Friday, 31 December 2010

Frostfire written by Marc Platt

What’s it about: Vicki has a tale to tell.
But where does it start and when does it end?

Ancient Carthage. 1164 BC.
Lady Cressida has a secret. She keeps it deep in the cisterns below the Temple of Astarte with only one flame for warmth. And it must never get out.

Regency London, 1814 AD.
The first Doctor, Steven and Vicki go to the fair and meet the fiery Dragon, the novelist Miss Austen and the deadliest weather you ever did see.

But which comes first?
The Future or the Past?
The Phoenix or the Egg?
The Fire or the Frost?
Or will Time freeze over forever?

Alien Orphan: What a fascinating place to start the companion chronicles. I really like Vicki and her departure is one of the least celebrated and yet best written in the series (because the episodes aren’t available to watch). It’s intriguing to here more about her life since she left the Doctor in ancient Troy and wonderful to find out that although there is nobody to talk to about her travels, she is happy. Maureen O’Brien obviously sounds older (and she is supposed to) but she is still effortlessly Vicki. She once tried to explain elevators to Troilus but he didn’t understand…that’s what you get for marrying a Greek Adonis! Travelling with the Doctor was so special Vicki is chronicling events to she doesn’t forget. She always liked Steven because he was like a big brother to her, one she could boss about. I love the idea of the three companions eating hot spicy gingerbread and going ice-skating! Imagine Vicki taking a turn about the room with Jane Austen! When she was travelling she had no desires to find a husband and finds ambition boring and has been having far too much fun to be worrying about that. She finds the men of this time too affecting and la-di-da, not at all heroic and not a patch of Troilus. She was Vicki long before she was Cressida. She has her own life, husband and children in Greece. She loved travelling with the Doctor and they certainly had their moments. History may be an amazing place to visit but it’s so primitive. They don’t think the same or understand. She has never felt so cut off. The Trojans all thought Vicki was possessed or cursed and wanted to leave her on a rock in the middle of the sea. One spark was left burning amongst her tears as a consequence of this story, the only person she can talk to in this wilderness. They are both alone with some body to talk to, to remember.

Hmm: It warms my heart to think I can start writing reviews for the first three Doctor’s in the companion chronicles! Obviously Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee aren’t here to bring this material to life but its glorious to have their assistants take on their personas and if it is going to be as well observed and performed as Frostfire we are in for a real treat. Marc Platt has captured the first Doctor to a tee and Maureen O’Brien performs him with appropriate gravity, impatience and magic. This genuinely feels like a missing first Doctor story which I would have thought was an impossibility to pull off. The Doctor mutters to himself in a half amused way when they first arrive anywhere.
He always was a bit of a know all and you don’t argue with him if you know what’s good for you! He once saw a dragon that could thaw out the Thames with one good sneeze. He is stubborn and critical when walking through the fair of curios but seems to be enjoying himself in that. The Doctor could be so gentle when he wanted to be. I love how easily he ingratiates himself with Jane Austen; he’s read all of her novels (despite the fact that at this point she has only written two!) and finds them elegant and witty (he’s right there). He’s not a bad formal dancer and certainly shows Steven up! Takes all the credit for other peoples observations as usual! He is cold and has no fire in his hearts. At the conclusion he walks into the cold and stares down his opponent head on. I would have loved to have been able to see that!

Aggressive Astronaut: He is hardly a seasoned traveller like Vicki. I loved the description of him towering to his full height when he tries to intimidate people (I can so see Peter Purves doing that in season three!). He is quite dishy, Vicki supposes and Jane Austen thinks he is enough to set all the hearts of London aflutter. Dashing in a brotherly way and quite a hit with the ladies because of his list of accomplishments. He cannot dance for toffee and gives Vicki a filthy look as if it is all her fault (I can really see that as well!). He’s pushy and needs to know that there will be a future for him to be born into.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Cinder to flame to egg.’

Great Ideas: The three travellers standing on the River Thames covered in ice! A frost fair. A giant egg, as big as a head with a light inside with tongues of green flame. When it cracks a cold wicked eye peeks out. A dragon wreathed in green flames coming to life. The very idea of the first Doctor meeting Jane Austen and staying with her in Convent Garden delightful! The cold is trying to suck the warmth out of everything, Frostfire climbing down chimneys, gathering heat and freezing over even time itself. Blue green flame flickers amongst the rooftops like an aurora. A thousand worlds have burnt themselves cold for the great bird to live. The furnace of the Royal Mint is the perfect hatching place of the egg. The Doctor offers to take it to a fiery new world next to a new sun. It shatters inside the furnace, inside a chick is screaming, a monstrous fledging. The creature burns Vicki’s tale, hoping that it was become aflame and the egg will live again. Vicki keeps the creature underground with only one flame for warmth. The TARDIS headed off down the Thames on an ice flow. I love the idea of this creature in a perpetual loop, because of Vicki’s time travelling existence she took a fragment of this creature back in time to ancient Greece where it would find enough heat to reach London where she will meet it again and start the cycle over and over.

