Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Warehouse written by Mike Tucker and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What's it about: The Doctor and Mel land in what appears to be an orbiting warehouse, a delivery facility with a dangerously erratic computer. Whilst Mel is helping with repairs, the Doctor begins to realise that not everything in the warehouse is as it seems. Why do no goods ever seem to leave the shelves? Why are the staff so obsessed with the stocktake? And who is the mysterious Supervisor? On the planet below, the Doctor discovers that the computer might be the least of their problems – and that they should be more concerned with the spacestation's mould and vermin...

The Real McCoy: Having unlimited space in the TARDIS can be a burden at times because it means there are an unlimited number of things you can keep and an unlimited number of places you can put them. He probably has one of everything but doesn't have a single clue where he put it. Tucker has managed to capture that untroubled seventh Doctor from season 24, the one who is flitting around the universe like a raving lunatic, hair, hat and attitude carefree. The seventh Doctor seems to be exactly the sort of character who would have a ton of shortbread bulging out of his pockets. I never realised how amusing the seventh Doctor could be when he is sarcastic. His 'hello, we're the Gods you've been worshipping' was very funny. When the Doctor bares his teeth at the horror of the sacrifices, you really pay attention. McCoy has rolled this many rrrrrrs in years and each one sounds like a death threat. If he had Godlike powers then he wouldn't keep landing himself in situations like this.

Computer Programmer: Again, it isn't hard to accurately capture Mel in season 24. Just imagine somebody who has taken half a dozen Pro Plus, spent four hours in the gym and is setting off to support every cause known to mankind. She's bubbly, enthusiastic and almost unbearably twee. Fortunately we have Bonnie Langford to bring her to life with the benefit of hindsight being a wonderful thing and she tempers some of the worst excesses of Tucker's writing. Mel is given plenty to do and her skills her vital to the plot (if she can find the on switch then the planet is doomed) but I wouldn't necessarily say she is written for intelligently. Giving a character a substantial role and giving them knowledgeable and perceptive things to say are two very different things.

Standout Performance: McCoy! McCoy! McCoy! I'm so excited to say it that I had write it three times. Let joy be uncontained.

Dreadful Dialogue: 'Oh rats! Sorry, not the best choice of curse in the circumstances...'
'You shall not find me wanting in points!'
'It's time to rid this warehouse of its mould!'
'A mould that can think!'

Great Ideas: 'What about the shops on the high street?' 'They'll become something of a novelty, I'm afraid.' The Doctor, unfortunately, hits the nail on the button. How long will it take before the process is finished and they are completely defunct? The warehouse is operated automatically but there are clones on hand to complete the stock take. I guess there are some things that a machine simply cannot do. There was a viral outbreak and the warehouse was sent into orbit to stockpile supplies away from the contamination. Unless the rats were incredibly smart to cause damage to non-essential systems and thus not put their lives in jeopardy (when Mel suggested it I thought this was going to turn out to be a sequel to Rat Trap) then the damage has been caused by an extraneous force. Shopping lists of orders placed with the Gods for a warehouse hanging in the sky with unimaginable bounty. A fungus practically wiped out an entire world but by the time the survivors emerged they had been cut off from the supplies set up into orbit. The rats are built up to be the monsters of the piece and turn out to be nothing of the sort. And the supervisor turns out to be a big lump of mould. Which is quite novel.

Audio Landscape: Crickets in grass, conveyor belt system, screeching rats.

Musical Cues: Since episode seems to consist of revealing physical detail about the warehouse and little else ('ooh those shelves are dusty!' and 'we're on a conveyor belt, Mel!') it comes down to the unconquerable team of Fox and Yason to make all this travelogue much more mysterious and exciting that it might otherwise be. To their credit they succeed. The Warehouse becomes a secretive, enigmatic location in their hands. Come the final episode, the pair have ramped up the excitement levels to factor ten with a score that suggests something terribly exciting is going on (when in reality a few million parcels are going to be delivered). They are a real asset to this story.

Isn't it Odd: Much like Paradise Towers, much like Spaceport Fear (more to the point), this is a concept based location. This time round it is the idea of a warehouse that has spun out of control and created its own society with customs and rules and it's own unique dialect...you get my drift. However with Tucker this is all surface detail, there is no real sense that this is a society that has genuinely evolved and people have grown up within it. Instead it feels like a location that has been specifically set up to tell a Doctor Who story within it. 'Should that be such a bad thing?' I hear you ask. Well yes, I think we should be aiming higher. And if messrs Platt, Morris, Dorney, Guerrier can create fully functioning, detailed worlds that exist well before and long after the adventure is over then I don't see why Tucker can't too. It won't take anybody five minutes to realise that the inspiration for this happens to be an Amazon style operation and the imagination doesn't seem to stretch much further than that. When you break the ingenious code (the catalogue = the bible) you'll see the sort of sophistication we are dealing with. Unpretentious it might be, but the first episode is almost entirely textbook Doctor Who staging with a cliffhanger that failed to make me clench my buttocks. Was it my imagination or did the clone names (so and so F, so and so A) recall The Happiness Patrol? Which in itself is another artificial world based around a bizarre premise. A primitive culture being influenced and worshipping a piece of technology apes The Face of Evil too. A wonder-drug that wiped out a civilisation...add Gridlock to the shopping list. Sentient rats...wasn't the same script editor responsible for Rat Trap? The villain of the piece exclaims: 'At last, after 350 years!' He even sounds like Kane at the end of Dragonfire. My biggest problem with this story is that as influenced by immense warehouse distributors such as Amazon is ripe for some commerce themed lampooning and a commentary on mass consumerism. I can only imagine the substance, humour and observations Jonny Morris would have sifted from this setting. Tucker instead writes this with absolute seriousness and the setting, beyond a little graceless dialogue, is exact what it says on the tin. If you spent the last however many years worshipping a church in the sky that housed your Gods would you really find yourself throwing all those ideals away in half an hour and choosing to sacrifice yourself to destroy it? Jean alters her life choices on a sixpence and it isn't remotely believable. To kill your God is a massive choice but it feels like a quirk of plot.

