Sunday, 2 January 2011

Blue Tooth written by Nigel Fairs and directed by Mark J Thompson

What’s it about: I suppose that was one of the Doctor's most endearing qualities: the ability to make the bizarre and the terrifying seem utterly normal." When Liz Shaw's friend Jean goes missing, the Doctor and U.N.I.T. are drawn to the scene to investigate. Soon Liz discovers a potential alien invasion that will have far-reaching affects on her life… and the Doctor is unexpectedly re-united with an old enemy…

Intelligent Academic: Wow, Nigel Fairs really manages to get under Liz Shaw’s skin in this story and makes some brilliant observations about the UNIT family.. Given that she was only around in four stories on television (albeit four of the most accomplished stories) more time with this underused companion is very welcome and any story that opens with the line ‘when did I first decide to leave UNIT’ immediately perks my interest. Caroline John is a superb actress and she really brings this story to life with excitement and well-paced verve, the dramatic moments are only so good because she makes them so. In some ways she had decided to leave before she had even joined so a more relevant question is when did she decide to leave the Doctor? She was irritated by everything at university; she was an academic and obsessed with physics and the biggest prude in the Southern Counties! Then she met Jean who introduced her to her first wild night out drinking, mini skirts and huge white hats! They loved to sit and bitch and watch the world go by from a Cambridge café. Liz must have put on a stone the year she lived with Jean since she loved her fry ups so much! She feels relief when the Doctor gets involved with mysteries. He has a way of seeing right through her and she had inherited a lightly mocking tone from him, especially when dealing with the Brigadier. Liz’s filling is a vivid shade of blue; she had been infected by the living metal. Once under the influence the Cybermat inside her tries to absorb knowledge and as a representation of this Liz tries to eat the Encyclopaedia Britannica. I would have loved to see the scene where she hits Benton over the head with a large chunk of wall! Liz is forced to watch Jean die, she witnesses the end of her best friends conversion. Her tongue is forced aside as the Cyber-insect forces its way into her mouth. Liz tries to comfort the Doctor as the Brigadier orders his men to infiltrate the Cybership and murder its inhabitants.

Good Grief: Isn’t it great how the Doctor’s earthbound adventures open up such effortless storytelling possibilities? His latest tinkering with the TARDIS has taken up so much power that the local electricity board has threatened to cut off UNITs supply! He fancied a bit of colour so he bought himself a new jacket. One of the Doctor’s most endearing qualities is to make the bizarre and the terrifying utterly normal. He smiles glowingly at Liz and is very gentle with her compared to how he is with everybody else. Its lovely to have an adventure where the third Doctor gets to square up to the Cybermen. He doesn’t like to be interrupted and almost mocks them. As a man of science he suggests he could be of use to the Cybermen. He asks them why they are doing this and chips away at their individuality. One of the strongest emotions we have is the will to survive and I love how the Doctor suggests we are not so removed from the Cybermen in that respect. It’s the one drive we all share. He puts an end to Gareth Arnold’s suffering. This Doctor prevaricates by rubbing the back of his neck! When will they ever learn, he asks himself.

Great Ideas: I love the scenes of Liz exploring the abandoned cottage, the atmosphere is electric and you expect anything to leap out at her. Scientists are disappearing in Cambridge. There are files full of unexplained deaths at UNIT. Teeth marks in a bedside table? An inexperienced new boys comes on the scene – Captain Yates! Andrew Cowell jumped from a pedestrian bridge and was hit by an express train which sliced him in half. Those halves are intact and upon inspection proved to be almost entirely made of metal, the skull a metallic shiny blue. A boil erupts from his shoulder in a moment of glorious body horror and Cybermats pour forth, glistening with blue liquid metal. The largest leaps through the air and burrows into Broadwick’s arm. His leg turns into ashes and dissolves away. To survive here the Cybermen would have to convert the dominant species and this time they are using living metal. Metallic walls beneath the ground, a crashed Cyber scout ship checking the planet for invasion. A nearly fully converted Cyberman but with one human eye which snaps open in another terrific shock moment. It astonishes me that a writer has finally got the Cybermen right. They have never been my favourite monster because of the list of wasted opportunities in their appearances, writers treating them like stock robots or failing to understand the real horror of what they represent (and don’t get me started on the one chance they had to really drive home their horror in Torchwood because that was the most fudged attempt of all!). This how to get the audience involved with the Cybermen, to introduce a close friend of a companion and watch as Liz comes to terms with her friend transformed into a shell of logic and survival. It has a personal stake which makes the conversion that more frightening. By developing new conversion techniques these Cybermen have shown individuality in their cold, wet Cyber hell. Cyber handles are described as a metal parody of hair, which is a genius way of dealing with a pretty duff bit of design! Arnold experimented with the living metal, using it to conquer, convert, command and survive. The Doctor wonders if there is other uses of the living metal to benefit mankind but the Brigadier has other plans and sends in his goon to murder the remaining Cybermen.

