Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The Rapture written by Joe Lidster and directed by Jason Haigh-Ellery

What’s it about: Ibiza, 1997, and thousands of young people are acting like mindless zombies. Which is to be expected. Ibiza, the island of dance music, sex, drugs and alcohol, is the ultimate hedonistic paradise. God has sent help from on high to save the sinners of Ibiza. He has sent His angels to save their souls. Which would be simple enough if these souls didn't include an alien time-traveller working in a bar, a woman who disappeared in 1987, a young man carrying a photograph of a girl he's never met and an Irish girl who doesn't even know who she is anymore.

The Real McCoy: I have always maintained that Sylvester McCoy is the weakest performer to have ever played the Doctor and it is performances such as he gives in The Rapture that remind me why. Its not as though he is consistent awful but he isn’t awfully consistent either and depending on whether you are catching him on a good day or a bad day sees the script he is bringing to life rocket or dive bomb. That’s not just with Big Finish where he sometimes sounds as though he hasn’t read the script yet and is trying to suss it out whilst performing but on the TV as well where he was asked to portray hysterical anger, which is well beyond his dramatic range. A shame because as many people have pointed out to me over the years he is playing possibly the most interesting Doctor. Joe Lidster would go on to do some wonderful things with Big Finish (sort of an audition for the even better things he would do on Sarah Jane Adventures) but at this point I have to question the logic of giving McCoy quite so many scenes when he is ranting and shrieking with fury. I know it is not the writers job to reign in his imagination and they should stretch the actors but its so far beyond what McCoy can perform it almost sounds as if he is trying to take the piss throughout the last episode. It was irresponsible of the writer not to highlight the actor’s strengths and the director should have reigned all this over acting in but being a freshman it looks like he has just let the performers spiral out of control. Whatever the cause, this is one of the least effective portrayals of the Doctor in Big Finish’s and Doctor Who’s history.

What a shame because beyond all the shouting (and there is a lot of it) Lidster has a lovely image of the Doctor as a tired immortal looking for some solace at Ibiza. I love the idea of the 7th Doctor working behind a bar in Ibiza and interacting with people just to chill out for a few hours and his quieter moments splashing about in the tide highlight the mournful side of this incarnation that I think works much better. He has saved Gustavo’s life more than once, once saving his father during the Spanish Civil War. The Doctor can make a mean Sangria. He admits to himself that he cannot relax and that he attracts trouble. It is suggested that he is past it for clubbing and that line dancing would be more his cup of tea! He has his own way of coping with problems. He is a ventilation shaft veteran (groan) and doesn’t like it when they have to let Jude go. This is a Doctor who enjoys dishing out a punishment or two.

Ace of Hearts: Because it is too easy to pick apart how unsuccessful Ace is in the Big Finish Doctor Who stories at this point it seems almost unfair to do so. But that isn’t going to stop me. My husband abhors Ace at any point during her time on the show because she represents a late 80’s middle class view of how troubled teens behaved. He finds everything about her character a bit watered down except Sophie Aldred’s performance which is often somewhere over the rainbow to compensate for the characters flaws. And the less said about her cockney ‘cool speak’ (‘Corrrr wicked!’) the better. I don’t agree with Simon entirely although he does make some good points. I genuinely find Ace to be a decent foil for McCoy’s Doctor, a little rough and tumble after the squeaky clean Mel and capable of bringing some emotional depth to her stories. Aldred is by far the better performer of the two but taken together they are the weakest performers in Big Finish’s repertoire. The biggest problem with what they tried to do with Ace (have her grow up) is that Aldred has clearly done that and having her play a troubled teen when she is double the age comes across as ridiculously as that sounds. Once Hex has snuggled into the team Ace would take on a big sisterly role that really suits her character, having grown from her previous experiences and helping a virgin traveller to overcome the same drama. The emotional drama she suffers in this story is outdated, amateurishly written and embarrassing. We have seen far too much of Ace’s trauma’s in her two seasons on the telly and during her baptism of fire in the New Adventures, for the audios to get in on the action as well feels as though the character us only there to be abused. For much of this story Ace comes across as a petulant child which is the precise opposite of what Gary Russell was trying to achieve. Simon has only listened to a few Big Finish stories and unsurprisingly; The Rapture is not one of them.

