go along. Twilight was so violent and in yer face and the tone was so unlike Doctor Who that it made a decent impression. Lazarus was more experimental and didn’t quite work but there were strong ideas and a heartbreaking breakdown for Evelyn to scrape a pass. Destiny lacks the shocks of the first story or the ingenuity of the second and instead relies on the anticipation of the Hex/Cassie revelation which doesn’t even come into play until the third episode. Then they go and fudge that spectacularly and refuse to deal with the fallout so all we’re left with is a tragic hammer horror conclusion (but not a good hammer horror conclusion) and an easy get out clause. It almost feels as though Project Destiny suffers because A Death in the Family leeches all the sensitive drama that should have taken place here. It’s a noisy, hysterical, shallow piece of melodrama that promised a great deal and delivered practically nothing. It breaks my heart to admit it but it would appear that the McCoy stories (despite the odd belter) are still the weakest of the range. Three points – Nimrod is pretty good, the sound effects are effective and the music should be heard in isolation. Everything else was the pits: 3/10

1 comment:

Bad Andy said...

We don't agree too often, but we're on the same hymn sheet with this one. I never found the realisation of the Forge particularly interesting (apart from its appearance in one of the Forty-Five shorts) so this would have had to have been very good to change my brain. Unfortunately, it's the worst. And when they decided that a bit of Hex's blood was enough to return ashes into a feral vampire, the only reaction I had was 'oh do fuck off'.