Saturday, 30 August 2014

Psychodrome written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Ken Bentley

What's it about: Shortly after surviving the perils of Logopolis, Castrovalva and the machinations of the Master, the new Doctor and his new crew could be forgiven for wanting to take a breather from their tour of the galaxy. But when the TARDIS lands in a strange and unsettling environment, the urge to explore is irresistible... and trouble is only a few steps away. The world they have found themselves in is populated by a wide variety of the strangest people imaginable - a crashed spacecraft here, a monastery there, even a regal court. And not everyone they meet has their best interests at heart. With the TARDIS stolen, and the very environment itself out to get them, the travellers face an extremely personal threat. They'll have to work as a team if they want to get out alive... but can you really trust someone you barely know?

An English Gentleman: He's not surprised that Tegan wants to leave but he is a little offended. The Doctor finds the idea that they could be anywhere in time and space rather exhilarating, a far cry from the sombre fourth Doctor from the previous season. There is a fresh sense of out with the old and in with the new. Adric finds the Doctor's attitude towards the Monks facetious and I couldn't help but wonder if he was going to have to face the first in a long line of betrayals by the lad. The Doctor admits that he is afraid of Daleks, Cybermen and dentists. Sounds like a pretty comprehensive list to me. What I was thought was smartest aspect of a very smartly characterised audio was how it addressed that the Doctor's companions do not trust him or have any kind of faith in him. This bunch is always absurdly critical of him and I really appreciated the chance to address that and explore why. Morris goes one step further and has those insecurities made flesh. All of the Doctor's regret, self recrimination and shame actualised in a person. Rather like the Dream Lord. The Doctor is a little bit delicate at being compared to his previous self since he hasn't quite come to terms with who his new self is now. His greatest fear is letting his companions down and introducing death and chaos into their lives. Bravely he decides to face that fear head on rather than try and shy away from it. He's in for a world of pain come the end of the season.

Maths Nerd: 'Where the Doctor goes death inevitably follows. How long before it is your turn?' I have been eagerly anticipating the return of Adric to Doctor Who ever since it was announced that he would be starring in this box set. It surprised me to see Matthew Waterhouse returning to a role that had brought him so much notoriety and I was curious to see whether the character could be given a fresh lick of paint in the same way that so many of the eighties companions have on audio. It says something about the regulars of the period that the idea of the characters were clearly strong enough to work, it was simply the realisation of them went awry. The fifth Doctor (capturing the older man in the younger mans body), Tegan (toning down her aggressive tendencies), Nyssa (simply giving her some air time), Turlough (actually exploring his devious nature), the sixth Doctor (a complete revision), Peri (making her resourceful and humorous) and Mel (toning down the Perils of Pauline act and bringing her intelligence to the fore) have all been given a new lease of life on audio...could they work that same magic on the most loathed of all companions?

Not really, but I question whether this a character that deserves any kind of renaissance. The Big Finish versions of Sixie and Tegan are just about believable given their gentler moments but Adric was behaving like spoilt little brat from the moment he first skipped into the TARDIS until the moment he was blown up by the freighter. Paul Magrs managed to offer an alternative interpretation (in the much maligned but actually rather good The Boy That Time Forgot) which went for the sympathetic (and occasionally just pathetic) angle. What Jonny Morris has done here is offer up a completely authentic Adric from season nineteen and allows you to make your own judgement of him. A society build around rational scientific calculations sounds positively idyllic to Adric. How can you identify with somebody as square as this? The Doctor seems to think that Adric is capable of many things but not coercion but one of the first things he does when talking to Perditia is introduce her to the idea of rebellion against her strict educational lifestyle. In a very telling moment Adric has a right paddy because he thinks that his superior brain will let him down and he wont be able to solve the equations that will help them. He says that if his intelligence lets him down then he doesn't have anything, revealing that he knows he is something of a social leper. It's very clever foreshadowing when you think of the way that he ultimately leaves the show. His greatest fear is a mathematical puzzle that he cannot solve, letting everybody down. He wanted to see a whole new universe with the Doctor...and he did. Adric thinks it is a great opportunity. He thought the fourth Doctor was unpredictable and brilliant but cannot get a handle on this new fella.

