Thursday, 19 August 2010

Nekromenteia written by Austen Atkinson and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: In the depths of space a little known district harbours a terrible secret. Long known as a place of death, it claims thousands more lives as a great corporate space-fleet goes to war. As the fleet screams out in fear and pain, an irresistible voice calls out to three travellers and a macabre mind sets a deadly trap. The Doctor, Peri and Erimem face the terrors of Talderun and the wrath of a corporate empire as they struggle to understand the hideous secret of the domain of the dead ­ a district known in legend as Nekromanteia.

An English Gentleman: After the joyous interaction in Church and the Crown things have already started to get jaded between the Doctor, Peri and Erimem and the Doctor declares it might be a good thing that they have some time apart at the beginning of this story. Its nice to see that the Doctor has some less than salubrious contacts around the universe and Thesanius the dodgy Pakhar mechanic seems to be able to come by illegal components the TARDIS needs. Peri and Erimem admit that they adore him but you couldn’t tell by how they behave in this story! In one of the more gruesome cliffhangers the Doctor has his head lopped off! To Erimem’s people he would be considered a God. Why does Davison always seem to get stuck with lines like ‘There’s nothing I can do to prevent it!’ I hate to see the Doctor so defeatist. Overall this might be a return to the gritty days of season 21 but it does not uphold the biggest strength of that season, excellent characterisation of the fifth Doctor. Here he displays no wit, no intelligence, he just reacts to the stuff that is going on around him, screams about how bad things are getting and lets a cat save the day! It’s not a great use of Davison’s talents. Much like Arc of Infinity he spends the whole of episode three in a dreamlike state, this time watching a cricket match. Thrilling stuff.

American Attitude: Atkinson has exactly the same problem that Joe Lidster had with The Rapture, he is writing for Peri at the age we saw her on the telly. Which should be fine for continuity purposes but Nicola Bryant is twice as old as she was (but still looking hotter than hell!) and it sounds odd hearing somebody who has matured having to spout lines like a petulant child (there is more than a touch of Adric about her characterisation in this story). She is in a very difficult mood today, ribbing the Doctor even more than usual (she tells him his driving makes her dizzy). She considers a face pack a religious experience. She admits that she doesn’t normally strip nude on a first date and that she was born with trouble tattooed on her ass. There’s plenty of trouble in Baltimore if you go looking for it. Again this story is hardly the best use of Nicola Bryant as she spends much of episode two in a trance groaning with pleasure and gets lost amongst the myriad of subplots that happen for much of the rest of the story.

Dusky Babe: Erimem is such a strong character that you would have to do something very wrong indeed to mischaracterize her and admittedly a lot of the best moments of the story feature her but this is still a world away from the excellent treatment she had in Church and the Crown. My biggest problem was that she sounded a lot like Leela in places with lots of fractured, almost childish dialogue however Caroline Morris injects some real oomph into the story whenever she appears. Whilst exploring the Garrazone system she cannot believe she is no longer on Earth! She blames herself for Peri’s capture. She wants to find the Doctor’s body and honour the noble dead. It is very interesting to see Erimem and Peri’s very different views on temple desecration in the last episode – Erimem accepts that the witches need to punish Rom and bravely faces his death, having his tongue and heart ripped out. ‘He’s paid his penance. He’s free’ she says. At the close of the story Erimem attempts to offer herself up as a sacrifice saying that she was drawn to Nekromenteia for a reason (which is unexplained). She likes to think that Antranak sacrificed himself for her and not because he was possessed by an alien intelligence. The most troublesome moment in this story comes when Harlon attempts to rape Erimem, something I will go into more depth below, and he beats her when she resists him. It’s really ugly and perhaps remains the biggest misstep in any one story since we never get to see the consequences of such an atrocity. Erimem picks herself up and gets on with the adventure and it is never mentioned again. Very realistic.

Great Ideas: The idea of a gang of witches taking on a fleet of spaceships is just weird enough for me to want to see it (its like the dragons versus fighter jets so admirably captured on the Shadows of Avalon cover). There are lots of despicable acts committed by Marr in this story; he orders a college destroyed because one of the pupils is the son of somebody who has betrayed him, he promises his workers food and good health for the rest of their lives but forgets to tell them the rest of their lives will only be until the work is finished in a weeks time, he plays the witches and the bounty hunters off against each other and he destroys the relic. He’s just horrible. The TARDIS lands in a room full of corpses, has that ever been done before (Revenge of the Cybermen, technically?). The Doctor has his head chopped off and his consciousness is saved by Shara who has traded his body and history for a moment of eternal happiness. He sacrificed himself to the converter, which the witches have been guarding and has caused holy wars. After Marr destroys the Relic the converter threatens to destroy both the planet and then the solar system! Tallis murders Marr and makes Harlon, another loathsome character, the chairman. Antranak contains the spirit of Shara and saves the day. Meh.

