Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Loups-Garoux by Marc Platt and directed by Nicholas Pegg

What’s it about? Germany, 1589: the townspeople of Cologne pronounce a sentence of death on a mass-murderer who has stalked the countryside in the guise of a ferocious wolf. Russia, 1812: retreating from Napoleon's invading forces, a merchant's daughter is rescued from bandits by a handsome partisan with a ravenous appetite. Brazil, 2080: The Doctor and Turlough arrive for the Rio de Janerio carnival. Is wealthy heiress Ileana de Santos all that she seems? What sinister ailment afflicts her invalid son, tended by the mysterious Dr Hayashi? And who exactly is Rosa, engaged on a secret quest to fulfil the destiny of her extinct tribe? Time is running out for Rosa, Ileana and the Doctor, as the fearsome shadow of an ancient werewolf moves ever closer...

An English Gentleman: Has Peter Davison ever been given material this good as the Doctor? Typical of Marc Platt he has given a lot of consideration not just to the Doctor’s characterisation but to the fifth Doctor’s characterisation and pours him into the role of a diplomat, a hero and a champion. Without Davison ever dropping his gentlemanly façade. What does the Doctor really want? What is he searching for? He was once told that he would know when he found it but he hasn’t yet. In a story that suggests a romantic angle for the Doctor he shies away from a raunchy samba with a beautiful woman during the Carnival. When the wolves smell his scent they all stop and are alarmed by it, the scent of ice breaking in a stream, the scent of stillness. He describes himself as a peripatetic Doctor (a nomad which I guess suits him more than any other word!). One of the themes of the story is to face your nature and the Doctor’s is to sense danger and help where he can. Time is his business. His relationship with Ileana is fascinating from the start, he is a calm voice amongst the snarling wolves and she seems drawn to him instantly. The Doctor manages to talk her out of transforming during one of the more dramatic moments. I loved the moment where he stated discussing money is very vulgar and his fee is non negotiable: the safe return of Turlough. That was an effortlessly cool moment for the fifth Doctor. Unlike the other ‘cut claws’ the werewolves have met the Doctor respects and understands them. He is a lot than he used to be but a lot older than he looks. His age is often a question he tries to avoid. In the story’s best moment the Doctor stands proud and declares that he will fight for the future of the wolves and is willing to become Ileana’s champion and husband – you might think the fifth Doctor was too wet to pull this off but Davison’s ‘I’m the Doctor!’ is one of the most commanding moments in his entire life. He describes himself as no more aggressive as Alice’s wolf and Tegan thinks he is about as accurate at time keeping! In a telling scene he reveals awkwardly to Turlough that women are not exactly his area and that sometimes he feels very old, it is one of those moments where you think the Doctor’s life is changing, that he might actually consider embracing a woman in his later years. If only he knew what was to come! He explores possibilities, looks for things he could never imagine and wants to know how things work and hopefully make them work a little better. Some call it meddling, others thank him for it, it depends what side they are on. Rose suggests she could be more than just a companion and for one heartbeat you wonder if the Doctor has finally found his soul mate. He admits he never wanted to stay at home. What thoughtful characterisation for the gentlest of Doctor’s.

Over the Shoulder: At the beginning of the story I was convinced we were in for another poor performance from Mark Strickson ala Phantasmagoria but some time during the first episode something clicked into place and the script afforded Turlough opportunities we can only wish we had seen on the telly box. He wants to get away from it all and loves the carnival and thinks this is where you see what humans really are. His reaction to the samba dancers seduction of the Doctor is hilarious – uncontrollable laughter. It was during this story that I realised just how unusual it is to have the Doctor and male companion these days – back in the day you had the first Doctor and Steven, the 2nd Doctor and Jamie, the 3rd Doctor and the Brigadier, the 4th Doctor and Harry and yet after Adric and Turlough the tradition just seemed to have dropped. Which is a shame because an all male crew here makes for a far more interesting story than had Tegan been stomping about in her clomping great heels. Turlough has the lean hungry look of a common jackal. He is taunted by werewolves and forced to confront his own shadow, his dark side and he runs rather than face it. I’ve always thought Turlough had something of an ego but when he starts boasting that he is special and that he has never had the respect he deserved you actually start to wonder if he doesn’t deserve a scare or two. His wits are his claws and he keeps them sharp. He describes himself as adopted British. Turlough gets some very nice scenes with Rosa out in the desert, they are romantic and sensual and the two characters are really trying to figure each other out as they get closer. He tells Rosa about the forests of Trion where the trees are 3 times as tall and the leaves are fleshy carapaces that you can walk across, all mauves and purples. Swarms of moths flock by with wings like cut sapphires. In a rare moment of honesty he admits to Rosa that he has a dark side that comes out and hurts others, he is not reliable and given the choices he will save himself over others. He prefers the dark where nobody can see him. The Doctor = his grandpa? He is worried that the Doctor’s romance with Ileana will leave him stranded. After Loups-Garoux I feel as if I know Turlough better than I did during a season and half worth of stories on the TV.