Mouth on Legs: Tegan's tenure on the show has always been a point of contention in the show to me. I find her one of the most inconsistently written and acted of all the companions and that Janet Fielding herself was spot on when she commented that she was planning a set of characteristics rather than a character. Bolshie, hot tempered, irrational and rude - these are unpleasant traits that make up her character but without a visible softer side, a well explored back story and any real context for her constant moodiness she is simply a mouth on legs rather than a person in her own right. What is irritating is that there are glimpse of a warmer character with a sense of humour but in her three year tenure they rarely made themselves apparent. Frankly it makes the Doctor a little stupid to put up with her attitude for as long as he does, accepting her constant criticism. However at this point in her run her attitude is believable because she has been wrenched violently from the life that she knew. Season nineteen was the only year where the character made any kind of sense. She wanted to get home, she had a job to return to and she was frustrated that the Doctor seemed to constantly be making promises that he wasn't able to keep. Her abrasive attitude wasn't any more appealing but at least there was a reason for it. It was when she chose to return to the TARDIS in season twenty that her constant whinging made little sense. Tegan has undergone a massive transformation during her latter period (when she was paired with Turlough) in her Big Finish stories, she still has the temper but it is balanced with a sense of humanity, of warmth and good humour. She is a far more likeable and interesting character as a result. Jonathan Morris has married the two approaches perfectly here, there is enough of her bite for this to be authentically Tegan of the period but she is tempered by some of the more approachable characteristics of her Big Finish interpretation. Like Sixie and Peri, Tegan has undergone a massive renaissance on audio and it is a fine thing to behold.

Tegan isn't planning on sticking around in the TARDIS, despite being given a room. She has a flight to catch. She finds Adric insufferable and patronising but then she finds practically everybody insufferable and patronising so it is hardly a blinding revelation...the only difference being that this time she is right. When she was small they lived on a cattle station, which is about as far from civilisation as you can get. For Tegan to observe that anybody else is quick to leap to judgement is the ultimate pot calling the kettle black observation. She has a real phobia of aborigine dance and culture because of a particularly scary exhibition that her mum took her to see once. Ever since then she has had nightmares about strange white figures coming out of the dark (Morris is setting up her nightmares in Kinda perfectly).  The Doctor says 'brave heart, Tegan' for the first time and she really doesn't like it and asks him not to say it again. Oh dear. There's a very useful, gentle moment between Adric and Tegan where they share their experiences of how they met the Doctor. Scenes like this would have been vital had Saward bothered to include them. I guess it is so much easier writing tension rather than people getting along because you really have to work at making the latter entertaining whereas he former you can tap out at a moments notice. All Tegan ever wanted was a quiet life and what she got was fresh madness. Tegan admits that she needs time for the dust to settle. She holds an unconscious grudge because of the point the Doctor chose to come to Earth coincided with the death of her favourite Aunt. One directly caused the other. Tegan genuinely thinks there is nothing irrational about being realistic.

Alien Orphan: I have always been a bit miffed that we have never been able to experience a story where Nyssa properly comes to terms with the death of her father and her world and confronts the Master. She had a back story that was ripe for exploiting dramatically and neither the TV series nor Big Finish have gone anywhere near the subject beyond skimming her surface emotions about the trauma. Given the return of the season nineteen team, now is the perfect time to get to it. There is a ripe old psychological thriller to be had, where she goes sets a trap and goes after the man who stole her fathers body and wiped out half of the known universe. Nyssa has nowhere to return to now, travelling with the Doctor is her life now. Her guilt at not being about to save her home from the spread of entropy manifests itself in death and blame. How can she ever move on from what she has lost? How can she possibly honour their memory?

Standout Performance: Whilst it takes a little getting used to, Matthew Waterhouse's airy fairy accent for Adric is an actor trying his absolute best to try and recapture the sound of his teenage voice several decades after the event. Whilst it does sound like an affectation, he is putting in the effort to sound younger and that should be commended. Even if it does sound like he had been taken over by the angel of light at times.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'We are all the players of your dreams, your nightmares.'

Great Ideas: It is very Christopher H. Bidmead for the TARDIS crew to visit a monastery that is populated by scientists. In it's quietly majestic way that is exactly what Logopolis was. I can imagine Bidmead nodding in that wonderfully sage and arrogant way of his and declaring that this is the perfect setting for a Doctor Who adventure. Deliberation, evaluation and meditation...sounds like a gripping place to settle down for Adric. And only Adric. The planet is bathed in the glow of a red giant, an astronomical source of energy right on the doorstep. An invisible shield stops them from being boiled away to nothing. The whole place is a vast space station that has been engineered. A machine that takes the contents of your mind and turns them into reality, a three dimensional printer. Everybody that they have met are versions of the four of them that have been created from their minds - that is a bloody clever twist that I never saw coming at all. And yet looking back it makes perfect sense. With this kind of technology comes not just the ability to create their greatest strengths but to also draw upon their greatest fears and actualise those too (thus the Marsh spiders for Adric). As soon as this story plays its trump card things start to get very interesting with the different versions of this world and its populace turning on each other, realising that ultimately only one of them can survive. A form of cellular collapse ravaging through bodies...like entropy, just like the horror that took away Nyssa's father and home. It would feel authentically season nineteen unless the Master showed up in one form or another and he is conjured up out of Nyssa's mind  her fears. Such a wonderful metaphor for the battling personalities of the TARDIS crew, the various fragments of their personalities genuinely battling it out for supremacy. It has been a while since a story has gone down the psychological route like this and applied it in such a creative way.

