Sunday, 19 December 2010

The Circus of Doom written by Paul Magrs and directed by Kate Thomas

This story in a nutshell: The Doctor follows the hornets back in time and discovers the circus of doom…

Teeth and Curls: I’m not sure I understand what people mean when they say Tom Baker doesn’t sound like the Doctor during his tenure? Of course he doesn’t, he’s thirty years older! Just like Pertwee sounder older in The Paradise of Death, Peter Davison and Colin Baker sound older in Big Finish Productions. Allow me to apologise for these actors for the natural passing of time and for not being stuck in cryogenic freezing until they were needed for audio dramas so they can sound utterly authentic to the audience of these dramas. How many stories did we hear the Doctor narrate on television? What’s that? None? Precisely! It is Tom Baker for frick sakes! I don’t care if he sounds a little strained in places, this is still the cheekiest, most irreverent of Doctors and Baker has such a lively way of brining Paul Magrs’ romantic dialogue to life.

The Doctor describes the TARDIS landing with its usual cheery brouhaha! He is partial to aniseed balls and humbugs when jelly babies aren’t available and he is used to funny scenes and outlandish scenes. Can’t abide the waster of good gobstoppers (well who can?). When the Doctor was younger he always imagined running away with the circus but unfortunately they never visited his dull old planet. Part of no ones parade but his own, he rarely feels offended by anyone anymore. I love it when we hear about the Doctor doing very normal things and his meandering and perusing the high street is a situation where we could actually meet him! His instincts for sniffing out the hornets has been honed to fine art. I can just imagine the subversive fourth Doctor being taken in by the gaudy cheer of the circus and applauding with some gusto! Go and listen to his warnings to Francesca, growling and menacing theatrically. He is envious of other characters more detached stance to the bigger picture. Imagine the Doctor’s head jammed in the animated maw of a dead lion! The Doctor doesn’t feel obliged to answer any nosy women’s questions or to mollify them when they have complicated things beyond reason. His ‘If you come back you’re DEAD’ is gorgeous, showing how insensitive he can be at times. The hornets are blaming the Doctor for being active in this time zone, suggesting whatever they do he is the cause of it. Antonio the poisonous midget is in his garden at Nest Cottage, another macabre addition. His next story, set in deep mid winter, is the Doctor’s last.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The Circus of Doom’ is a title made for Tom Baker to say (with extra emphasis on the doooom!)
‘There was a drone of insects in the hedgerows. The lazy contented purring of insects all around me.’
‘There was bloodlust in the air…’
‘This tiny vampire and its trillion strong hive…’
‘Heaven parcelled up in this strange box’ is a gorgeous way of describing the TARDIS.

Great Ideas: There is a show in the village of Blandford (hmm I wouldn’t want to live there!) that is sending everyone to sleep, a travelling show revelling in licentiousness and wickedness. Gypsy tents with a moderately sized big top a sideshow of monsters and vagabonds. Its 1832 and the hornets are swarming about hatching their plans. Blandford is alive with a whispery suppressed excitement. A clown funeral at midnight, monochrome clowns whose only splash of colour is there ruby red lips. Antonio the malevolent dwarf is the hornet’s latest host and oily black smoke pours from his ears and eyes, a noise smoke that buzzed and hummed. The hornets feed on imagination, febrile dreams, desires and stymied life forces, all your darkest frustrated thoughts and twisted envy’s, the tiniest thoughts of malice and siphons these feelings for their own evil purposes. Clowns of inhuman strength with hornets buzzing behind their glassy eyes. The king of the circus ring is animated by a hive of buzzing insects. Are the hornets training the humans to play their part? Satin dancing feet, we are introduced to Francesca and her dancing feet that turned up mummified in The Dead Shoes – the Doctor knows there is nothing he can do for her. Antonio the goblin boy, the troglodyte burnt the minds of everybody who ever taunted him when he was given the power of the hornets at the age of thirteen in Venice, a city as gaudy and as decadent as the circus itself. It was the magic of the TARDIS (and its chilling whiteness within) that convinced Antonio to devote his life to magic (he describes the ship as landing with a ‘elephantine’ roar). The Doctor is submerged by swarm of hornets and stung maliciously. The tight rope finale is nail biting, its easier if the ‘vehicle’ they chose for a host is a corpse so Francesca plummets to her death, having an appointment with destiny.

Audio Landscape: A shop bell jingles, a sweet jar smashes, cats roar, morning birds sing, symbols crash and the hornets continue to creep me out! I love the sound of the audience whooping and gasping and the sound of sizzling bacon makes me think of Sunday mornings with sarnies and coffee.

Musical Cues: The music in these stories is getting better and better, go listen to the jolly jingle as the Doctor lands in Blandford. As we experience a visit to the circus we are treated to a orchestral score of freakish playtime.

Isn’t it Odd: This is not a criticism in the slightest, quite the opposite actually but I cannot listen to the Hornets Nest stories quite as easily as I can Big Finish productions. Whilst I think Big Finish have produced some startling drama they are made like soundtracks to stories that are missing from the archives. With this series I want to be seduced by the language, I want to really focus on the delicious description and sink into Magrs’ twisted and beautiful vision of Doctor Who. It has taken me longer to listen to this series than say the Jago & Litefoot series but that is only because I want the experience to last. I am timing this so I can listen to the last instalment on Christmas Day, my own little Christmas treat. Since the plotting and description is as fruity and rich as Christmas pudding, it won’t feel out of place.

Result: I love how the Hornets Nest series is telling consecutive stories and setting up the tales we have already heard, there is a fascinating jigsaw being assembled. The circus is an ideal location for Magrs to lose himself in, every bit as eclectic, perplexing and ingenious as one of his works. The Doctor’s narration continues to beguile and Tom Baker’s magnificent voice eases you into the story and is as pleasurable as a neck massage whilst your ears are being nibbled! Reviewing this series is a shame because it feels wrong to break down what should be luxurious swim through the English language and I think I will listen to it again before long to let the sumptuous flood of descriptions carry me along. Doctor Who as a delicious portmanteau: 9/10

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