Tuesday, 4 March 2014

In Living Memory written by Scott Handcock & Gary Russell and directed by Gary Russell

What's it about: Bernice Summerfield is alone… Having been captured – albeit technically rescued – by an old enemy, she finally learns the truth her friends and their disappearances… and realises that she is a cog in a far greater machine. Whatever happens, this is now the end for Bernice Summerfield… and she’s determined to go down fighting. But how long can she resist when the odds are stacked against her? And is there really such a thing as a happy ending…?
Archaeological Adventuress: Okay...this is going to get a little bit complicated. In Living Memory chronicles the lives of three different versions of Bernice Summerfield as set up in Judgement Day a million years ago so do try and bear with me. Benny is writing her diary once again and because it has been so long she isn't sure what she is supposed to say. The Epoch say that she is the threat and she is the scheme, whatever that might mean. She can deal with robots, mad scientists, religious nut jobs, intergalactic mobsters, bounty hunters, Gods...anything they care to throw at her really. She can't believe that she would ever forget Peter and is furious that the Epoch would take something so precious from her memory. It was never their intention to take away everything so he never had anything to fight for but it certainly seems to have worked out that way. Apparently Benny exists at al points in time, at the start and end and all points in between. She never shuts up, or at least at any point she is aware of. She always makes it up as she goes along and things usually turn out for the best. The Bernice's have to decide which of them should throw themselves into the vortex for all time and it falls to the one who has been on Legion for months and forged a relationship with Peter to hold back. She's the mum he knows. Before she goes, the paradoxical Benny orders her counterpart to use the Epoch technology to do something for herself for a change. To change the timelines and get back all her friends. The whole of time and space is open for them to re-map and have one last grand adventure.

Dog Boy: I really love Peter. More Peter please.

Super Villain: I hope this version of Braxiatel makes it into the next era of the Bernice Summerfield range otherwise I have to wonder what the point of him was (besides them wanting to continue to use Miles Richardson). We haven't learnt a great deal about him, he hasn't come face to face with his evil predecessor and his story hasn't come to any kind of climax. He was just sort of there because Brax is always there. Weird.

Jumping Jack Flash & Mysterious Girl: A shame that in what could be their last story Jack and Ruth spend the majority of the time as either different personas or caught up in the convoluted plot mechanics at the end of the story. We don't really get to spend much time with them or explore their characters. As such it is hardly a fitting send off for either of them.

Standout Performance: Unusual to hear Sean Carlsen playing a part that isn't Narvin (from the Gallifrey series). I kept expecting a twist that somehow he had wormed his way into the Bernice Summerfield series via Braxiatel. Bowerman excels, as ever and I think she could play this part in her sleep now (although there is never any danger of her phoning it in, she's always superb). It could be the last time that this cast of regulars are all together so relish this opportunity.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'You've sliced a hole in history itself! Have you any idea how dangerous that is?'
'And now it's all over for Bernice Summerfield!'
'This is the first time we've had you all in the studio at the same time, isn't it?' 'Apart from the script I wrote, you mean?' 'Funny enough I always forget about that one' - I had to chuckle at this.
'Would actors have red glowing eyes and look like a Killoran?' ' Tom's...method.'

Great Ideas: The Epoch are from the realm of time and their station is at the heart of time. It transpires that the Benny that landed on the world from The Living Memory is a completely different Benny to the one who was depicted in the carvings and brought the planet to its knees - I told you this was going to get confusing. As soon as I heard the name Bernard Springwell I should have figured out who he was...especially given the Epoch's ability to re-map people. Temporal instabilities were detected around Bernice even before Saravas and at first the Epoch thought they were centred around Jack and Ruth, two people out of time. So they removed them. Even after the removal of them from her timeline, the instabilities around her continued to flourish. Further action was required and Braxiatel was also seized and removed from her timeline. They had to determine her friends origins and establish all the external factors. Even her son was taken. I have to admit the way this has been segued into the Missing Persons box set has been excellent, allowing each of the regulars a chance to shine in their own story and then snatched away in a very subtly handled moment at the end of each one. It has been an intriguing mystery, although I never imagined a million years that they would wind up in an idealised version of The Archers. The Epoch channel and co-ordinate history through the vortex, re-mapping events whenever the scheme is threatened. That's a fantastic idea, and potentially the greatest threat that Bernice has ever come up against given she could be written out of existence in a heartbeat. A temporal traffic control centre, the Epoch monitoring and correcting. If Bernice was pushed into the vortex she would be scattered through space and time, the energies would rip her apart before she even had time to die. A million tiny fragments splintered throughout history. The Epoch figure that if they keep re-mapping time until Bernice Summerfield never existed then the threat that surrounds her will never exist as well. They had her timeline isolated so that her removal will barely cast a ripple. The Epoch split Benny up into three versions Judgement Day. There was one in Victorian London, one who was a caveman and the normal Benny. The caveman was eaten by a dinosaur (no I'm not kidding) but the Victorian Benny survived and has been off having adventures right across the universe, looking for Legion, searching for Peter whilst the normal Benny has been there, done and bought the T-Shirt. The Epoch always do things in threes and Bernard Springwell has been re-mapped so many times that he has forgotten that he was ever Bernice Summerfield. I never saw that one coming, admittedly. If one of the Bernice's throws themselves into the Epoch's rent in time they will reset the universe and exist throughout time and the scheme will be redundant.

