Monday, 22 February 2010

Birthright written by Nigel Robinson and adapted by Jac Rayner. Directed by Nicholas Briggs.

Message Sent 2594 – sender Bernice Summerfield
Recipient Joe Ford – 2010
Subject – Details…

‘You don’t miss a trick do you? Okay so I buggered up a bit and had to hunt down the chronokinetiscope but don’t worry it was found and I have prevented your imaginatively conceived extra appendages from sprouting (ha!). Those blasted time rings have been nothing but trouble (well, he gave them to me after all…) as this time I ended up in Victorian London (hey you can’t say my life isn’t diverse) infected with bloody insect eggs trying to prevent a race of conceited bugs from migrating to the Earth (which means I guess I have stopped your timeline from changing twice…you owe me!). I don’t mind so much though as I got to put my feelings for John to rest and met a magnificent father figure in Micha Popov, a rather wonderful Russian detective who somehow always turned up at the right times. You got any bug spray?’

What’s it about? Thrown off the Time Path, Professor Bernice Summerfield is trapped in early 20th Century London, with only one of the pair of time rings she needs to get home. At the other end of time, her ex-husband Jason Kane finds himself stranded on a dead world, where the queen of the Charrl demands his help to save her dying race. But all he wants to do is find Benny, and return to the 26th Century. In the East End a series of grisly murders has been committed - is this the work of the legendary Springheel Jack or, as Benny suspects, something even more sinister? Allied with a Russian detective, she determines to find out. But the master of a grand order of sorcerers has other plans for her...

Archaeological Adventurer: Building an audio around an established character has proven to be a total success as Bernice has so much backstory to capitalise on and yet all of these stories feels as if they are adding brand new facets to her character. Lisa Bowerman gets some wonderful opportunities in this script and she really grabs them by the horns and gives another memorable performance; hilariously drunk in the opening scenes (‘And lastly I don’t actually have a home to go but I’m gonna leave anyway because if I have to hear any more of this chauvinistic rubbish I might forget that I’m a lady! Goodbye!’), subdued and emotive when she reads John’s letter and terrifyingly psychotic when she becomes infected by the Charrl eggs. She is eager to see John again but admits that Jason is the only man who has any right to call her his love. Her father-daughter relationship with Popov is rather lovely; he is a gentle and helpful man and exactly the sort she is not used to meeting. She doesn’t batter an eyelid at a bloody assault victim and rather running scared like Popov is intrigued by the Charrl’s sudden appearance on Earth. She cannot understand the cultural divide that sees the lower classes wishing homicidal harm on the gentry and does a passable cockney accent (‘Dun ‘er ‘in! Leave off mate!’). In a grab the tissues scene Bernice discovers that John has just gotten married in this time period and wrote a letter upon his return to his time period calling her a true heroine, courageous, strong and pure of heart. She is charged with attempted murder but she considers this a waste of her time rather than something to be worried about. She has met a few insects in her time, mostly in bars at closing time when they have had too much to drink and think they are Gods gift to women. She struggles to hold onto her mind as the Charrl infection takes hold but Jason helps her through it.

Lovable Loser: Jason reminds me so strongly of Susan Meyer in Desperate Housewives, a character who we are supposed to be feel sorry for and whose intentions are always right but no matter what they do they somehow always manage to make a complete a total hash of whatever situation they are in. They are the tragic heroes of this world, farcically unable to function as human beings because they try for the best but end up ruining peoples lives. As soon as Jason started talking about helping to save the Charrl race I knew this was all going to end in tears. Nobody wants him for himself just for his time ring and soon he is going to start taking it personally! He almost tried to pull of the same trick with Benny as he did in Walking to Babylon but this time his conscience steps in and stops him. Whoever knew he had one? Bernice describes him as an ‘apocalyptic scruffy human.’

