Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Wormery written by Paul Magrs and Stephen Cole and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: There's one place in creation where the truth really can be found in the bottom of a glass: Bianca's, a very special and very exclusive little club. The Doctor, careworn and seeking quiet distraction, gains admission. But his rest and relaxation is soon shattered by the wobbly arrival of louche trans-temporal adventuress Iris Wildthyme. She claims she's on a secret mission of vital importance, the success of which hinges on her getting paralytic. When she's drunk, she can hear the whispering voices in her head! The Doctor soon learns that Bianca's airs and graces cover not just one malevolent power lurking in the shadows, but several. And a wriggling, writhing presence has designs on the clientele ­ just as Bianca herself has designs on the Doctor. At last, after so many centuries, the weary Time Lord is dragged by the heels into that darkest of undiscovered countries - love.

Softer Six: Definitely in this one. Why is it that the sixth Doctor gets all the best characterisation in these audios? When you go back and look at Jubilee, Pirates, Twilight and the like there has been some serious development of his character not afforded to the others? Perhaps it is because the sixth Doctor never had a chance to develop properly on the telly, there was the blink and you’ll miss it leap from the psychotic I’m-going-to-murder-Peri Doctor from Mindwarp and then the cuddly I’m-everybody’s-favourite-Uncle from Vervoids but with only six episodes to test out his new persona it was hardly an unqualified success. Compared to Davison’s wet vet who went from bland adventurer in season 20 to moral crusader in season 21 and was afforded the luxury of a years worth of stories that pushed his morality to the limit and McCoy who (almost as suddenly and jarringly as Baker) hopped from goofy clown ball to master manipulator in the gaps between seasons 24 and 25. Both Davison and McCoy had the time to nurture their new personas. This is our chance to see how the sixth Doctor developed.

The Wormery features my favourite development and characterisation of the sixth Doctor yet because it reveals how the events of the Trial would have hit home and caused the Doctor to lose some of that adventurous spirit. This is the ideal bridging point between the Trial season and the introduction of Evelyn in The Marian Conspiracy where the Doctor rediscovers his zest for life through the eyes of his new best friend. This interim stage, where the sixth Doctor gets to be moody and placid and gentle, is a very revealing new side to his character and a very welcome one. Throughout you are tempted to jump in and give him a big cuddle, Iris style and I can’t say I have ever felt that way about Sixie before – its been more get out of the way before you get slaughtered accidentally by his homicidal schemes! What’s more his chemistry with Iris is superb in this story, so much so I was half hoping she would continue to travel with him (or he would continue to travel with her!) and they could hit the space ways, the ultimate married couple! Lets have a trio of adventures starring these two!

He is introduced to the story using his sonic screwdriver as a cigarette lighter! He’s a deep man, a thinker. When he feels despondent he tosses himself into a really good brand new adventure (with lots of shouting and fighting of course!). He is secretly appalled that Iris doesn’t fancy him in this incarnation, however much he objects to the contrary. He calls his Trial a fix; a swizz and the Time Lords are still after him. The Doctor came to Bianca’s seeking a diversion and hoping not to make a dramatic entrance (he really has changed in that case). Apparently he wears his ‘costume’ to irritate close-minded men like Henry. There is a fabulous strop in the second episode where he rants like never before: ‘I most ignorant and unhelpful fellow!’ Iris has turned up all though his lives and in all the wrong places. He hasn’t quite lost his bad puns ability (which of course would be picked up with gusto in the seventh Doctor’s first year on the job), he’s not the police but he is arresting (groan). He goes racing from one thing to another to distract himself. He’s externalised all his demons in the form of militaristic Cyborgs, hell-bent dictators, lunatic computers, lizard men and Yeti! He’s still bitter about his Trial and wonders why nobody seems to be grateful for his help anymore. He’s very tired. Once he suggested that he and Iris team up in Venice after Jo had left him but she took it as a marriage proposal! He’s a loner and can’t ever see himself settling down. Things take a turn for the unexpected when he starts being bewitched by Bianca and falling under her thrall. He is described as a domineering buffoon! He’s been looking in the wrong places since he could crawl. He refutes Bianca’s slur on his character, he doesn’t judge people he judges their pain, their oppression and he tries to help. It takes a lot for him to trust. He hasn’t felt the familiarity Bianca impresses on him since the end of his Trial with the Valeyard. I adored his appalled, plagiarising reaction to Iris’ dark side coming back to haunt her (‘At least my dark side had a sense of style!’). He has found himself looking back, wondering if he has change so much over the centuries and when the turning point will be where his fate is sealed and he is destined to become the Valeyard. Iris takes back her earlier statements and says he’s dead cuddly! A girl after his own hearts is one that doesn’t ask questions and lets him get on with it! Evelyn’s coming Doc – fat chance!

