Friday, 10 December 2010

The Similarity Engine written by Andy Lane and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: When Jago takes a tumble on an unseasonably icy road, he ends up in hospital. But this is no ordinary medical establishment, and the patients are suffering from no ordinary illnesses. At last, the fiendish scheme of Dr Tulp is drawing to its cataclysmic climax. The Similarity Engine is operational. And a new, improved model of mahogany murderers have been unleashed...

Theatrical Fellow: Poor old Jago has fallen on hard times and (I shouldn’t laugh but it is desperately funny) leaves his house practicing his pitch to the owners of the Royal theatre. We haven’t quite found out what happened to the Palace but apparently it is quite a tale! A demonic deflagration if he is to be believed…perhaps this could be a flashback story told ala The Mahogany Murderers narration? To confound his problems he slips on Tulp’s slippery residue and forms a contusion on his coccyx! He has never been so insulted than when it is suggested he has fleas! His reaction when he realises that Litefoot has burnt a mahogany simulacrum of him is really funny and he is trapped inside its charred remains. Oh Jago! His suggestion that he illuminate the theatres of London with uranium to make a profit!

Posh Professor: This is the first story where I would say that Litefoot gets a more interesting chunk of the action. He likes a pie and a pint for his luncheon (nomnom!). He’s not a fully-fledged investigator, more of an interested amateur and he doesn’t usually diagnose ailments. Litefoot’s memory is getting feeble, a sign of age. For a second he is concerned why his friend wants to kill him but he soon realises that it is the work of Dr Tulp. I loved his sinister threats, quietly and menacingly telling Tulp if he hurts a single hair on Jago’s head he will hunt him down and shoot him like a dog. At the story’s climax he doesn’t want Jago involved in the next case, which is similar to that of the Bloodless Soldier. Is he trying to protect his feelings?

Jago and Litefoot charge forward and take on the squiddy Dr Tulp – the audacious adventurers have survived their first year and are coming back for more!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I have seen wars in which the stars themselves seem to be falling from the sky.’
‘Provider of power and light if they obey me! Bringer of death and destruction if they do not!’

Great Ideas: Something is eating the faces of people from the inside in a hospital that rivals the horrors of Bedlam. A strange black ore has been unloaded from ships on the Thames. Tulp has been putting a lot of effort into his latest simulacrum and has fashioned a Jago from mahogany to put Litefoot out of the way now his plans are advancing. He can now transfer minds effortlessly into his puppets but more dangerously he can project his own spirit forward in time into the minds of people who live there. He has seen blueprints for future technology but has to fashion them out of the materials of the 19th century. The Similarity Engine is a computer, retro machinery of future technology. Tulp plans to replace the entire government with simulacrum plus leading industrialists and millionaires, anyone who can push his plans forward. The ore he is mining is uranium and he wants to corner the market and hold the world to ransom, obey me or he will unleash a weapon that can reduce a city to dust. During his astral projections to the future he came back with something that was waiting in the void and latched onto his mind. These unnamed creatures want to use the uranium for their own purposes, to turn the Earth into a radioactive wasteland like their home world. Tulp is completely subsumed by the creature. At the end of the story a body is discovered drained of blood and Litefoot insists Jago mustn’t be involved. This is a case for Litefoot and Sanders!

Audio Landscape: Squeaky hospital bed, rattling cart, Jago catching fire and throwing water over the hissing flames, fizzing electricity, cogs and whirs, ticking giggling automatons, tearing gloves off, gunky hands, Tulp’s dramatic metamorphosis with wet tentacles and horrific screams, smashing the machinery and a gunshot that sees the end of Tulp.

Musical Cues: The music is awesome when mahogany Jago attacks Litefoot.

Result: What a shame that the last story of the run should be the weakest as it polishes off this extraordinary box set with a sigh rather than a final hurrah. Its not badly written by any means but it lacks the bubbling humour and drama of the other releases and it feels like everything is being told in exposition rather than us actually experiencing any of the events. Jago seems most unlike his usual magniloquent self but this does give Litefoot a chance to steal the limelight for a change. Tulp transpires to be far less interesting than we were led to believe and his scheme to take over the minds of people and change the fate of the world was all dealt with in The Spirit Trap. On the plus side the production values are as strong as ever and the dialogue sparkles. An unclimatic end to a splendid series: 6/10

Buy the season one boxset from Big Finish here:

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