Saturday, 21 August 2010

Doctor Who and the Pirates written with great imagination by Jacqueline Rayner and superbly directed by Barnaby Edwards, esq

What’s it about: All aboard, me hearties, for a rip-roaring tale of adventure on the high seas! There'll be rum for all and sea shanties galore as we travel back in time to join the valiant crew of the good ship Sea Eagle, braving perils, pirates and a peripatetic old sea-dog known only as the Doctor! Gasp as our Gallifreyan buccaneer crosses swords with the fearsome Red Jasper, scourge of the seven seas and possessor of at least one wooden leg! Thrill as Evil Evelyn the Pirate Queen sets sail in search of buried treasure, with only a foppish ship's captain and an innocent young cabin boy by her side! Marvel at the melodious mayhem which ensues as we sail the ocean blue! And wonder why Evelyn still hasn't realised that very few stories have happy endings...

Softer Six: These reviews are becoming a little predictable but seriously…how good is Colin Baker in this story? There was a moment in the all singing, rope swinging, cutlass dodging third episode where the sixth Doctor goes from being a great Doctor to being the best Doctor (it was around the hilarious ‘Please! Please! Give me one more chance before you cut me down like a dog!’). When Colin Baker gets a dodgy script (it hasn’t really happened yet but it will…) he manages to inject some life into the story but when he gets a blinder like Pirates he leaps to top of the quality ladder and does a little pirouette. It’s not just that the sixth Doctor and Evelyn are a constantly surprising and delightful combination (who shocked with their high drama in Jubilee and now turn their hand just as adeptly to comedy) but they clearly seem to adore each others company…almost as much as we adore being with them. I remember one very chilly winters evening when I went to see Colin Baker in Corpse! and I couldn’t miss the chance to say hi at the stage door and ask for his autograph on my Doctor Who and the Pirates CD. He took one look at it and declared that he had so much fun making this one. And it shows. This story is infectious to listen to and Colin Baker is a huge reason why. The Doctor doesn’t come finer than this, he’s charming, witty, verbose, delightfully funny and having a ball.

He can’t operate the TARDIS very well but every now and then he surprises you. Evelyn thins he has very bad taste in clothes but a very nice smile (that’s just the sort of thing your wife would say!). He gravitates to water like a hazel rod (its true! The Thames in The Marian Conspiracy, Project: Twilight and Jubilee and the Galapagos Islands in Bloodtide!). When Evelyn wants him to save everybody he says he is not operating a space/time lifeboat! The Doctor is a terrible namedropper so if he hasn’t heard of Red Jasper he must he very unimportant in the scheme of things. Amongst his claims to fame he advised Churchill on policy and is a close personal friend (Players), he spun the first jenny in the Industrial Revolution (Mark of the Rani) but he doesn’t like to talk about the Great Fire of London (The Visitation). He describes himself as a mysterious stranger with a keen sense of justice and horror at necessary slaughter. Don’t let him ever hear you call him stupid. Hilariously, Evelyn has Red Jasper call him lily livered, foul coated, spicy smelling scoundrel and yet when the Doctor takes over the narration Jasper describes him as a fine distinguished looking sailor wearing a stylish outfit! Colin Baker makes a surprisingly believable pirate (‘Yo ho ho!’). To get him out of a scrape he declares knows practically everything except everything regarding maps and treasure. He admits he has a pain threshold. He has been outlawed for roaming, exploring, gathering knowledge and fighting with his wits. He is the very model of a Gallifreyan Buccaneer. He sums up his entire life in Gallifreyan Buccaneer with some passion. It’s quite rich that he doesn’t find homicide justifiable but maybe he’s got a short memory. ‘I don’t suppose it would help if I told you I was an orphan?’ he says at one sticky moment. Luckily he was taught tree climbing by Tarzan, King of the Jungle – what a fib! The scenes between the Doctor and Swan are hilarious (‘How big was this dragon?’ ‘Enormous! Well…so big’ and of course that delightful moment where the Doctor reveals the Rubies to him). He can usually navigate via the celestial bodies. He claims he is in excellent physical condition. He has the gift of time and he gave that to Evelyn to get back in time and stop Sally from making a mistake. He stresses that he did it for Evelyn; he must love her a great deal.

Learned Lecturer: Another superb showcase for Maggie Stables who really tears out your heart at the end of this story. One of my absolute favourite companions ever. It is a pleasure to listen to Baker and Stables together, they are an addictive combination.