Transtemporial Adventuress: Absolutely Iris’ best audio adventure and the one that exposes her true potential. Anybody who thinks Iris is just a one-dimensional continuity shattering hysterical old drunk could be in for a few surprises. I have always loved Iris for her carefree, disarming, hilarious style of adventuring and how she attacks everything with such glorious gusto. She has a lust for life that is infectious. Like her companion the Doctor (and she would not think it any other way) the Wormery affords her the chance to blossom out of that screaming harridan and display some real emotion. Scatterbrained, inebriated, madly psychotically in love, yes but she’s also sensitive, thoughtful and desperately lonely. I wanted to give her a big cuddle too.

‘A bad name! Oo ‘ow dare you!’ Described as carebourne, bedraggled, a wee patter of glamour in her complexion and bursting into the story drunk and held up by a lot of soldiers. She describes herself as trans temporial adventuress extraordinaire and a traveller from beyond all known time and space! 1930’s Berlin happens to be her one of her favourite spots. She’s always drunk. She doesn’t fancy the sixth Doctor all that mush, all the others she’d be off in a shot with them and she offers him condolences (‘Better luck next time’). Iris has erased herself from Time Lord history. As ever she is in no state to discuss epistemological quandaries! Las Vegas was the home over her cabaret act (Mad Dogs and Englishmen?). Iris has a fierce love for the Doctor and he has rebuffed her again and again. Bianca’s nightclub feels homely and familiar to her. In trying to figure out what the alcohol worms are up to Iris has had some great nights out on the town and she declares proudly there’s nothing wrong in getting drunk! Goes striding in out of her depth just about sums her up perfectly. She is furious when she discovers Bianca has gone after her Doctor and her breakdown upon discovering he has fallen for her really pulls at the heartstrings. Katy Manning aces these scenes of pathos, tripping on her sentences, losing her voice, sounding lost and alone… One day she hopes he would stop running away from her (awww). She’s as serious as the Doctor about what she does just not necessarily the way she does it. Bianca scathingly calls her a chicken, scratching around in times farmyard, clucking about after the Doctor and indulging in aimless adventuring and half cut philanthropy. I revelation that Bianca is Iris, her darker side, her very own Valeyard, is so delicious I can die happy! Iris in an ugly pupa, a chrysalis caging the beautiful butterfly Bianca could be. The nightclub is what becomes of her shiny red bus. When they finally get rid of her Iris says good riddance to the anomalous old fuddy duddy.

Great Ideas: Bianca’s nightclub is an enchanting location to tell this story; it’s a little bit exclusive. Mickey narrates the story to a Mr Ashcroft with the aid of some audio recordings (but as she points out ‘The audio medium is so deceptive’). Mickey dips in and out of the story, interacting with the characters. Bianca herself is described as ‘a single pale lily, decadent and funereal.’ Mickey points out that when we die all that is left is the recorded evidence we leave behind us. Bianca’s is in actuality in deep space, a jaw-dropping cliffhanger and taxi’s in space would make for a terrific visual. Wormholes connect to embarkation points throughout all time and space. One of Alice and Ballis’ multidimensional collaborations ended collapsed an entire star system. Bianca’s is a TARDIS and the ignorant Doctor could have caused a time ram by landing inside her. Wherever you find calamity that’s where you’ll find the cabaret! An evil intelligence hijacks the harmonic structure of Iris’ song to bend people to its will. Iris’ bus landed on Sadius Minor where Bianca distils her booze and Iris accidentally half inched a crate. How’s this for a wonderful bit of technobabble: Bianca’s is powered by fused symbiosis with the Nexus point and feeds from the seething energies of the Nexus and leaks back out waste energy which is used to sustain the wormholes through the planets that subscribe! Phew! The Doctor sums it up as being constructed on a intergalactic precipice. The worms are split into two groups, the Pro and Anti factions. Bianca’s lot, the Pro faction stand for law and order and want life static and arrested, they chose never to evolve from the perfection they have achieved. They want to hold the universe in the thrall of Bianca’s voice, never to evolve under a benevolent dictatorship. The Anti faction want a single awful moment of violence and destruction, Iris’ demonstration was just a taster for their unreasoning violence. Bianca being Iris’ darker self naturally wants her former selves remaining regenerations (just like the Valeyard, the witless imitator!). The shadows are the disembodied souls of the creatures the worms had chosen to evolve into or to put it more succinctly the ghosts of what the worms would have become. They crave corporeal form, the bodies they were cheated. The Pro’s and the Anti’s join forces to ‘unite and survive’, they’ve kissed and made up and want Iris and Bianca to sing together to breach the multidimensional Nexus point and bring them all through. The shadows are going to hijack the worm’s power and take over the souls of everyone in the universe! Because of the events of this story the worms twist and change into the shadows, a lovely bit of symmetry. The Doctor is in the TARDIS riding out the before shocks, the after shocks and the never-were-shocks! I adore the explanation at the end that throws the whole story into doubt: a hypothetical explosion with the Nexus sealed the potential for any of it ever happening was thrown into much doubt! The final twist that Mr Ashcroft is the 7th Doctor is priceless.

