Monday, 25 June 2012

The Oseidon Adventure written by Alan Barnes and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: The first time the fearsome Kraals tries to take over the Earth, with the help of their android agents, things didn’t go quite according to plan – thanks to the time travelling alien Doctor and his allies at UNIT. This time, Marshall Grimnal and his belligerent cohorts are ready for him. This time they’ll make no mistakes. This time, Chief Scientist Tyngworg has not just one plan but a back up plan, and a back up back up plan worked out. With the Doctor a prisoner on the Kraals radiation blasted home planet of Oseidon only his companion Leela can save the day – alongside as most unlikely ally…

Teeth and Curls: When the Doctor sees the Kraals emerging from their craft he cries ‘oh my prophetic soul!’ which kind of mirrors my shock when I heard they were to make a return appearance. Its almost an indictment of the character that he is locked up for the first 20 minutes of his own season finale and we don’t get to spend any time with him! However there’s a lovely, lovely moment where the Doctor and Leela laugh together as they ride a horse from Oseidon to Earth and seem to be basking in each others company! If they can maintain that sort of chemistry for the second year we will be in great shape. The Doctor says to the Master ‘is that a staser you’ve got in your left hand…’ as if he is going to end the sentence ‘or are you just pleased to see me?’ but can’t quite bear to go through with it…

Noble Savage: Without a doubt the finest innovation this year has been to be able to spend more time with the superb Louise Jameson as Leela. With one knockout performance after another and a general feeling that she has never been away from the role, it is for Jameson’s inclusion alone that I greeted the news of a third series of 4th Doctor adventures. She’s one of the best actresses the show has ever employed and she has made some the less enchanting tales this season more bearable. With bloodlust in her eyes, Leela is looking forward to slitting the throats of the Kraals! She’s delighted when she realises that the androids break like mortal men! As the Master tries to hypnotise Leela she slaps him around the face! Leela gets to keep the horse that she has fallen in love with at the end which was a lovely touch.

Scabby One: Thank goodness that the Master from the previous adventure turns out to be a android duplicate! I cheered during that scene because I genuinely thought that this was a real attempt to turn him into a Graham Williams era style camp villain here and it was not a look that suited him at all well. Its worth remembering that all the best Williams bad guys had a sense of the vicious about them (Scarlioni, the Rutan, the Collector, the Graff Vynda K, Grendel) whilst they were making us laugh ourselves silly. You could believe in them even when they were blatantly ridiculous whereas the Master here exhibits little more than camp villainy and its pretty limp villainy at that (his ultimate plan is guessable to anybody who has spent a little time with the character over the years). The duplicate Master gets lines like ‘I would swear revenge on you but your own incompetence will inevitably lead to your own destruction!’ which sink like a ship packed full of dwarf star alloy because he is literally talking like he knows he’s the moustache twirling villain rather than simply embodying the role. There’s a difference between being a good character who does villainous things and playing up to the role of a villain (with a knowing wink at the audience) but the line that separates these two is completely blurred here. A knowingly post modern villain can be fun but its cack handed here with outrageously over the top dialogue. Mind you Leela calls him ‘charcoal face’ which is great fun! Its clear that the Master is playing the Kraals for a fool early on and he plays up his betrayal by his allies in the campest way possible! He’s undermined even more when he is nervously clinging on to Leela on the back of a horse! ‘I shall achieve apotheosis!’ – we had to have a line of that nature sooner or later! In a crazy metaphor for his own ineptitude the Master is brought down by a copy of himself. Ultimately his greatest weakness is his over ambition and by complicating his plan with the duplicates to the nth degree is his downfall.

Standout Performance: Dan Starkey deserves some kind of award for so accurately mimicking Roy Skelton’s zippy-like voice for the Kraals.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘There’s a face only a mother could love!’
‘I refuse to be defeated by myself!’

Great Ideas: The Doctor explains that the Kraals look so hideous because they have been exposed to radiation on their homeworld for over two centuries. The Doctor and the Master trying to out-android duplicate each other was great fun (‘if I know me I probably have something very clever up my sleeve!’). The Master hunted down the worm in order to harness ZO radiation so he can regenerate himself. I guess this is where his obsession with prolonging his life really begins. By detonating Z radiation on Oseidon which is consumed in O radiation he can bathe himself in the two and become practically immortal. Electricity pylons came to life and started stalking the countryside? Hahaha! Couldn’t we have listened to that instead? Spindleton is an absolute nutter who wants to replace the entire human race with androids so he can direct the planet to his design which he thinks has become a bit shabby and unBritish. It’s a fruitloop dream and barely worth commenting on…but its better than the Master’s car battery plan so lets be thankful it was mentioned!