Why are her students always on the top floor? Interestingly we discover that everybody thinks that Evelyn is on holiday. She’s visiting one of her old students Sally and she has brought chocolate cake (I never had lecturers like that). Evelyn has no idea how many of the Doctor’s stories are true or if he knows either. She was appalled when the first mate was shot dead because there was nobody there who seemed to care, nobody wanted to mourn him. She is abandoned on a ship that is on fire and stuck in a rum barrel! Evelyn wants to turn the cabin boy Jem into cabin boy Sally because it would be easier to tell the rest of the story. She proves to be resourceful in a crisis and manages to save both Jem and Swan and abandon the burning ship in a raft. Hilariously she sings ‘row row row your boat’ whilst marooned in the middle of the ocean with no food and water and the future stretched out before her. She genuinely thought it would all end happily. Evelyn believes stories should have a happy ending. She came to Sally to see that there can be a happily ever after. After hearing about the accident that killed Sally’s lover Evelyn thought she would need somebody and she doesn’t want her to bear all the guilt on her own. She becomes Evil Evelyn the Pirate Queen! Her cardie is a shade of red, which recollects the blood she’s shed. She’s a Pirate Queen strangely disguised in bombazine! She admits that singing is not exactly her forte. I love it when she shoots the gun and the shot goes awry and she declares ‘that was just a warning!’). It is horrifying to listen to Evelyn screaming hysterically as Jasper murders a sailor. She tries to stand up for Jem but is slapped away. Choking on her tears, attempting mouth to mouth on his dead body, Evelyn grieving Jem is horrible. Stables unleashes a frightening anger when she shows the sailors Jem’s dead body. She’s not sure if she can go on and wants to be taken home, not ready for another story yet. Sally has never seen Evelyn tired before, she is feeling her age. She makes the Doctor promise not to leave without her. She wanted Sally to get through this one night. If there is someone there in the morning it doesn’t seem so bad…she has effectively stopped Sally from committing suicide. Stunning characterisation.

Standout Performance: Aside from the regulars who prove themselves to be excellent storytellers, singers and romanticists my favourite performance comes from Nick Pegg as the uproarious coward Captain Emmanuel Swan! He should be really annoying but the script and performances are pitched perfectly and he had me rolling about with laughter. ‘A draaaaagon!’ All is forgiven for Bang Bang a Boom! Helen Goldwyn is initially quite unlikable (intentionally) and is a far more believable depressive than Caitriona from The Rapture. The performance is much more subtle and compelling. Her last line is gloriously uplifting. Plaudits to Bill Oddie who proves he still has what it takes to make a fine villain managing to walk a fine line between hilarious small mindedness and terrifying hysteria. He really scares in the last episode. I’ve missed out a few names but this is a peerless ensemble cast.

Great Ideas: The TARDIS landing in the hold of a ship full of gold and gems! How wonderful would that be to see? Fantasy and reality get confused in the clever tale of trick narration and as Evelyn’s story changes so does the story we are listening to. The ship is sinking, then it isn’t. The Doctor just happens to be carrying a sword to confront the pirates! She gets so carried away with her fight scene the Doctor is shot dead only to then be told the Doctor didn’t confront anybody…it was the first mate all along. It’s really smart stuff. First Red Jasper has two wooden legs…but when it is pointed out that he only had one and that is probably anachronistic he only has one…it’s a pirate thing, after all. Things get really smart when we have Evelyn doing impressions of the sailors, David Copperfield and Little Nell and the like…and then we head back into the story and the sailors are suddenly talking like Evelyn (‘Oh this is jolly difficult you know!). The best example of the shift in narrative sees the Doctor about to step out and confront the Pirates before pausing and saying ‘But I mustn’t leap out and challenge them.’ Jac Rayner is pointing out all the implausibility’s and narrative tricks up a writer’s sleeve. Its traditional to torch an enemy’s ship and Jasper does have a dastardly reputation to uphold. In episode the Doctor joins the action and they agree to share the narration – its now doubly unreliable but twice as fun! Ezekiel Jones was the scourge of the seas and One Eyed Trent was his first mate and near the Ruby Islands they came across the King’s ship, which they raided for all its treasure. The King revealed he had a spy on board the pirate ship who will tell the authorities of their raid…and he had his head lopped off for the privilege of that information. The treasure was hidden on the Ruby Islands and they sailed on to Jamaica. Jones killed all of his crew rather than let any of them betray him that just left One Eye and Jasper alive, who was hiding below decks. Jones was hung by the King’s men and One Eye stole the map and Jasper has been looking for him ever since, hoping to claim the treasure as his own. The story pre-empts Jem’s death which ups the tension, waiting for it to happen. Brilliantly, the Doctor decides to turn the story into a musical for some light relief. The medley that reveals Sally’s guilty secret is excellent, disguising such an important twist in one of the songs is inspired. She was driving too fast, the road was too icy and the car crashed and she now considers herself a killer. When Sally tells Evelyn that she wants to be left alone you know she is contemplating suicide. This is how you deal with adult issues, not skipping over them almost comically in Nekromenteia but dealing with the emotions no matter how heartbreaking they may be. Jasper goes from jolly Pirate to murderous thug in a second and the sailors are suddenly very shy to join in as the chorus. Self-aware extras in a unreliable narrative…love it. One Eyed Trent was Jem’s father and it is horrific to hear Jasper trying to bully the information out of him. Jem dies at Jasper’s hands because he didn’t know where the map was and Evelyn blames herself for that death because she couldn’t intervene. Evelyn brings Jem’s body up to the deck to prove what a monster Jasper is. The Doctor has given Jasper and he will be searching the Ruby Island a long time now he has been marooned by his crew.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Doubloons!’ ‘Bless you!’
‘You villain! Betrayed by me own stowaway!’
‘It can’t possibly get any worse! The dialogue is totally over the top as well as anachronistic. Is there a story at all?’
‘Mr Merryweather, stop dripping on the deck!’
‘Everyone likes cake’ ‘I prefer skewering out eyeballs!’
‘Stories don’t end in real life.’
‘Mutiny this is! Again! Mutiny squared!’
‘There’s a reason they’re blood red.’
‘And brightly shines the dawning day…’

