Thursday, 29 May 2014

The Elixir of Doom written by Paul Magrs and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What's it about: Once, Jo Grant travelled in Space and Time with the Doctor. Now, she is travelling with trans-temporal adventuress Iris Wildthyme. Arriving in Los Angeles in the 1930s, Jo and Iris are caught up in the glamour of Hollywood. Monster movies are all the rage. But sometimes monsters are real…

Groovy Chick: In 197 the Doctor brought Jo to LA in search of a vampire, a tale that I wish we could have seen on TV instead of The Mutants or The Time Monster. Jo and Iris are less Thelma and Louise and more like Hinch and Bracket. Jo wont stand for bullying, even if it is a monster that is in the firing line. It's wonderful how she stands between Vita and the Jellyfish and gives her a torrent of Jones abuse. The proximity of the Doctor makes Jo feel just that bit braver. Jo knows her own mind and is determined to free the monsters from Vita's prison, regardless of Iris' opinion. She will always do the right thing as she sees it and doesn't need anybody's permission. Crusades are her bread and butter these days. The Doctor never leaves your life entirely, even when it appears as though he has.

Transtemporeal Adventuress: Drinking when she is driving helps her to focus on the timelines. Iris baulks at the idea of there being rules to time travel - clearly Jo has been trapped in the Doctor's way of thinking ever since she stopped travelling with him. Iris has a lot of work to do with this one. The only parties she will go to contain fabulous, beautiful famous people. I don't care how many of Iris' tales are apocryphal or not, she spins a great yarn and in the end of the day isn't that what matters? She was an extra on the film Boudica and kept pointing out the inaccuracies because she was there at the real event. The thought of the Doctor's gallantry makes Iris moisten. She's with the sisterhood, a feminist to the last. Find and Replace offered up a bawdy, hilariously screwball Iris but this time around Magrs has gone for a more balanced approach. She's capable of moments of great insight and depth in between swigging back the champagne and flirting with the fellas. There's an unexpected moment when she quietly admits that she is always blamed by the Doctor for all manner of temporal criminalities. Iris has grown very fond of Jo Jones and is worried that if she realised she had the opportunity to head off with a breathlessly dreamy version of the Doctor (the 8th Doctor is exactly the sort of romantic drip that Jo used to fall for) she will smuggled herself in his TARDIS before you know it. Iris screams for help in the face of grisly nasties until she is reminded that she is a feminist and she offers to give them a bunch of fives. How can you fail to love this woman? Because of late night chillers Iris has learnt something about late night creature features. Iris doesn't like being compared with the Doctor, the dilettante fop! She was off her face most of the time in her youth and so she cannot be blamed for leaving a bottle of elixir from the Higher Tombs of the Atrixians lying about for anybody to get hold of. She's less heroic than the Doctor, sometimes she does things for purely selfish reasons. She got her mitts on the elixir so she could shed a couple of years and make herself more palatable again. Iris admits she is more like Jo than she is the Doctor and that she doesn't have an extra set of lives - I wonder if she is fibbing again. You never can tell with this one.

Standout Performance: At this point the multitude of voices and personalities that Katy Manning can bring to an audio never ceases to astonish me. She is so used to playing both Jo and Iris that she can slip into either character with consummate ease and convince the listener that there are two actresses in the studio rather than one talking to herself. She also gets to throw in an interpretation of the eighth Doctor (I kid you not) and an appallingly insensitive American Hollywood star.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'That'll mess up the fan boys!'
'The monsters must have their revenge...'
'All husbands revert to type eventually.'