Audio Landscape: Tinkering at the console, echoing dialogue, a rockfall, dust falling, chanting, automatic doors, waving a flaming torch about, skittering spiders, crackling flames, the citadel collapsing.

Musical Cues: The music feels instantly, authentically Paddy Kingsland. Bravo to Fool Circle for so effortlessly capturing that sense of freshness and renewal that the music was undergoing with its newfound freedom within the radiophonic workshop. And did you hear the wonderful little tribute to the music at the end of Logopolis/the beginning of Castrovalva when the 'Doctor' dies at the end of the story? 

Isn't it Odd: Didn't Morris deal with giant spiders in Cobwebs? It is supposed to be a steal of an old idea so let's let that one slide. And wasn't there creatures that fashioned themselves from the walls a feature of The Brood of Eyrs earlier in the year? Evil versions of the Doctor and his companions...I felt a whiff of The Eternal Summer about this at points and with the examination of characteristics and insubstantial versions of people coming alive I also caught a glimpse of The Forth Wall. But it is very different to any of those stories.

Standout Scene: The wonderful moment when you realise that this planet has literally been constructed out of the characteristics of each other regulars home planets and the places they have visited. Partly the Starliner partly Traken, partly Gallifrey, partly Logopolis, partly from the twisted realms of Tegan's mind.


Result: A palpable hit that somehow manages to package the season nineteen crew as something fresh and compelling. I've made the observation myself that having three companions is too many to be able to tell a decent story and give everybody a fair share of the action. Jonathan Morris takes that criticism as a challenge and manages to make the over crowded TARDIS of season nineteen a huge strength in the story that he is telling and the first episodes, whilst setting up an intriguing scenario, almost solely concerns itself with establishing the four unique personalities that are currently fronting the series. At their worst, this is the most obscenely mismatched bunch of characters that can literally drag a story into the mud (Four to Doomsday) but at their best they gel together rather well and provide some nice banter and relief in the stronger stories (Castrovalva, Black Orchid, Earthshock). Psychodrome paints an authentic picture of the crew, albeit with some of their more extreme characteristics toned down so they are much more approachable. Imagine if this had come after Castrovalva instead of Four to Doomsday? It would have been exactly what the season needed, a story that gelled this team into an effective family, that explored their characters and explained why they stay together. Four to Doomsday had an impressive budget and there is nothing in this story that couldn't have been realised on that. Consider it the highest compliment that the next time I do a TV marathon of Doctor Who I may have to slip this in between Castrovalva and Kinda and forget that the other story existed altogether. When it comes to characterisation, Psychodrome is the strongest audio in a long, long time. The final episode is literally weighted down with quality character scenes and examination. In what has to be one of the most satisfying conclusions of any Big Finish productions, the most fractious of TARDIS teams show their faith in each other and combat their insecurities. What a marvellous idea for a story, how beautifully placed: 10/10

4 comments:

Pink!Dalek said...

I loved the Fofth Doctor Box set, I was too with great anticipation about Adric, he was the only (apart from Dodo) companion who hadn't done any audios yet.

About the spiders, I think they were meant to represent Adric's fears from the ones emerging from the river fruits in Full Circle.

I howled with delight at the vision Tegan has of the Doctor: am smug fellow who talks gibberish and the Doctor's reaction to this vision is priceless ("I feel rather insulted. ehem...". I have always thought that the Fifth Doctor should have been characterised allowing the dry and sarcastic, but hilarious (you only have to watch the two videos he made for Gallyfrey One and The Five(ish) Doctors) Davison's sense of humor seep into him. The occasional sarcastic banter between the Doctor and Tegan proves its greatness, Davison and Fielding have a great bitchiness into them and if you could allow it into the relationship between the Doctor and Tegan would be a hoot

CW Cobalt said...

BF did what they do best -- they captured the spirit of the era and then one upped it with a great story and great performances that beats some of the televised adventures from this season. I hope they do at least a few more stories with this crew.

Anonymous said...

"Deliberation, evaluation and meditation ... sounds like a gripping place to settle down for Adric. And only Adric."

And Nyssa too, both are very cute nerds couple together. But Nyssa is the queen of the square.

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