All of the songs are full of memorable lines and delights but by far the most accomplished (and stuffed full of more continuity than a book co written by Craig Hinton, Gary Russell and David A. McIntee) is Colin Baker’s hilarious ‘I am the very model of a Gallifreyan Buccaneer… (give this a watch too... its great!)

I am the very model of a Gallifreyan Buccaneer,
I’ve information on all things a Gallifreyan holds most dear,
I’ve linked into the Matrix through its exitonic circuitry,
I understand dimensional and relative chronometry.

I’m very well acquainted too with matters of the Capitol,
I’ll give you verse and chapter on Panopticonian protocol,
I’ve been into the Death Zone and I’ve played the Game of Rassilon–
(Rassilon? Assilon, Bassilon.. ah-ha!)

With pestilential monsters that I got a lot of hassle from!
With pestilential monsters that he got a lot of hassle from!
With pestilential monsters that he got a lot of hassle from!
With pestilential monsters that he got a lot of hassle-hassle from!

I understand each language and I speak every vernacular,
I’ll conjugate each verb obscure, decline each line irregular,
In short in every matter that a Gallifreyan holds most dear,
I am the very model of a Gallifreyan Buccaneer.

In short in every matter that a Gallifreyan holds most dear,
he is the very model of a Gallifreyan Buccaneer!
I’ve tackled shady Castellans with devious behaviour,
I’ve sparred with Time Lord chancellors like Thalia, Goth, or Flavia.

In fact on some occasions I’ve held office Presidentially,
Though maybe I won’t mention I was ousted out eventually.
I know just how it feels to be a wanted man and on the run,
But wouldn’t leave the carefree buccaneering life for anyone,
Though sometimes my adventures seem absurdly operatical,
(Operatical? Hatical, patical.. ah-ha!)

With ups and down and twists and turns and incidents piratical.
With ups and down and twists and turns and incidents piratical!
With ups and down and twists and turns and incidents piratical!
With ups and down and twists and turns and incidents pirati-ratical!

I’ve sailed the seven seas of Earth and all the oceans of the Moon,
My trusty true Type 40 is my Gallifreyan picaroon,
But is this really what the average Gallifreyan holds most dear?
I wonder what they think about this Gallifreyan Buccaneer.
But is this really what the average Gallifreyan holds most dear!
We wonder what they think about this Gallifreyan Buccaneer!

I’ve defeated evil robots such as Daleks, Quarks, and Cybermen,
I’ve overthrown dictators from Tobias Vaughn to Mavic Chen,
I’ve rescued helpless maidens from the devastating Viking hordes,
Vanquished Autons, Axons, Daemons, Krotons, Monoids, Vampires, Voords.

I’ve liberated planets and delivered them from total war,
Saved Earth, Manussa, Dulkis, Skonnos, Earth, Tigella, Earth once more,
In short I know I am the truest Rassilonian legate,
(Legate? Decate, Hecate.. Hecate? Mm, not sure if that’s canonical.. ah-ha! I have it!)

