Saturday, 27 February 2010

Dragon’s Wrath by Justin Richards, adapted by Jac Rayner and directed by Ed Salt

What’s it about? The Gamalian Dragon ¬ a jewel-encrusted statuette captured by the warlord Gamaliel from the legendary Knights of Jeneve after the Battle of Bocaro. It is now sought by Romolo Nusek, apparently Gamaliel's descendent, to prove his right to assume his ancestor's mantle as ruler of the Sector. When Benny joins a group seeking to find the legendary statuette, she has a secret. No one can possibly find one on Stanturus because she's already carrying it ¬ left for her by a murdered colleague. The trouble is, the expedition does find one and, as a result, most of them are mysteriously slaughtered. Benny realises she and historian Nicholas Clyde must discern the traitor in their midst. Could it be Gilder, the obsequious administrator from Benny's own university? Could it be Truby Kamadrich, the famous archaeologist? Or might it be the bizarre librarian Reddick, who never leaves Nusek's vaults, protected by an inhospitable volcano?

Archaeological Adventurer: After a whole year of excellent showcases for both Bernice Summerfield and Lisa Bowerman it disappoints me to inform you that Dragon’s Teeth is the first story where Benny doesn’t really have an impact at all. And what a shame it should be the story where we leave the world of the New Adventures and Big Finish try and segue this series into an original storyline for her character. From this point on the Bernice Summerfield adventures are original adventures but after the problems of Dragon’s Wrath it doesn’t leave me with any enthusiasm for those stories. One of my audio bugbears rears its head in this story, people standing around shouting into microphones – and Bowerman’s shrill performance wrapped up in a number of echoed locations left me wincing a hell of a lot! The only thing we learn about Benny is that she considers herself a good archaeologist and is mightily pissed off when she realises that they didn’t want a good archaeologist…and they chose her!

New Theme Music: Good God why…? The original theme tune that played over the first five stories wasn’t the best I had ever heard but it served a purpose and worked to an extent but it is now replaced by a truly diabolical song that makes me ask what went wrong? ‘The thrill of a mystery is my only release…’ – choice lyrics there!

Great Ideas: This audio is adapted from a halfway decent novel, not one of Justin Richards finest but even on autopilot he creates a finely woven plot line with some choice twists. Unfortunately that is not the story that is translated by Big Finish and the finished result is a castrated, condensed and incomprehensible version of the same story. Why the story had to be squeezed onto one disc is not explained (financial reasons?) but a lot of the intelligent detail is lost. What we do have is some of the nicer concepts; the Gamalian Dragon being one of the most guarded artefacts in this region of space and yet it has still been copied, Nusek’s home built into a grumbling volcano like a crazed Bond villain and some nefarious double dealing around the revelation of which copy is the real Gamalian Dragon. But these are merely pleasant gesture to what should have been a well conceived and solid narrative. But Isn’t.

Standout Performance: Gary Russell by miles. He is the only performer who seems even remotely excited about the material and plays Gilder with far more interest than he is written with.

Sparkling Dialogue: Distinctly lacking, or if there was any it was buried under some terrible direction.

Audio Landscape: So much of this story is awkwardly put together or sounds like it is several fake sound FX put together it was really tricky to try and buy the story. Rainfall threatens to overpower the dialogue, cutlery and crockery clink with far too much gusto, the echoey volcano distorts the dialogue, weird squeaky rat creatures assault the ears and there is a general feeling of a director totally out of his depth with such a mammoth production. None of the scenes flow well into each other, they feel like chopped up pieces of actions lazily inserted together – although I blame the music as much as the director for that as the score could make those transitions a lot smoother. The attack of the dog(s) is diabolical because the snarling and barking is unconvincing and it is slapped over the actors performances first too quiet and then far too loud!

Musical Cues: An experimental (that’s a nice way of saying failed) score by S&R Cressida. I quite like the music in the first scene, it sounded amateurish but it had the mysterious edge that the story was going for.
However the rest of the story is punctuated by some really inappropriate percussion instruments that serve no dramatic purpose at all. Somebody will say some dialogue and all of a sudden a cymbal will crash or a drum will crash for no reason and when mixed with the poor script, underwhelming performances and inappropriate direction it is merely another distraction! The music at the end of the story is apoplectic, all the percussion players in the band take to the streets and bang and crash and cause general chaos!

Isn’t the Odd: That this story should be such a disaster? It’s a Justin Richards plot (usually sound), starring Lisa Bowerman (who never gives a poor performance) and directed by Ed Salt (who would go on to direct so of the finest Bernice Summerfield stories). The problems with this story stack up from scene to scene, the horrendous theme tune, the inexplicably long tracks (the longest of the four is over 20 minutes), the terrible dialogue (‘Hi, my friends call me Benny!’), the overpowering sound effects, Richard Franklin giving a hugely theatrical and unconvincing performance, the storyline losing itself in too many twists that have no impact, the underwhelming nature of the climax, the lack of closure for a whole season of adventures…

Result: I’ve been cruel enough: 0/10 Worst audio ever (so far).

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