Great Ideas: With a Marc Platt you get a 110% script and his take on werewolves is as brutal and considerate as you would imagine. As far as I understand it this story was talked about in the initial Big Finish meetings and took this long to materialise but it was well worth the wait. Small touches in the setting make the story come alive in unusual and wonderful ways. He mentions things like smart bombs and remote cameras that help bring the story alive.
The Amazon was so intensively farmed that its eco system completely caved in. The forest and the plains dried up from lack of rain and the so called lung of the world turned into a monumental dust bowl. Thousands of birds and insects were decimated. There was nearly a war over it but governments were far more interested in farming the resources of the moon. Come on, that is a superb bit of location building.
Lycanthropy comes in all shapes and sizes. The werewolves call the humans cut-claws. The curse of the wolf is that they will never age as their loves ones do. Werewolves are adept at going unnoticed. There is a wonderful image of the grey wolf bounding after the train through the desert. Even better is the cloud of dust seen from above, the wolves running through the desert. Stubbe talks about herding the cut-claws and laying their cities to waste. We get a terrifying taste of that potential future when the Doctor and Turlough return to Rio to find the streets deserted, the party goers trapped in the public park and the wolves stalking the streets. Fabulous imagery. Similarly haunting is the fate of Hayashi, the Doctor who betrays everybody in the story and ends being hunted and slaughtered in the desert as the pack come after him. Ileana doesn’t know if she is a woman or wolf and does not know if the Doctor cares too much or not enough. Stubbe looking at the Earth from orbit is unexpectedly powerful, cut off from his native land he is suddenly powerless.
The story that Ileana tells Victor is gorgeous, a wolf called Spring driving Winter from the woods and taking shelter with an old woman.
Platt even gives the TARDIS a few moments of beauty, describing her as a blue ice box, that she runs on imagination and that she beams with moonshine.

Standout Performance: Nick Pegg deserves kudos for assembling such a strong cast to bring Loups-Garoux to life. The strongest of a fantastic cast is Eleanor Bron who embodies the role of Ileana in a way that we rarely see in these Big Finish productions. It feels as though she has given the script some real consideration and injects some real desperation and emotion into Ileana. When she commands the Doctor to be her champion and her husband I knew we were in the company of a very special character. The romance angle means she has far more of an effect on the Doctor’s life than these characters usually do.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Tomato sauce can hide a multitude of sins.’
‘How many fat moons since I pulled you from the snow?’
‘The future will find me when it’s hungry.’
‘However fast you run, I will run faster…’
‘You change lovers as a whore changes petticoats!’
‘I’m the Doctor! And I’m offering Ileana my protection. I’m stronger and more worthy than any puny human or wolf!’
‘I bring out the night in everything.’
‘The whole world is mine and I’ll eat all of it!’

Audio Landscape: Sterling work from Nick Pegg who is proving himself as the most accomplished Big Finish director. So much of this story comes to life with genuine chills and emotion, the post production work and music mix to make this a truly memorable experience. The opening itself is arresting; a trial scene with screams of hate and a vicious wolf growling at them. Rosa’s recording is interrupted by insects chittering grass and wolves howling in the background. All the scenes in and around the transit stations are superb with trains rushing in and out and the TARDIS landing with the translation circuits turning the language of the announcer to English. Paper free electric cards have aural greetings. The Doctor and Turlough are attacked by wild dogs that sound very hungry. Crashing drums and music surround the Doctor and Turlough in the Carnival. Stubbe stalks through the crowd in a truly terrifying moment with his hideous dribbling growl. Rosa’s train speeds through the desert. When Turlough and Rosa snuggle up howling winds and wolves surround them. The ranch burning in the wind is a vividly depicted. Anton is savaged by Stubbe in a gross out moment. Alarms and sirens and wolves screaming depict a deserted Rio. There is a great moment where the Doctor blows on K.9’s whistle and the wolves howl in the distance, their ghostly screams are very evocative.

Musical Cues: Another fantastic musical score from Alistair Lock. Lovely calming guitar plays over Rosa’s recordings to her grandpa. Drums and nature indicate the dancing forest. As Ileana tells Victor the story of Winter the music is astonishingly warm and wonderful, it feels like a very special moment between mother and son. The music stirs up an epic scene at the end of episode 3.

Isn’t that Odd: I know it can be explained by the fact that they had to move studios, Lock wasn’t used to the soundboard and there was a faulty microphone but there is some really awful distortions in episode two. The cliffhanger to the story features the Doctor sounding like he is a million miles away and Ileana sounding like she is growling inside your ear!

Standout Moment: The end of episode three sees plots revealed, challenges made, rivals slaughtered and the Doctor standing up of the rights of the wolves. It is a truly stirring piece of drama.

Result: Simply a gorgeous piece of writing that is brought to life with spectacular style by Nick Pegg. The delayed script of Loups-Garoux is a work of art with some complex characterisation, evocative scene setting and a moving story. The unusual pairing of the fifth Doctor and Turlough works wonderfully and like two bachelors travelling through time and space they both get two very different romances. The howls of wolves terrify throughout the story whether they are stalking through the desert, raiding the streets of Rio or rounding on the Doctor. It is rather magnificent how Platt fails to use any of the werewolf clichés and instead portrays them as an ancient and noble race trapped in a bestial form. It is another terrific performance by Peter Davison who makes a great pairing with Eleanor Bron and together you wonder for a few moments if the Doctor will finally settle down. It is hard to explain how powerful the story is without experiencing it but this is one of those Doctor Who stories that doesn’t feel like a Doctor Who story at all but a piece of drama that the Doctor happens to turn up in. Different in all the best ways: 9/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/20-Doctor-Who-Loups-Garoux