Audio Landscape: Is this the first of the main Doctor Who range that John Ainsworth directed? The audio side of this story is rather good; I just wish he had been given a better script to play about with. When compared with stories like Bang Bang a Boom the number of audio scenery Ainsworth manages to conjour is impressive. The biggest annoyance has to be the horrendous witches cackling which is enough to digest your internal organs with enough exposure. Crowds scream surrounding an execution, the Garrazone bazaar jingle is back, a spaceship lands and Harlon clambers down a grate onto a windy planet with birds screaming in the sky. Shara is beautifully portrayed as a low horse whinny with fierce beating wings. The police pursue the Doctor through the bazaar and fire rounds at the slammed TARDIS door. The telepathic circuits of the TARDIS sound just like they did in Planet of the Daleks, nice continuity. Antranak purrs and hisses his way through the story. I really liked the objections of the board! Challis Prime is a mixture of mine workings and drills. There is an early morning crackling campfire. Peri is bathed in oils. The Doctor is present at a cricket match and we here the ball being hit and polite applause. The Doctor’s trance is a heady mixture of his previous selves, Rassilon and even the chimes of Big Ben!

Musical Cues: David Darlington provides quite a decent score here, it is a little repetitive but as least it tries to convince you of a pace that isn’t actually there.

Isn’t that Odd: It feels to me that Austen Atkinson wanted to write Caves of Androzani all over again…in fact its surprising that the Doctor doesn’t say ‘this all seems terribly familiar’ in his regeneration story. Harlon is Stotz, a runner and a nasty piece of work. The witches are the androids, protecting the one thing that is actually keeping the peace (Sharaz Jek). Marr is Trau Morgus, a double dealing back stabber who is playing off the witches and Harlon against each other. In episode four he heads off in his spaceship and joins the action where he is betrayed by Tallis (Krau Timmin) – just like Morgus in Androzani! And it features the fifth Doctor and Peri! Whereas Androzani was a superb script with real maturity and anger, Nekromenteia is a confused mess of hackneyed characterisation, ludicrous technobabble and far too many different threads. It copies the aesthetics of Androzani without any of its clever world building, stunning dialogue and shocking twists.

The rape scene. This might open a can of worms because I know there are some people who think that the Doctor Who universe can expanded to allow all kinds of storytelling and usually I would champion that line of thought, but rape? I don’t think that is appropriate under any circumstances. At times I thought the New Adventures touched on material too adult for the show and I have had some great arguments on the subject but I cannot imagine an argument for the rape of a Doctor Who companion that would convince, especially not when it is written as shallow and throwaway as this. Erimem is approached by Harlon and beats him off and the next we see of her she is dazed and beaten to a pulp. It’s uncomfortable and ugly and feels totally out of place in a story about cackling witches and double-dealing businessmen. It feels as unsuitable as Barbara’s attack in The Keys of Marinus, a dark moment in an otherwise childish farce. We never hear about Erimem’s rape again, she just puts it to the back of her mind and gets on with the story. I don’t think any woman, even a potential Pharaoh, could ignore such a violation with quite such ease. Don’t do it again, Big Finish.

Result: With Bang Bang a Boom just gone and The Dark Flame to come, Nekromenteia makes for the heart of a trilogy of terrible stories that makes you wonder if Big Finish are running out of steam. The first episode is too fractured, with your attention divided a million ways with lots going on but nothing to follow and the story quickly becomes a bunch of unpleasant people betraying each other. John Ainsworth’s decent direction is lost because the story is unbearably dull and treats the regulars like bit players and gives the guest cast far more time than any of them deserve. The witches are among the most irritating Doctor Who aliens ever. This feels like a love letter to Eric Saward’s gritty approach to Doctor Who without any of the charm. It’s all oddly distant, unlovable and uninvolving: 3/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:


kurumais said...

i hate the rape scene too but im not sure she was actually raped i think they meant it to seem like she fought him off and was beaten but fought him enough were she wasnt sexually assaulted. either way it was horrible . i love erimem she and peri are terrific together. it was horrific listening to that.


Unknown said...

First, I definitely got the impression that Erimem was indeed raped. And while it seems that there is a divide amongst those who've listened to this tale as to whether or not she was violated, the ambiguity as to whether or not it occurred, gives the author a responsibility he does not fulfill: to treat such an event with the seriousness it deserves

Second, the rape itself is problematic enough for me. However, far more troubling is that - not only, as the author of this review correctly points out, is the rape immediately glossed over - the perpetrator is soon being treated like a hero. We are literally, by tale's end, meant to cheer for a rapist; he becomes a pseudo- hero, which is just sick.

Bobcat said...

I was left a little confused by the aftermath of Erimem's assault. I couldn't quite tell whether she had been violated or "just" beaten.
Either way, it wasn't a comfortable experience to listen to, and not something I feel belongs in Doctor Who. Torchwood, perhaps.

I suppose one reason Big Finish and other "third parties" introduce new Companions is that it gives them leeway to tell do things that they can't do with the main companion- nothing can really happen to Peri cos we (more or less) know her fate. Erimem on the other hand...

I must confess to getting a little lost listening to the whole episode, with too much going on at once.

David Pirtle said...

I think it is pretty clear Erimem wasn't raped, but that there is enough ambiguity that any number of listeners think she was is testimony to the weakness of the writing. I don't think the topic of sexual violence can have no place in Big finish stories period, but if it is introduced it should be done for a reason and handled far better than this.

Indeed all the nasty things that happen here to the Doctor and his companions seem pretty pointless and wasted on this story. A first poor outing for this trio.

Lee said...

Imo, this the lowest ranked episode in the Peri range, and one of the lowest in the entire Fifth Doctor's range. It's like the writer throwing every type of characters in it without actually making real connections between them. You're right about this being a discount Androzani.