Great Ideas: Paul Magrs stories often leave me with a warm glow of nostalgia in my belly, usually for an era of Doctor Who gone by (or in the case of his superlative novel Diary of a Doctor Who addict of my childhood). That same warm glow you get at Christmas when you are revelling with your family, when you are on a friends holiday and lazing on the beach with your best mates half drunk and when you have shared a wonderful meal with the person you love. With Find and Replace and now The Elixir of Doom he manages to wax lyrical and get me yearning for a time period that I wasn't even born in! This might be a rosy glow imagining of the seventies but it is one that is very easy to slip into. Magrs loves offering an amusing spin on accepted tropes and in this case creates psychic money, the currency that keeps on giving if you think hard enough. Oh the day out I could have with a couple of those notes. I love the fact that Iris takes over the narration at points, it gives us a greater perception into both characters to have their own unique take on each other (and besides Iris is willing to embellish and make naughty observations than Jo). Something terrible happened on the set of Leopard Boy Meets the Human Jelly (sounds amazing)...and Iris has the hindsight to know that the film was never completed. It's time to find out why... In a bizarre twist it turns out that Vita has her own giant jellyfish waiting backstage along with the other monsters, gorging on the elixir. Vita literally turns her husbands into monsters and uses them in her movies. Apparently the Doctor is the second biggest nosey parker in the galaxy (after Iris herself, naturally). It wouldn't be an Iris story unless she was responsible in some way or another and low and behold her penchant for booze has made this whole ghastly situation possible, allowing Vita to turn men into monsters. Apparently Panda has been on a little trip on the Orient Express.

Audio Landscape: Police siren, the hustle and bustle of LA streets, tills pinging, the bus growling, shopping, pouring a glass of bubbly, party atmosphere, glass smashing, people screaming, growling, hissing, dogs barking in the distance, the hustle and bustle of a studio, jellyfish voice, the wobbly jelly exploding on set, birdsong.

Musical Cues: I was just saying in my Tomb Ship review about how predictable the music has become of late in the main range adventures - how every story seems to contain the same bangs and flashes of a high octane action adventure movie. I also said that there was often more diversity and identity in he spin off ranges. Richard Fox and Lauren Yason wrote the score for Tomb Ship. They also wrote the score for The Elixir of Doom and the difference in quality and style is extraordinary. This is a stylish period piece set in US of the happening seventies and so needs a soundtrack that will conjure up the imagery of smoky back streets, vintage cars smoothing past, seductively lit clubs and fashion on acid. It does that and then some.

Standout Scene: The appearance of the eighth Doctor was completely unexpected and therefore utterly delightful. They have encountered one another a number of times in the novels but I would kill for a bona fide audio featuring Manning and McGann. I think they would spark off each other really well. The Scarlet Empress and The Blue Angel are both name checked.

Result: Just delightful, the main range has been in such a poor state of late that listening to a companion chronicle as effervescent as this is like throwing down a cocktail at the end of a long, stressful day. There's nothing especially deep going on with The Elixir of Doom but who cares when the dialogue is this snappy, the interaction between Jo, Iris and the Doctor so bouncy and the plot races along with so many humorous and exciting moments. It's a Doctor Who romp in a fabulous location, packed with grisly monsters and fronted by two great characters played with incredible deftness by the same actress. Am I the only one who is clambering for an Iris and Jo spin off series with more adventures in this vein? It's probably not on the cards given that an Iris spin off series has just been given the chop but a run of adventures in the same vein of Find and Replace and The Elixir of Doom would be the perfect antidote to the musty staleness that is permeating certain ranges being put out by Big Finish at the moment. Katy Manning has emerged as one of the more remarkable performers of the companion chronicles, an actress of diverse talents with a million and one voices at her disposal. Manning with Paul Magrs' skilful, sunny writing is a match made in heaven. There is probably a much darker, thoughtful tale to be told about turning men into monsters but I don't think Doctor Who is the place to do it. Magrs rightly keeps things jolly and there was a smile slapped on my face throughout. Add in the atmospheric post-production work of Fox and Yason (especially the delightful score) and I was unable to resist: 8/10

2 comments:

xen trilus said...

I don't think it's so much that Doctor Who's not the place to do it, but rather that a fun adventure with Iris is not the place to do it.

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