Ace has asked the Doctor for one normal night without monsters, evil from the dawn of time (just how many of those have they met?) and one night without the Professor and Ace (both names she coined!). Kurtz’s death is one of the worst things that she has ever seen and she is sick of fighting and seeing people die. She is still reeling from telling Bev Tarrant to sacrifice Madame Salvadori in Dust Breeding. Ace doesn’t think of herself as a superhero. She has a night of clubbing and feels normal for the first time in ages. She rejects the Doctor, telling him she wants to be on her own which comes across as selfish rather than deserving. When we are introduced to Liam, Ace’s brother who she never knew anything about, Aldred’s performance completely derails. Ace’s rejection of her brother is so shrill and hysterical it practically redefines melodrama. She weeps uncontrollably when she reads a letter written to her by her dad (oh brother). If she had had a brother she would have had somebody to talk to, to share her problems with, he life would have been completely different. She thinks with a brother she wouldn’t have been such a screw up. In the heat of the moment she calls her whole life one big lie that she has been over some twisted rainbow. Kurtz’s death affected her so badly because it happened inside the TARDIS which was her safe haven away from the violence they experience on their travels. Ace uses her travels with the Doctor to block out her real problems (hardly, he uses them to bring them to the surface!). At the close of this story Ace decides to leave with the Doctor but does spend a few days getting to know her brother. She promises to return own day now she has a reason to come home. (However with Hex on the way as a surrogate brother she may not bother).

(Not so) Great Ideas: The cover is extremely good; it portrays the brooding, powerful 7th Doctor with far more conviction than the story. I really enjoyed Lidster’s device of bleeding from scene to scene in episode two, using a word to link two conversations. Audrey Mcshane started seeing her husband’s friend and Jack left with Liam 4 years after Ace was born and left Perivale. Jude’s philosophy is that the human race have nothing to fight, nothing to push against so we create our own monsters in the shape of schizophrenia and depression. Without a Hitler or a Mussolini to fight we are nothing. Angel Dust is a hallucinatory drug. Clubbing is described as people trying to reach a higher state of consciousness and becoming part of a greater whole. The Euphorian Empire was a peaceful people before Scorditora invaded and they had to fight back because they had killed so many. Gabriel was once a composer whose music was so sad and tragic it would bring tears to men’s eyes but the war turned him into a killer so Jude brought him to Earth to escape the fighting and to heal. He wants to take back a young fit army hoping his people will forgive Gabriel for killing his commander. Gustavo helped Jude and Gabriel with their plans because he thought he was giving the young people he had seen waste their lives with drink and drugs a purpose. Anyone listening to Gabriel’s music will twist and die in agony.

Standout Performance: The only standout performance for a good reason is Neil Henry’s whose turn as the delicate, child like Gabriel is astonishingly good, quite at odds with everything else that is going on around him.

Isn’t that Odd:
antithesis of drama. · Anne Bird’s performance as Caitriona is so agonisingly awful words fail me. At first I thought it was just a really convincing performance of somebody with depression but a few scenes into the story and she is utterly unbearable and unlikable. Speaking as somebody who has suffered with depression in the past the writing is quite sensitive (‘There’s nothing wrong with my life but I hate it’) but nothing in Bird’s portrayal illicits any sympathy whatsoever. She walks through the story space out and the final indignity in the last episode is that she survives. Shame.
· Episode two plays out like a really bad episode of Eastenders (whose standards are so low they have to work really hard to disappoint me). I was sinking in melodrama when Liam poured his heart out to Ace about being snatched away from his sister and rejecting his mother but when he topped all that of with ‘I went back to Dad but he died an hour before I got back’ I almost had to stop listening for a while. That is beyond emotional manipulation into some cesspit of self-pity and despair.
· ‘I’m into that whole X-Files and Professor X thing. Not that I’m a geek or anything. I mean I like clubbing and dance music so I must be okay, yeah? You think I’m okay yeah?’ A Christian sc-fi muppet Liam calls himself and there is so much wrong with dialogue like that I don’t know where to begin! The scenes between Liam and Ace feature the two of them screaming hilariously at each other, practically the
· Like Stargate ‘but with better acting’ – featuring McCoy and Aldred at their worst tackling a script that would have been tossed in the bin of the Stargate production office, you were just asking for trouble with this line. I don’t even like Stargate a great deal but its consistent mediocrity is far superior to this slop.
· Some choice extracts from episode four courtesy of Ace (‘You recorded him whilst he was dying! YOU SICK -!’ and ‘Why did you do it Gustavo!!!!!’) and the Doctor (‘Gustavo…whhhhyyyyyyyy!!!!!?’). Quality stuff. When your regulars are becoming your two least convincing performers there is problems. Episode four devolves into a shouting match, which goes down like a bucket of cold sick. Ace hanging over the parapet whilst the Doctor begs for her life as if he really needs a wee encourages McCoy and Aldred’s worst ever performances.
· Suddenly Jude becomes an avenging angel is episode four in one of the quickest turns of character I have ever seen. His brother’s death forces him to abandon his plan and kill everybody. Even worse the Doctor tries to psycho analyse the situation to convince us of this sudden twist of character – since when did we need an explanation for why a character has turned bad? If the story was well written enough it would reveal its own character secrets. Show, don’t tell.
· As an indication of how little the director or the script editor are paying attention we have a reference to the next story, The Sandman, in Caitriona’s dream sequence. This is in her mind so how the hell would she know about his adventures on the Clutch? It’s another oddly diverting piece of trivia that takes you out of the action.

