Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Dust Breeding by Mike Tucker and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about? On nineteenth Century Earth artist Edvard Munch hears an infinite scream pass through nature. Centuries later his painting of that Scream hangs in a gallery on the barren dust world Duchamp 331. Why is there a colony of artists on a planet that is little more than a glorified garage? What is the event that the passengers of the huge, opulent pleasure cruiser 'Gallery' are hoping to see? And what is hidden in the crates that litter the cargo hold? The Doctor's diary indicates that the painting is about to be destroyed in 'mysterious circumstances', and when he and Ace arrive on Duchamp 331, those circumstances are well underway.

The Real McCoy: Inoffensive and pretty bland, just like Tucker’s treatment of the character in The Genocide Machine. Tucker’s seventh Doctor reminds me of the all purpose Doctor of the blandest Terrance Dicks Target novelisations, that any Doctor could step into the story without many tweaks. The idea that he has a play room is delightful though, an area of the TARDIS where he stores lost treasures of the universe! You see he waits until a gallery or a museum is going to be destroyed and nips in a few minutes before the catastrophe and steals the best pieces and keeps them in his little collection! He has a Mona Lisa and now he is after Munch’s The Scream. It is lovely to have the Doctor and Ace walk from the TARDIS and walk straight into somebody they know. Saves all that nonsense trying to convince people of who they are. The Doctor looks shady and moody on the cover, shame the story doesn’t reflect this. It is a struggle to keep the Doctor subdued but when he thinks he can defeat the Core he never anticipated it being as strong as it is. Unfortunately for what should be a thorough examination of the relationship between the Doctor and the Master degenerates into an action adventure and name calling. You will have to wait for Joe Lidster’s Master for that.

Ace of Hearts: I feel quite sorry for the character of Ace because she deserves so much better than this. Listening to this audio I get the impression that Mike Tucker and Sophie Aldred had no contact with the character when she was on television which we know was far from the case. Tucker himself has penned a number of books featuring Ace which have featured some strong characterisation (Matrix especially, which examines her Cheetah urges). Aldred is still trying to play Ace as a stroppy teenager despite the fact that she sounds about twice the age that she did on the telly and Tucker writes the character as a hysterical screamer with no balls to speak of. Lines like ‘The girl from Perivale hits the jackpot again!’ sound terribly unconvincing. Ace spends the first few minutes of episode two shrieking until my poor ear drums melted into pulp. This is supposed to a be a streetwise Londoner with some real attitude. Go and listen to the confrontation between Ace and Damien in episode 2, she comes across as panic stricken ands out of control and it doesn’t sit well with the character. I’m sorry but a lot of work needs to be done to redeem this overused and under written character and I don’t think it is coming any time soon.

Great Ideas: Where this story really scores is its glut of clever ideas all squeezed into four episodes and whilst I was unsure as to how so many unusual elements would come together I was quite impressed at how Tucker wielded the Master, the Krill and the Warp Core and managed to successfully fit them into a narrative. Bev Tarrant returns and whilst she is still hardly the most interesting character the Doctor has ever met she is miles better than she was in The Genocide Machine. Mr Seta is a fabulously creepy character in the first two episodes with his silky and menacing voice hidden behind a bejewelled mask. ‘The noise of Dalek madness’ – Guthrie tells the story of a crippled Dalek ship that landed for repairs but the dust dragged them down under the surface of the planet, buried them and you can still hear the screams on the wind – what a great story! The outhouse of Duchamp 331 is a collection hippies producing ‘dust-art’ which is described as ‘Campden Market gone mad.’ The colonisation of Duchamp 331 is of a damn planet that fought the colonists every step of the way told by Guthrie who is a nice character, a grizzly old colonist. The eggs in Mr Seta’s crates are Krill, an ancient and devastating biological weapon. The Scream is an alien trapped inside the painting – its creators stumbled across an impossible evil in the universe so they created something even worse to defeat it but once it had been unleashed the genie did not want to be jammed back into the bottle. It fled to Earth and hid in the mind of Edvard Munch whose mind snapped at the contact and he painted his madness in the form of The Scream, transferring the creature into the painting. Now that is one fantastic notion. The Master stole the painting and the creature toyed with him, the body he obtained on Traken was not strong enough to handle its energy and it shredded him, stole away the power given to him by the Traken source . He thinks the experience was magnificent and wants to trap the creature, slave it to the heart of his TARDIS so it answers to his will. Damien plans to release the creature into the dust of the planet, creating a living, sentient world. I loved the climax too with Guthrie finally having his revenge on the planet, igniting the Dalekanium and fuel and scattering the creature into the remains of the planet. There is just enough left now to give people a few bad dreams.