Sparkling Dialogue: I could just quote all of Iris’ dialogue…
‘Got me on the couch have you, you mucky devil!’
‘Then you’ll see what’s what and what’s not and what not!’
‘Stop thinking and start drinking!’
‘I’d like to propose…’ ‘Ooooh!’ ‘…a plan of campaign.’
‘How tawdry! A pistol stuck in your garter!’
‘’Ere, you can rest your head on my bosom…’
‘Who ever heard of a diabolical denouement taking place in a patisserie!’
‘Give me your earring!’ ‘Dressing up?’

Standout Performance: Its one of those casts that Big Finish assembles every now and again that just gels. Colin Baker emotes beautifully; Katy Manning makes me scream with laughter, James Campbell camps it up wonderfully, Maria McErlane is the ultimate Diva and Paul Clayton menaces in the shadows. However they are all eclipsed by Jane McFarlane who narrates the story beautifully, I could sit and listen to her soft Scots purr all day. Hats off to Sylvester McCoy who gives one of his best ever performances with only one line! His silence speaks volumes and Mickey’s observations into his character feature some astonishing characterisation.

Audio Landscape: A gorgeous low-key location, a smoky and liquor-stained nightclub in 1930’s Berlin. Mickey pops open a bottle and a lazy bee flies by. The amiable chatter and drunken revelry of Bianca’s. I love how the tapes are burnt and spent and stretch to nothing. Iris falls of the bar taking bottles and chairs with her! The shadows voice is blood chilling (my Simon was trying to get to sleep whilst I was listening to this and he told me to turn it off because the ‘scary voice’ was ‘giving him the willies!’ Sturmer makes a gun shooting entrance. Iris’ scratchy alien sounding singing (sorry Katy!). The coughing engines of the taxi’s and how it speeds up to kill Iris. The Doctor saves the day in an appropriately loud, screaming, explosive way!

Musical Cues: The Wormery features my favourite musical score with only Russell Stone’s music for The Stones of Venice coming close. It really enhances the cabaret atmosphere of the piece but also provides some genuinely foot-tapping music as well. The opening music is soothing, nostalgic, lovely. There is some bubbly piano playing as we are introduced to Bianca’s. Iris’ introductory music is glorious; exciting piano bashing that had me waltzing round the room! There is a background tinkle of the ivory keys throughout which is very pleasing. The music that ramps up the tension when the taxi accelerates. And of course there’s song, which epitomises Iris: ‘You say you never wanted her in your hair, well as you know she’s famous for it! Her name induces sighs of despair, well as you know she’s famous for it! Aside from vats of liquor, your cupboard is bare! You damn her to the devil but she’s already there! No one else beside her you’re beside yourself with joy!’ Why can’t this soundtrack be available?

Standout Moment: Tough, very tough. The second cliffhanger is wonderful (‘Iris! Stop singing! Or you’ll destroy us all!’) but for making me fall about on the floor in hysterics the Iris/Bianca bitch fight over the Doctor tops everything else..

Result: A story of the future haunting the past (3 times over), the Wormery holds a mirror elegantly up to Trial of a Time Lord. With Paul Magrs’ gift for English and poetic language and Steve Cole’s command of plotting and dialogue this is a classy marriage of minds and a peerless script. There are more sparkling one-liners than you can shake a stick at, wonderfully fulsome and theatrical performances, a tone which walks a tightrope between hilariously funny and achingly poignant and it all ends on one great universe threatening song. Colin Baker and Katy Manning are perfect together and my campaign to get them their own series starts here. The story creates a fantastic atmosphere and is plotted with some real care and offers twists and turns that genuinely thrill and surprise. Oh and the last line is perfect. The Wormery is shamelessly camp, glorious, fabulous: 10/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @


Timothy Allan said...

This is one of those audios that I like to listen to around Christmas. It has a loverly festive sort of atmosphere and never fails to make me a smile. A unique favourite.

Zagreus said...

I love Katy Manning, I really do, but I can't stand Iris on audio, I just find her beyond irritating with the groan inducing schtick accent and the ham-fisted bun vendor like performance. Just awful.

Big Finish Doctor Who Reviewer said...

That's how Iris's character is meant to be. If you find Iris annoying and irritating then you are actually understanding Iris and coming to like her.

Guy Grist said...

I really love this one high camp in the extreme and wounderfully over the top.