Audio Landscape: There is a clever radio channel hopping opening that leads into Tony Blackburn introducing the story – if we had enjoyed this level of invention throughout we would have been laughing! Ibiza is beautifully conjured in every respect; the dance music blaring, the crowds enjoying themselves, the gulls screaming in the air and the sea crashing against the beach. The Angel Dust sequences are an audio tour de force and proof that Haigh-Ellery is more than up to this audio lark. Gabriel flaps his wings, conversations are overheard, Tony Blackburn declares his Godhood, applause deafens and the Doctor eats your soul…it’s deliriously freaky. The beach scenes are lovely and relaxing, the Doctor splashing his way through the surf. I found Gabriel’s praying in the caves quite creepy. The Doctor and Ace tear through the waves on Gabriel’s boat. The lights snap on in the nightclub and Gabriel’s voice booms over the PA system.

Musical Cues: One of the best covers of the Doctor Who theme ever leads us into an awful story with an outstanding soundtrack. Jim Mortimore provides a truly spectacular amalgam of clubbing tunes and Doctor Who incidental music, its pacy, catchy, dramatic, exciting, ambitious, it’s murderously good. My best advice is that you skip the audio and buy music from the seventh Doctor adventures which features each blistering track with none of the superfluous nonsense like the performances and script to distract you from the real talent here. Trippy music hypnotises you at the end of episode one and Caitriona’s drug induced haze at the end of episode two is gloriously scored to freak you out. Ignore the clichéd nonsense about the Euphorian War and concentrate on the exciting choral music that plays. This music is authentic and very cool.

Result: I always admire writers for trying to experiment with Doctor Who so some mild applause for having the bravery to fuse Doctor Who and clubbing together. What a failure. The Rapture is a dreadful amalgam of tedious soap operatics, pop psychology and crass religious metaphors that features a cast of overwritten characters performed with hysterical ineptness. Doctor Who on holiday sounds like a great idea until you get down to the nitty gritty and this ultimately feels like an embarrassing fusion of Mile High (the exotic location, the drink and drugs), Eastenders (the exaggerated plotting, characterisation and dialogue) and Star Trek (analysing the villains indeed!). I feel for Joe Lidster because he would go on to write some of the most powerful audios and some fine Sarah Jane episodes but this really is a poor place to start. I took this audio on holiday to listen to and everybody kept wondering why I was scribbling away so furiously and sighing with such disdain. Moments of this story are as bad as it gets: 2/10 (this would rank lower but the score – which on its own would get 10/10 cuts through some of my despondence.)

Artwork by Simon Hodges @ http://hisi79.deviantart.com/


FieryJack said...

"I've a bit of a thing when it comes to fascism" - possibly the most preposterous line of dialogue anywhere ever.

David Pirtle said...

Unlike you I really enjoy Sylvester McCoy's Doctor, at least most of the time, but this story is not one of those times. It's thick with incredible (in the least flattering sense of the word) melodrama and bubbling over with familiar cod psychology (from everyone, not just the Doctor this time). When McCoy says, "Yes, yes, yes..I've heard it all before," I was thinking the same thing. I won't say it's meritless, because there are moments when I can see what the writer's going for, but that doesn't make the execution less awful.

David Pirtle said...

P.S. I agree with FireyJack. I nearly sprained an eye rolling it.