Monday, 8 February 2010

The Spectre of Lanyon Moor written and directed by Nick Pegg

What’s it about? In a desolate landscape littered with relics of prehistoric man, the Doctor and Evelyn uncover a catalogue of mysteries. What is the secret of the fogou? Can the moor be haunted by a demonic host of imps? And what is Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart doing in Pengriffen? Teaming up with his old friend, the Doctor realises than an ancient conflict is nearing its conclusion – and Lanyon Moor is set to be the final battleground.

Softer Six: Nick Pegg states on the CD sleeve that he wanted to plant the sixth Doctor into a rural fantasia of inns, mansions and gothic mystery and it is a landscape that suits him very well. It makes you wonder what sort of stories they could have told on the box had they taken this route instead of the science fiction madness they subjected him to in seasons 22 and 23. He makes the fine admission that if he knew what was at the end of each tunnel he wouldn’t get into half as much trouble as he does! His relationship with Evelyn continues to evolve and they have a quiet respect for each other which is very rare between a Doctor and companion. He greets the Brigadier warmly and they admit to each other that they make an excellent team (a little self congratulatory perhaps but it is a fair point). He is a Doctor of this and that, mostly that. You have got to love it when he rails at Professor Morgan then realises he has gone far too far (something he never would have done in the past) and then sucks up to him by making him feel involved and invaluable! The first thing he asks for after being attacked is tea (good man). There are moments of his old impatience when he is stuck in the trenches of UNIT bureaucracy. Can you imagine if the Doctor had had this sort of character development in the TV series?

Learned Lecturer: God I love Evelyn, I mean I really love her. If she younger and blind (ahem) we could have something great going on…and I’m married to a man! She is just the sort you would want to travel about time and space with; she’s warm, welcoming and protective but also intelligent and learned so you can enjoy an engaging conversation with her too! Plus she’d make you a fine chocolate cake. What more could you ask for? The Doctor seems to feel the same way too and is adorable in her company, playful and respectful. She knows a little ancient folklore and has students and faculty members dotted about she can ask for help when she doing research, as she does here. She talks of visiting other planet so it’s clear they have been travelling together for some time no but she has not been on a spaceship yet. She steps in and introduces herself before the Doctor has a chance to do so and seems to enjoy it with all the men fussing over her in episode two. Flint describes her as rather an attractive lady with a young face but she thinks it’s been a while since anybody has said that! I love how Evelyn strikes out on her own in this story, researching the history of the land, striking a relationship with Flint and then having her own confrontation with the villain. Why not call the series Evelyn? She mocks Flint brilliantly (‘You really are crackers, aren’t you?’) and rescues herself from captivity. She boldly walks back into danger, seeming to enjoy the subterfuge making Philip states she was the sort of woman his mum warned him about!

Aged Soldier: Nick Courtney’s voice is superb for audio and so recognisable from the series too. He implies a feeling of nostalgia in his very first scene. The Doctor describes him as an old rogue! He’s visiting the dig in an unofficial capacity, officially he is on holiday but he is actually carrying out surveillance work. He falls back into his authorative persona when the situation becomes critical and suggests dropping bombs to save the day (nothing changes). The Brig’s finest moment comes at the climax when he confronts Sancreda and is willing to sacrifice his life to defeat this latest menace to the Earth. ‘If it comes to a choice between the whole world or just you, me and this ship Sancreda, I’m very clear where my duty lies!’

The image of the Doctor, the Brigadier and Evelyn heading off at midnight at the end of this adventure to the pub to drink, eat chocolate cake and share stories is such a delightful and cosy one my syrup filter broke down and I had a warm feeling all over.

Great Ideas: The opening scene sets up the story with real pace and excitement – a race against time for Sancreda to get back to his ship, dogs snarling at his heels, firing shots, his spaceship taking off and leaving him stranded on Earth. It’s another moment where audio triumphs over visuals because although this is extremely filmic and easy to picture the twist here is that Scriffen did not abandon Sancreda, he was murdered by one of Sancreda’s stray shots but we don’t know this until the climax. Sancreda’s sibling rivalry and hatred for his brother’s abandonment is what drives the story – 18,000 years of building hate and all for nothing.
There is a magnificent switch of location in episode 3 as the story flies overseas to Athens to join the devious Mrs Moynihan on her ‘holiday’. The story has moved on just enough for you to have forgotten her from episode one. Writers should try this sort of thing more often.
Sancreda proves to be a monster through and through when he turns on his benefactor, Flint, and murders him. ‘A partnership, ha! I do not speak of deals, I speak only of debts and yours to me is long overdue…’

Standout Performance: Susan Jameson as the unforgettably pitiable Mrs Moynihan. She’s a bitter old woman who has lost her husband and daughter to other people and only has her dogs to keep her company. Jameson provides a madly eccentric, yet odd beguiling character, helping to destroy the world for the most dismal of motivations, revenge. ‘I imagine people will be treating me rather differently in the future.’ You don’t have a future, love.