And so to Time Lords all I say remember me to Gallifrey!
A sentiment we all agree, remember him to Gallifrey!
A sentiment we all agree, remember him to Gallifrey!
A sentiment we all agree, remember him to Galli-Gallifrey!

I’m not content to just observe, I am a bold adventurer,
Though other Time Lords mock this Gallifreyan interventioner,
I know in every matter that a Time Lord really should hold dear,
I am the very model of a Gallifreyan Buccaneer.
We know in every matter that a Time Lord really should hold dear,
He is the very model of a Gallifreyan Buccaneer!

Audio Landscape: As accomplished as his work on the similarly excellent Chimes of Midnight and then some, Barnaby Edwards is proving himself to be the very best Big Finish director. Can he do more please? What? He wants to climb inside and play Daleks? The university campus is brought to life with some polite background chatter. Sailing ships have lovely creaking decks and water crashes in on the Doctor and he splish-splashes his way though onto the deck. Guns are fired and cutlasses clash as the pirates attack! You can hear Jasper’s twin peg legs on the deck! A clock ticks gently in Sally’s flat. You hear the sailors heaving the booty from the hold onto the pirate ship (you would swear this was going on around you if you shut your eyes). I love it when we hear a muffled Swan crying for help from inside Evelyn’s rum barrel. The Doctor clinks china and pours tea. The crackling flames consume the Sea Eagle and we hear a creaking, splitting wood. Evelyn slaps at the waves with her oar on her raft with the ocean rolling away around her. The Doctor and Merryweather’s sparring adventures on the Adventurer’s Fancy results in the first mate walking the plank and landed in the ocean with an almighty splash. A window is smashed and we can hear the Doctor paddling in the ocean. The Ruby Islands are all cooing birds and lapping waves. Swan climbs a tree and causes coconuts to fall to the ground. Sally opens the door to the morning birdsong. We also get the best cliff-hanger in an age when the Doctor threatens to sing…it is the most horrific thing Evelyn can imagine!

Musical Cues: Timothy Sutton is not a name I have heard before which is crying shame because this is story that is controlled by music, especially in the third episode, and Sutton pulls out all the stops to make this as memorable experience as possible. The wistful harmonica that plays throughout the story suggests a mournful atmosphere and the beauty of the high seas. I loved the jolly sailors jingle as they are recruited as pirates. The score is like that of a feature film as Jasper tells his tale of the King’s Treasure. The Caribbean themed tune as the Doctor describes the dripping fruits of the Ruby Islands is perfect. The seas shanty Doctor Who theme tune is the last surprise in a story full of gems. ‘I’m better’ is possibly my favourite Big moment yet; exciting, funny, full of energy and it really got my foot tapping. Helen Goldwyn’s singing voice is phenomenal; ‘I am alone’ is beautifully sombre.

Result: Strikingly experimental and yet still an absolute pleasure to listen to, Doctor Who and the Pirates has taken all the style and effort that has been missing from recent stories and injects them all into four episodes of bliss. Jac Rayner has written a superb script, easily her best for Big Finish, which manages to be a beautiful character study, a rip roaring adventure, a hilarious comedy, a blinding musical and a striking piece of drama whilst offering a treatise on narrative techniques at the same time. It should be utterly schizophrenic but the story shifts mood effortlessly from humour to horror. Colin Baker and Maggie Stables continue to shine in what has become one of the great Doctor/companion pairings and the guest cast instil the story with some priceless performances. The jokes are funny, the songs are wonderful and the direction is faultless. Why can’t every story be as good as this? Remarkable: 10/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:


Anonymous said...

My favourite doctor, my favourite companion, one of my favourite writers and Gilbert and Sullivan songs, what could possibly go wrong, and the answer is nothing, my absolute favourite audio of all time, nothing has ever topped it and nothing ever will, I could put and the pirates on any time and just get lost in it.

Joe Ford said...

I'm the same...if I am ever feeling low I pop this story in and immerse myself in its mixture of comedy and tragedy and music. It's a heady brew for the occasion.

Anthony Pirtle said...

I can't remember the last time a Doctor Who story has made me smile as much as this one. Once again Colin Baker demonstrates his take on The Doctor is the most versatile, able to tackle action, drama, horror, comedy, and even musicals. I can't imagine sticking any other Doctor into this tale without it sounding absurd (at best), but Baker's Sixth Doctor never feels any less than authentic here. Quite an accomplishment. And, of course, Maggie Stables once again demonstrates why she is his perfect companion. 5/5