Audio Landscape: Andy Hardwick and director Ken Bentley deserve credit for so accurately bringing all the various sound effects from The Android Invasion to life in The Oseidon Adventure. However there comes a point where this sort of thing is done to death and you start to wish that instead of trying to play fanboys like a harpsichord by making them coo when they recognise old sound effects you start to invent some new ones. Real effort has gone into recreating other peoples work from the past and somehow after the same thing happening with The Ark in Space, The Brain of Morbius, Terror of the Zygons, The Seeds of Doom, etc in the 8th Doctor Adventures you start to think that perhaps the range has run out of steam before it has even gotten going. What’s next? Return to the Planet of Evil? Sutekh’s revenge? By churning out so much nostalgia Big Finish is falling into the trap of getting lost in the past rather than being at the forefront of new, original, innovative audio drama. The androids marching, the finger weapons, Gallifreyan staser, helicopters, horse braying, the noise as the androids change, hum of the Kraal spaceship, scientific equipment buzzing and humming, blasting through the wormhole, the blast surface of the Kraal home planet, the Kraal screaming doors, the shrieking Kraal bomb detonating, birdsong.

Isn’t it Odd: The Kraals? I’m not sure if their return appearance was to genuinely re-invent them as a classier race of villains, to take the piss out of them or just to use any old monster to finish off the season on. They don’t make much of an impact in any of these ways. There has been an awful lot of continuity shoehorned into this series of adventures (after all old monsters equals more sales) but its actually quite unrepresentative of the era. Leela featured in nine stories in total and only one of those saw fit to bring back an old monster and that was in her last two episodes! To have included Nerva and the Wirrn, the Daleks, the Master and the Kraals strikes me as playing it safe a little this year and using these fan pleasing elements as a buffer to lure fans in to the first season. The Kraals are probably the most ridiculous example yet and were never the going to take the title of ‘greatest villains’ (is there anybody out there whose favourite bad guys are the Kraals? I hope so!) and to have them and the Master vying for attention has the adverse effect of diminishing both of them. It’s the two stories that have been entirely original – The Renaissance Man and The Wrath of the Iceni – that I have enjoyed the most this year. Rather than churning out generic Doctor Who run-arounds these were genuinely inventive, surprising adventures. I personally think that they should be the blueprint for the second 4th Doctor/Leela season. I remember Nick Briggs saying once that every villain needs a second outing…well he’s certainly gone out of his way to prove it between this range and the 8th Doctor one! There are very few stories left to plunder now…perhaps its time to start conjuring up some original new monsters. Like Big Finish used to do. The scenes between the Marshall, the Master and the Spindleton are fun but they hold no weight to them whatsoever – there’s no drama in this tale in the slightest because all the characters are so one dimensional and clichéd. If these three had managed to take over the Earth it would be embarrassing…that’s how lame they are! Unbelievably they manage to find out what the real Master is up to be checking the recycle bin on the Kraals computer! The Master has been using the Kraals to invade the Earth in order to steal an old car (sorry, TARDIS) battery that the Doctor left behind during his exile? Are you fecking kidding me that that is what this has all been about? Oh my sweet giddy aunt. They don’t make them like they used to. I nearly spat my coffee over my shirt when this plot revelation was revealed. A story could not hang on a more vacuous MacGuffin!

Result: Better than the first half but only marginally. When I said that the first episode of The Trail of the White Worm was a pointless run-around I didn’t realise they were going to do the whole thing all over again in The Oseidon Adventure! The Doctor even admits so at the cliffhanger! That’s half of this 90 minute adventure that could be happily chopped! Production wise this is beautifully done with plenty of kisses to the past (the sound effects from The Android Invasion are deployed here to masterful effect) and a general sense of pace and excitement. In five minute segments this is witty and silly and fun but played out over an hour and a half you have is a hollow narrative being stuffed to the brim with fluff. Android duplicates, bombs, radioactive surfaces, picturesque villages, plans for immortality, UNIT …there is nothing original to any of this. As an exercise in nostalgia this is adequate listening (although the company have delivered far better nostalgic hits in the past) but as a piece of storytelling it is astonishingly flaccid. Something that could be said for much of this series I’m afraid. Tom Baker barely registers but Louise Jameson is on top form as ever and even though the script complicates his role ridiculously Geoffrey Beevers manages to hold onto his dignity and deliver his usual sterling work. Let’s have a better story for him next time though. Others may have gotten a lot more from this adventure (and series) but superficial nostalgia for its own sake is not really for me: 5/10

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