Audio Landscape: This is a remarkably atmospheric production with lots of well-chosen sound effects complimenting the poetic dialogue and stylish descriptions.
There’s a dripping tap, squeaking doors, the blissful original console noises, fairground music at the frost air, crowds, screaming as the egg starts to break, a hackney carriage with the heavy sighs of the horses, clip-clopping of hooves, gossipy chatter, wind whistling through the house, a frozen man shattering into ice (ugh), the voice of the frost (chilling) and the screech of the egg.

Musical Cues: Most quite understated but very good because of it, as it doesn’t swamp the glorious narration. There’s some pleasant formal piano dance music and a drumbeat as the Frostfire attacks.

Result: What an awesome achievement. With Maureen O’Brien’s evocative narration and Marc Platt’s expressive script we are whisked back to the wondrous season three for an exciting adventure with Jane Austen and a fire-breathing dragon. The production values are very impressive and the story never loses impetus, climaxing with some really exciting moments. If that wasn’t enough we also get to catch up with Vicki in ancient Greece and close the story on a very clever twist that will see the story repeat over and over for the creature. A superb introductory story for this series: 10/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:


Steven K said...

This is my first time on your site. You write excellent reviews.

Oh, and I loved this story. Mark Platt writes an excellent First Doctor.

Doc Oho said...

Thanks Steven, they are a pleasure to listen to and write about! There's plenty more to read...and loads more to come!

Anonymous said...

I made the mistake of coming to this one after listening to many of the ones that were made later. While this story is a fairly good tale, it's early days on figuring out how to do a 2-hander Companion Chronicle properly and I felt that kind of dragged the level of the production down. Vicki narrates the entire story instead of slipping into regular speech like the later ones.

There's also an apparent plot hole. The Phoenix claims that it's destroyed hundreds of worlds before by sucking out their heat yet the story ends with at least Vicki believing that the Cinder becomes the very Phoenix that she met in the 1800's. Which means that it has never left Earth. It just goes from Carthage to London and back again.

Also because I'm pedantic I will point out that Vicki has never lived with Greeks or in Greece. She went from Troy (in modern day Turkey) to Carthage which is in North Africa (modern day Tunisia).

dark said...

I've just started a relisten of the companion chronicles. I remember this one being a rather odd mix when I began, and i'm finding the same now.
On the one hand, this has to be one of the most sublimely and profoundly atmospheric stories ever produced, from an older Vicky talking wistfully in a stone temple to the phenix. The frost fare, the Formal dance with Jane Austin, and of course the idea of a nightmarish london bathed in the frost fire of the Phenix. I also have to say the score for this is one of the most amazing, the tinkling music box jingle as Vicky looks into the eye of the egg is absolutely gorgious stuff and gave me a regular case of the creepy shivers for more reasons than one when I heard it late at night.

On the other, I just find there are a few moments of weerdness with the progression here, times when character or tention just seems a wee bit off. What was the deal with Georgina? she just felt entirely flat, just an upper class young woman to be possessed, indeed great as Miss Austin was (her surprisingly effective right hook was a lovely moment), I did feel if we were supposed to care about Georgina she didn't really get room to breathe before possession, quite different from some other characters we'll meet later in the companion chronicles.

Similar lack of development mars the Italian con man who might as well have had "dodgy dupe of the enemy" written across his forhead, and the oh blimy guvna cockny sweep.

I also found the hole bate and switch with the coco tree club, the church and the mint a little odd. Why would the phenix go to the church if it needed to be at the mint all the time? I'm not sure whether the Doctor and steven insisting that Vicky stay where it is safe is adorably shivalrus or irritatingly sexist, though i loved her desire to wander off alone, quite a thing for a companion who was introduced literally as a damsel in destress.

I also loved the paradox, but it feels quite a sad moment to leve Vicky, indeed her statement that the Trojans wanted to actually abandon her is pretty horrible, and I really do hope that like Steven and Sara Kingdom we'll catch up with her life in Troi at some point in the future sinse the ending to this one always strikes me as rather sad.

Don't get me wrong, I love the sceenary and atmosphere of this one, but as with the previous comment I do feel Frostfire was something of a warm up (ha ha), for some of the gems we'd get later on.