Standout Scene: The stock take has been going on for 350 years (that juicy bit of knowledge would have been a better cliffhanger than any of the examples chosen for this story). The clones on board the warehouse are being revered as religious figures (another intriguing reveal that would have been a good point to pause the action...oh you get the idea).

Result: A 350 year wait for your order? That's about average for Amazon, isn't it? The Warehouse is written by Mike Tucker (author of The Genocide Machine, Dust Breeding and The Bellotron Incident) and without pushing his face into the mud too deeply it was never going to sparkle like the best of Big Finish. He's a meat and potatoes writer, understanding the basics of a Doctor Who story without ever trying to push the boundaries or dig too deep. I knew from experience this was never going to rock my world. However he has the backup of some of the most reliable hands at Big Finish's disposal; Barnaby Edwards directing, Fox and Yason handling the score and the irresistible team of McCoy and Langford helming the story. It's not quite polishing a turd (because the script is actually quite lively in parts) but it is like a wobbly singer being supported by a stunning back up troupe, keeping the audience transfixed and distracted from the deficiencies (in this case it is the stilted dialogue and clich├ęd storyline). McCoy, in particular, is like an excitable puppy desperate to be petted and recalling the addictive enthusiasm that he brought to the role in his first season. It's rare for me to say that McCoy is the best about a production so mark this day in your diary. Barnaby Edwards too deserves huge kudos, he's such a magician he might just convince you that the last episode is the most exciting thing you've ever heard. My big question about The Warehouse is that since we have Paradise Towers telling essentially the same story in 1987 (Tucker reveals his inspiration was this story in the extras) and in recent years Spaceport Fear doing an excellent job of picking up it's ideas and doing something fun with them...do we really need a third roll of the dice that isn't quite as strong as the previous two? What you get here is a beautifully produced Doctor Who run-around. We're 202 releases into the main range and we've ditched the obscene amount of continuity that was weighing down the seventh Doctor adventures. Shouldn't we be setting our sights a little higher? I think the big question I have to ask about a story like The Warehouse is have we run out of fresh Doctor Who stories to tell? Has every plot twist been revealed, every character been written, every setting been created? Has the huge engine of storytelling known as Doctor Who played out every scenario so that all forthcoming stories are just an element of that story plus a pinch of that story with a healthy twist of that story? Or is it just the nostalgia driven Big Finish adventures that succumb to this curse? I don't think so. I think it depends on the imagination of the writer. Recently we have enjoyed The Entropy Plague and We Are the Daleks, both of which took an individual approach. In that case I have to blame the writer rather than the formula of the series on the lack of originality on display here. If you have a few hours to kill and need something to help pass the time whilst you browse Amazon and place a few orders (see what I did there?) then this is serviceable but it is in no way an essential purchase. For an audio drama it doesn't help that not one line of this script rises above the everyday. The antithesis of season 24 which was imaginative and original but often executed appallingly, The Warehouse is handsomely produced but a more nuts and bolts collection of old Who stories I have yet to experience. And I've not long heard Last of the Cybermen: 5/10

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm an unashamed fan of Season 24 (and unashamed fan of Paradise Towers in particular), and I'm maybe one of the few people in Who fandom who has much more fun with the S24 Seventh Doctor than with the master manipulator having-the-whole-adventure-wrapped-up-before-starting and playing chess with the universe and going for a pints with Death (ughh, NA pretentiousness makes me SICK). I'm always willing to spend time with the metaphor mixing, spoon playing Seven and I enjoyed this adventure a bit more maybe for that. A society evolved from a group of trapped colonists, we have seent hat in The Face of Evil, The Whispering Forest and Spaceport Fear and it never ceases to fascinate me this concept.

dark said...

I must confess I was having distinct spaceport fear vibes myself too, however again like Anonymous it's a concept I really like so I'm willing to let this one have a little lee way on that score.

My main issue with this one was some of the horrible, horrible clunky dialogue of the "it snapped off my umbrella" variety that sounds as though Tucker has no idea how to write for audio at all, however as you pointed out that is balanced by some lovely characterization of the 7th Doctor.
I'll also say that despite the spaceport fear/paradise towers revival (I really need to see Paradise towers), I did think there were some unique twists in the story and the execution. I really rather enjoyed the clones, their names and the ambiguity surrounding the F clones and whether the infection they were concerned about was real or not, I also liked the subverting of the "fix the godly computer" idea that occurred with Mel's plopt.

While I do take your cryticism that this story isn't exactly most original in concept, I personally did feel it managed to structure the concepts in an interesting way. Tucker might be a meat and potatoes writer, but I'd say this story is more like sheepherd's pie than the usual sunday roast.

As good as We are the Daleks or Entropy plague? possibly not, but I'd personally have gone higher than 5-10, maybe a 6.5 or so, just for how it plays with the concepts plus as you said, the lovely appearence of the 7th doctor (the bit about the three headed opera singers was great).

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