Sparkling dialogue: A lot of the dialogue in this story quite fun, occasionally a bit too self aware but still eminently quotable:
‘Up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen, where dare not go a’hunting for fear of little men.’ I realise this is a steal but Colin Baker makes it sound so evocative.
‘And it was grinning at us…’ I don’t know why but that sent chills down my spine.
‘You can get a long way with no talent but you can’t get anywhere without a pencil.’
‘Are you telling me that my housekeeper has fallen into a Faustian pact with a pixie from outer space?’
‘Now the tea lady is in charge!’
‘It’s nice to know we still make a good team, Doctor.’

Audio landscape: Not to crap all over Nicholas Briggs or Gary Russell who will go on to direct some fantastic stories but Nick Pegg lavishes a lot of love on this story and it shows in every aspect of the production. It is the moodiest tale yet; you have birds singing, chickens can be heard clucking in the distance, bees fly about lazily, church bells and birdsong suggest a new morning and strong winds and owls hooting give a strong sense of night time. There is a great moment where Flint smashes a window and puts it back together again, you can hear the glass gathering and breaking back into a solid pane. There are lots of footsteps in the museum in Athens and a rather dramatic security alarm. People tap keyboards, doors squeak, equipment buzzes and bleeps, the fogou is lovely and echoey, as is Flints extensive library. Just something simple as Evelyn smashing a window to escape to suddenly be greeted by crows screaming maintains the illusion that this is a soundtrack rather than being performed in a studio. Full marks for the opening scene though, the dogs sound terrifying and a very visual piece is told extremely effectively on audio without feeling like we are missing anything visually.

Musical Cues: A fantastic Alistair Lock score suggesting horrors unseen. The opening scene is huge and bombastic, suggesting the pace and urgency of the event. I love the terrifying, almost whistling music that plays during several tales of madness, goblins and sprites. Evelyn recalls her night time attack to a spine tingling track. This story does not have wall to wall music like The Marian Conspiracy, it is utilised only when it is needed. The score turns warm and beautiful at the end as the three friends walk off to the pub.

Isn’t that Odd: The pace of this story runs hot and cold. Episode two is the least eventful and largely quite talky and lacking in urgency.
Isn’t it annoying when a companion escapes from the villain and heads off to find an ally only to be talked into returning by the person she meets up with. Why is the first person they meet up always in league with the villain? Paul might have well of taken Evelyn there at gunpoint for all he had accomplice written across his forehead.

Something I learnt from The Inside Story: This story was originally intended for Tom Baker along with The Holy Terror and The Stones of Venice but he turned them down. The fool. Gary Russell talked Nick Pegg into directing this story himself after his initial reluctance.

Standout Moment: Poor Mrs Moynahin’s demise. Being ripped apart by her dogs, the only creatures she has any affection for is just horrible.
The dogs sound terrifying and the Doctor’s aghast reaction really drives home the horror of the event..
Worse is Sancreda’s response: ‘I am swatting at flies, Doctor, nothing more!’

Result: A gothic fantasy steeped in history and folklore proves to be the ideal backdrop for the long awaited meeting between the sixth Doctor and the Brigadier. Big Finish are telling the sort of tales we have been waiting for an age for with the sixth Doctor enjoying a fantastic companion, a spooky setting and a nice touch of nostalgia. Gather together some fine British actors, a villain, a stooge, an authority figure, add some murder, a squeaky voiced monster and a tale of revenge and you have something that’s traditional and rather gorgeous. Nick Pegg gives his own material some loving treatment and we get to enjoy the most atmospheric pictures painted in our head, accompanied by a chilling Alistair Lock score. It might be a bit too talky for your tastes and there is nothing revolutionary going on but if you like your Doctor Who down to Earth and evocative (I do and I do) then this is a good stepping on place for you. Kudos to Colin Baker for carving out a whole new life for his Doctor: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

1 comment:

TyphonianOTO said...

I thought this is a perfect slice of "trad" audio Who. I'd probably give it a 9 as I've listened to it so many times but feel that 8 is probably the "correct" score for it.