Audio Landscape: A superbly realised story, I often find that the earthbound tales come to life with much more atmosphere. A café ambience, telephone ring, scenes of people conversing in the background, lazy flies buzzing around rotting food, birdsong, squeaky lounge door, ticking clock, traffic, torrents of water gushing along gulleys, the Cybermat whine, heavy breathing, Cyberman voices loaded with emotion, bubbling blue liquid, the sonic screwdriver and a cacophony of ‘You will be like us!’

Musical Cues: One of the best musical scores in a Big Finish adventure, its beautifully evocative. Groovy 70’s music introduces us to Liz’s university days. There is excellent tension building flute music at the end of part one. The script describes the music in the dentist’s corridor as canned banal psuedo classical. I love the music as the Cybermats attack, it got me moving and Simon asleep next to me woke up to find out what was getting me so worked up!

Standout Scene: All the scenes on the Cybership are great, capturing how frightening these creatures are better than practically any other story.

Result: One of my all time favourite Cyberman stories because it managed to get me involved emotionally with the creatures. Blue Tooth features a superb script, which is grounded in realism and has many excellent dramatic beats throughout. Liz Shaw was always one of the best companions and Nigel Fairs captures her voice authentically and adds layers to this already fascinating character. The production is of a very high standard as well with a terrific musical score and a great atmosphere brewed. If the wrap up is a little too quick its still one hell of a thrill ride, the horror of the Cybermen told from the point of view of a companion being converted. More season seven goodness: 9/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

1 comment:

dark said...

I remember bieng a little underwelmed by this one first time around and principley ignoring most things accept the cyber ship and convertion.
Second time through I got much more of it and enjoyed it far more too, this is whovian body horror at it's best and one of the finest cyberman appearences for creep factor. I also love the idea of a relatively average professional not just turning out to be a pretty good scientist, but also picking up all the cyber ideas without the jargon or identity. It's a concept that you could actually make a hole story around.

Also, as with any best death, Gene is so shocking sinse we get such a portrait of her from Liz, (I love the description of her as "one of those overly loud girls with far too much hair", honestly I have met ladies like that and find it far too believable, I can just see poor Liz just wanting to study being dragged off by a hefty, extravert young las for a night of drunken fun then finding she quite enjoyed it, (as someone who often played the Liz roll at uni and had friend wds like Gean I find this especially affecting). It makes a mockery of the new series "ooh look, cyber newly wed" attempt at sympathy in rise of the cybermen (not one of russels' best moments).
The Doctor's assertion that he could've reversed some of the convertions is genuinely horrific, and once again makes the Brig and unit a force to be reckoned with.

My only problem is that while all the peaces, Liz's friendship with Gean, the cybermat attack, the creepy abandoned house, and especially the third Doctor's confrontation on the cybership are fantastic, the glue that holds them together just isn't there. Several times the scene switched and I wasn't sure why, for example Liz just walks into the dentist investigating and wakes up with a filling, then she randomly starts digging to uncover the cybership, likewise the toss off explanation of the teeth marks and mangled cat is far from adequate, and finally we never really learn why Liz decided to leave the doctor (the implication is due to the death and horrible convertion of her friend, but that just isn't explained).

Bluetooth has it to be an all time great, but it just struck me that Fairs wasn't quite as comfortable with the time requirements. The peaces he adds are great, but the narrative structure that holds them together needs a little more coherence.
All in all I'd probably give this one an 8 rather than a 10, much as there is a great deal I enjoyed.