Standout Performance: Geoffrey Beevers gives a performance that is both camp and frightening and his soft toned Master definitely deserves a rematch. However this releases plaudits go to Caroline John who plays Madame Salvadori with such an unknowable, hilarious accent I was riveted every time she showed up. She is tough enough to go head to head with the Master and suggest that he would make a good filling for the vol-au-vents!

Sparkling Dialogue: Admittedly most of the dialogue in this story is functional at best and awkward at its worst but there were a few moments…
‘She really does have the most irritating voice’ says the Master of Salvadori or Geoffrey Beevers of his wife!
‘I think Duchamp 331 is throwing a tantrum!’

Audio Landscape: The sound design is okay but nothing special considering the last 20 odd releases, once again a story on another planet fails to ignite the same way a story based on Earth does! However the screaming sands of Duchamp 331 are oddly atmospheric, especially when Guthrie tells his tale of Daleks screaming under the dust. The Krill sound like a pack of salivating wolves. The destruction of Duchamp 331 takes the pleasure cruiser and the Krill with it in a moment of audio devastation.

Musical Cues: Russell Stone’s music is as evocative as ever and it pains me to think that we are slowly approaching where he left the company. His soft and ominous piano score for the Master is a triumph. Duchamp 331 is accompanied by a sweeping, gathering score and the end of episode one where the Doctor and Bev discover the sand in the corpses body is touched up by some soothing music.

Standout Moment: The cliffhanger to episode 2 is superb, probably the best yet. The astonishing reveal of the Master (which was expertly hidden behind the appearance of the Krill and the return of Bev – good job), the audio debut of the terrifying Krill and the rising music and anticipation contrive to create a moment of genuine frisson.

Isn’t that Odd:
Gary Russell chips in with another unconvincing appearance, this time as the panic struck victim right at the beginning of the story. They should have him appear once in every story as a running gag – a bit like ‘They killed Kenny!’ in South Park. Oh my God, they killed Gary!
Ace’s characterisation and Aldred’s performance as already discussed are both shockingly off kilter.
A hippy artist was never going to be the most convincing villain but Damien is written in such a lazy fashion and played so softly that I never sensed that he was threat of any kind. He would certainly give the campest Doctor Who villains a run for their money. (Oh great I have just had an image of a beauty peagent style competition with Benik, Lady Adastra, the Rani and Damien all camping it up for your votes!)

Result: Surprisingly enjoyable despite a number of handicaps including two regulars who are phoning in their performances and suffering languid characterisation. Mike Tucker’s script is not a work of art and much of dialogue is barely serviceable but the story itself is a winner, pitting the Doctor against three different adversaries that come together in a very satisfying fashion. The appearance of the Master is the best kept secret post Earthshock and that fantastic cliff-hanger catapults us into the last two episodes with renewed vigour. The last episode is little more than a run-around but with ideas such as a sentient painting and a living planet joining forces and being defeated by a battered old man like Guthrie is irresistible. Russell’s direction is off in a few spots, the first cliff-hanger is appallingly melodramatic and staged and certain performances could definitely be brought down a notch or two. This a patchy story which does not inspire confidence in the continuing adventures of the seventh Doctor but does make for an interesting diversion: 6/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/21-Doctor-Who-Dust-Breeding