Audio Landscape: Lading bay doors opening, ship descending, birds chirruping, a cow mooing, a cock crowing, the Epoch stomping about, rain falling, mobile interference, phone ringing, a door opening,

Musical Cues: Enough terrific soundtrack giving the story a good kick up the ass on occasions. The closing piece of music that builds to a dramatic and optimistic crescendo is particularly excellent. The final musical suite was gorgeous and it really feels like an end of an era...more than the story did in fact.

Isn't it Odd: The Epoch set up a false life within a false life for Benny's friends. The first is an Archers style scenario where they are all living in and around a farm where bizarre soap opera style events take place. And the second is a recording studio for Big Finish Productions where they are all actors taking part in a range of stories under the title of Bernice Summerfield. Whilst the latter worked for me in a post modern, cheeky kind of way I fail to see the point of the former beyond a few digs at soap plotlines and some 'aren't we clever' dialogue that parallels their characters in the simulation to their characters in normal life. It is no where near clever or funny enough to justify this bizarre setting. I was left scratching my head mostly until they reached the audio productions simulation. I was wondering why the writers were taking such a facetious approach to what could be the last ever Bernice Summerfield adventure. The gags come thick and fast in the 'audio drama' scenario; some of them work brilliantly (the dig that Lisa Bowerman is involved in every spin off series, 'Two words: Beth Chalmers') and some of them were real stinkers (Hierophant Russell, 'Bernice Summerfield is a part she just happens to play...and rather well it seems.'). If these reality as fiction scenes were trying to be unnerving, they fail but you have to give them marks for sheer bare faced cheek. Russell and Handcock writing a part for themselves slagging off of their own script achieves a certain mischievous grandeur. We spend far too much time with the regulars in their faux-Archers guises trying to escape out of that reality, it is a scene that plays out for nearly ten minutes when all it does is push the plot into another illusion and the same thing has to be achieved all over again in that false reality. It feels like the writers are deferring the climax. I can't decide if having the actors asking the script writer to explain the plot because the whole thing is getting too convoluted is ingenious or just really lazy scripting. I honestly had forgotten all about the three Benny's from Judgement and to suddenly bring it up now just to tie up a loose end seems...pointless. If it was never going to be a relevant plot point throughout the post-Year Zero adventures it feels senseless to dump it on us at the end of the road as if it was important all along. The point where we had Bernice Summerfield talking to Lisa Bowerman with the actress thinking she is an over excited fan I thought the writer(s) had lost the plot. It had gone beyond a joke at that point. There is some very bizarre box ticking that goes on at the end of this story with the Doctor sending the Epoch off to extract Bernice from Zordin because that is what happened in the Epoch box set and Handcock hasn't yet explained why. It is masquerading as Bernice doing something clever and paradoxical when the answer is they did it...because they did. So the Epoch's plans were to what exactly? Get rid of Bernice because she might threaten their plans? But what plans? Are we ever told or did I miss that bit?  And they are defeated because Benny tricked her Bernard Springwell persona into bringing herself and her doppelganger here. Or something. I'm so confused. As far as I can tell by involving Bernice at all in their plans has been their downfall. And the only reason she is their downfall is because they are so obsessed with her potential ability to bring about their downfall. Or something. To be honest I'm not entirely sure but this whole thing feels like a pre destination thingamajig that's wound up around a rent in space that's coiled up with technobabble. Or something.  It's a load of technical jargon that doesn't mean a great deal and about as far from a satisfying, dramatic climax as you can get. None of it means anything. Even the sacrifice of Bernice doesn't mean anything because we have only just become aware of the doppelgangers continuing existence. And Brax, Peter, Ruth and Jack are just bystanders to all this technobabble - none of them are actually instrumental in the plot at all. It lacks the personal touch and therefore is hard to get emotionally involved. The Epoch sought out a Bernice Summerfield thinking that she would want to end the potential chaos they could see her causing but instead she re-mapped and re-mapped new alternatives and became Dr Bernard Springwell. Why did Benny do that? When did Benny do that? Why would she start playing God with peoples lives and turn herself in a bloke? The idea of Benny herself being the villain of this entire arc is a phenomenal idea but it needs far more attention and explanation than this backhanded account. This should have been the focus of the entire story, not the faux-Archers bollocks. Why would you avoid a dramatic scenario like that and instead just throw it in as an unconvincing, throwaway piece of exposition? 'Ultimate power, ultimately corrupting...' is the only motivation we get but that just isn't the Benny I know. She wouldn't play about with the lives of everybody in the universe, even if she thought it was for the best. The ending with Benny leaping into the time vortex, scattering herself about and resetting everything that has happened since the Epoch set gave me flashbacks to Clara in The Name of the Doctor. And it made about as much sense and left as many questions of illogic hanging.