Great Ideas: They have chosen a great book to adapt her, one that is full of tried and tested and yet still inventively used concepts. The Charrl planet is one of flower forests and honey pools but it was devastated by solar flares. They no longer have the minerals to run their gravity ships and there is no planet within 10,000 parsecs that can support them. The race would not survive another migration but the chronomancers have discovered and formed a link with another world. They want to invade the Earth, to use the time rings to stabilise the ‘great divide’ and use humans as incubators for Charrl eggs, they will tear free of the human body and feed on the sustenance from the fresh corpse. There is a really terrific Planet of the Apes moment where Jason realises the Charrl adopted home world will be Earth.
John’s letter to Bernice provides a necessary link between the three time ring stories, following on from their romance in Walking to Babylon and providing a reason to go to Guernsey in Just War, to recover the chronokinetiscope.
Infecting Benny gives the second disc a real boost.

Standout Performance: Is there anything Colin Baker can’t do on audio? He provides a charming and irresistibly sweet Popov, so different to his tone and accent as the Doctor and yet just as convincing. It is a shame that he is confined to this one story because he would have made an excellent substitute father figure for Benny. His plot, following the murder of his daughter and the other girls to England, is very well done.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I shall never wash that cheek again!’ – Benny kisses Popov.
‘Have you never seen a pair of bloomers before? Come on, give a lady a bunk up!’

Audio landscape: Miles better than Beyond the Sun but not as good as Walking to Babylon. You’ve got dogs barking, horses clopping, bottles clinking, yokels coughing, a ticking grandfather clock and chittering Charrl mandibles. Bernice being spat out of the time fissure is impressive, an ear piercing scream as she lands in a pile of rubbish! The Charrl voices are great, an almost Sil-like tongue waggling purr and their truly alien sounding background chanting gives a real sense of unease. Also the contact scenes between Khan and the Queen leave you quite disoriented, echoing from ear to ear.

Musical Cues: Nicholas Briggs provides some dramatic and scene setting music in this story, using a gentle piano underscore to suggest dangers approaching and a terrific use of wind pipes to give the more violent scenes a real punch.

Isn’t that Odd: Khan’s lackey in his first scene is so obviously Stephen Fewell putting on a really poor cockney accent I actually thought Jason was already there in a not very good disguise!
Given the events of the first disc it ends on a really unclimatic note and I did not feel compelled to put the second disc on for three days afterwards. On a similar note the first disc pretty much reveals the entire plot which leaves disc two buying time (admittedly with great performances and some fine dialogue) until the conclusion.

Standout Moment: The beginning and the end. There is a gorgeous prologue to the story that doesn’t feature Bernice at all, playing out like some penny dreadful with a lady of the night being ripped apart and her client rushing into the nearest pub and screaming ‘It weren’t human!’ The climax too is very memorable with lightning splitting the sky as the migration to Earth begins, Bernice infected and bloodshed as the police arrive and start shooting everything. Definitely a loud and action packed ending.

Result: An atmospheric tale, Birthright translates onto audio with some panache. It is this story that I can see the most revision made to to fit into the Bernice audio world but none of the changes do any harm at all and swapping Ace for Jason adds a whole new element of danger to the off world plot. Lisa Bowerman proves once again why she was perfect for the part and enjoys a wonderfully relaxed chemistry with Colin Baker, a world apart from their friction in Whispers of Terror. The second half of the story is far more sluggish than the terrific first half but things definitely pick up for the conclusion. A nice story to listen to on a cold foggy night: 7/10

Re – Details…
Message Sent 2010 – sender Joe Ford
Recipient Bernice Summerfield 2594

‘Bug spray…check! You think you’ve got it bad! I spent Christmas looking like some blond psychopath in a hoodie! I’m not sure where we’re at with the Doctor, chronologically speaking but his adventures on Earth just seem to be getting madder and madder! The whole bloody world turned into Harry Saxon, I knew we hadn’t seen the last of him! So…Victorian London, big bugs and father figures…things never slow down for you, do they? Don’t you ever fancy a rest?’

Buy it from Big Finish here:

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