Standout Scene: 'Or we use the Epoch's technology one last time. Use it to find the people we've lost. Bev and Adrian. Jason' 'Antonio' 'Lara' 'Leo' 'My home...' 'There's nothing stopping us now. Nothing at all. We literally have the universe at our fingertips. So come on...one very last great big adventure! Out there...real life! What do you say?'

Result: I've heard some very dramatic things said about In Living Memory, some stating it is a fatally misjudged piece. I don't think it is anywhere near as bad as all that although it is spoilt by one very unfortunate error - there is no way this should have been the season (and potentially the series) finale or the final story of the  Handcock/Russell era of the Bernice Summerfield range. If this was a mid season affair and touting the same ideas, I think it would have gone down a lot more favourably. The problem is that these two men have posed a number of mysteries that they feel have to be answered before they move on and so instead of presenting a piece of drama (much like The Curse of Fenman before it) instead we get a series of long winded explanations trying to tie up plot elements that occurred in releases three years previously. If their aim was to push the range forwards away from the complicated arc plots into more standalone territory then clearly they failed because this is precisely the sort of tidying up that Eddie Robson had to do with his superlative two parter Resurrecting the Past/Escaping the Future. Not only that but the finale is hopelessly complicated and technobabble ridden, not so much elucidation of the Epoch/triple Bernice storyline and more a ridiculously complicated way of pushing a giant reset button. It left me wondering if this storyline had been worth pursuing if this was the outcome and pondering whether the series should have simply pushed ahead with an anthology series of standalone adventures. So what did work here? For a start it is fantastic to have the entire cast working together again and as an endorsement of the actors that Handcock and Russell have brought together to front this range, In Living Memory stands proud. Where I imagine Bernice, Peter and Brax always being part of this series, I hope this isn't the last we have heard of Ruth and Jack. Especially since they do nothing of worth here beyond playing other parts. Where some found the fourth wall breaking scenes in the sound booths a chore, I thought they were a rather nice flourish. It is smug as hell with far too many in-jokes but as a piss take of the 'behind the scenes' featurettes and a puzzle within a puzzle for Bernice to try and figure out I thought it was quite imaginatively done. It is another superb opportunity for Lisa Bowerman as well, acting her heart out as multiple Benny's and doing her damndest to try and make this web of explanations make sense. To her credit, she almost succeeds while you are listening, it is only when you start to think about it afterwards that it all falls to pieces. Besides I would listen to Bowerman read a shopping list and she is given plenty of witty lines and moments to shine here. The final scene leaves the series in a state of flux and an opportunity to mould itself into whatever it wants to be. I have no idea what the Bernice Summerfield range has to offer next but needless to say that I am still head over heels in love with the character and am excited to listen to what is coming. Whilst I have some issues with the over arching storylines that they have produced (more often than not promising far more than they ever delivered) over the past five box sets, I have been impressed with the overall standard of individual adventures that have been told. I do feel that Handcock & Russell are departing just as they have hit their stride (the Missing Persons box set has had two standout classics) but it has been a fun ride with them at the helm. In Living Memory is an average conclusion to their tenure, which is a shame, and it doesn't really sum up the enjoyment they have provided along the way: 5/10

The Kraken's Lament: 8/10
The Temple of Questions: 6/10
Private Enemy No.1: 9/10
Judgement Day: 8/10
Brand Management: 7/10
Bad Habits: 9/10
Paradise Frost: 9/10
Vesuvius Falling: 9/10
Shades of Gray: 9/10
Everybody Loves Irving: 5/10
A Handful of Dust: 5/10
HMS Surprise: 8/10
The Curse of Fenman: 4/10
The Big Dig: 10/10
The Reverent's Carnival: 7/10
The Brimstone Kid: 7/10
The Winning Side: 10/10
In Living Memory: 5/10
Many Happy Returns: 10/10

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