Monday, 24 January 2011

Catch-1782 written by Alison Lawson and directed by Gary Russell (I know I say this over and over…but was there another director at Big Finish

What’s it about: When the Doctor and Mel visit the National Foundation for Scientific Research as it celebrates its centenary, Mel expects only to be able to catch up with her uncle. She doesn’t expect to meet her own ancestors... What is buried in the grounds of the Foundation? What secret has Henry Hallam kept from his descendants for three hundred years? Can Mel escape her own past? Visiting your relatives can sometimes be trying, but surely it should never be this difficult?

Aristocratic Adventurer: In their two short adventures in TV I have found that the sixth Doctor and Mel compliment each other beautifully and their audio adventures together have only served to strengthen that opinion. I’m starting to get the opinion that you could shove Matthew Waterhouse in a story with Colin Baker and they could somehow make it work! Here they have an extremely relaxed chemistry and considering this is the twilight of his era the Doctor seems to be a very gentle soul now, stroking cats and cuddling up to cats, declaring them magnificent animals and showing considerable concern for Mel. A far cry from the boisterous, psychotic, Peri strangling loony we began with! He fancies a trip somewhere they can mix with the finest of minds…and chooses Berkshire! Why he puts up with someone as bossy as Mel he has no idea (Mel suggests they are birds of a feather). I love it when they discover the trunk and whilst Professor Hallam wants to carbon date the Doctor wants to smash it open and see what’s inside! Hallam wonders if there is a kink in the Doctor’s head as well as in time but considers himself to be a good enough judge of character to recognise that the Doctor is an honest man. Together they make quite a good investigative team. The Doctor usually makes up plans and cover stories as he goes along. A Doctor of many things, including medicine the last time he looked. Whilst it may fit his cover story I find his assertion that his line of work regularly exposes him to mania, schizophrenia, hysteria, delusions, neurosis and dementia to be perfectly accurate! He studied in Gallifrey, a specialist university in Ireland. He has a knack for making things complicated.

Generous Ginge: How nice to see Mel back so quickly, normally we have to wait a year to hear from her again! I’m in two minds about how effective this study of Mel is; on the one hand it is nice to get some backstory and find out about her family but on the other hand I don’t see the point of putting Mel through all this if she isn’t going to remember any of it! In computers, Mel is very gifted and has been fascinated by science since she was a child. Professor John Hallam is her uncle and she hasn’t seen him for ages, he’s the one that got her hooked on science. Mel loves libraries and the smell of books. She states that history is fact and ghosts are fiction matter of factly, clearly a woman of unshaken beliefs and the Doctor declares her to be too cynical for such a young person. Mel loves a good ghost story when grown men are scared out of their wits! I found it hilarious that she keep grabbing for the champagne, Alison Lawson seems to think Mel is a right lush! As soon as she is transported back in time she begins to lose her mind. The idea of being whisked back to a primitive time, losing your identity and being forced to stay in a dark room and fed laudanum laced water is frightening. Mel tends a garden on the terrace. The Doctor states she is exactly the sort of girl to go wandering off on her own! She rejects Hallam when he proposes to her and states her intention to leave…wherein he practically threatens that she will want to marry him one day! For a moment Mel wonders if the Doctor has left her so history can be preserved. Once this adventure is over (mirroring The Juggernauts) she says she doesn’t know where her home is anymore. If her memories are wiped because of the laudanum there are no consequences to what she has been through and therefore no point. I shame, Mel should have been able to take something from this.

Standout Performance: Bonnie Langford has unwound so much in the role of Mel you would barely recognise her from the saccharine high fitness freak on the telly! Some might say that she overplays the melodrama of her predicament but frankly I found the performance fitted perfectly into the Austen-esque genre.

Great Ideas: A side note – Catch-1782 has one of my favourite covers from a Big Finish release, I love the idea of the open pendant and both the Doctor and Mel look
gorgeous in their finery. Plus it has the snowy feel of a ghost story! We’ve got a kink in time and a haunted house, I wonder if the two are related? Attempting to bury a time capsule to celebrate the centenary of the Department of Scientific Research they discover a wooden chest containing a prototype canister that Professor Hallam is currently working on now! Somehow it has wound its way a few centuries back in time and buried on the estate. The capsule is made from a new element supplied by the space agency and proximity to the TARDIS caused it to reach out to her and protect her but wound up blasting her to whatever time she has been thinking about. All of Hallam’s journal entries from 1872 have been ripped, but why? Mel has become Eleanor Hallam and for history to stay on track they will have to leave her here until she dies in 1811 as written in Hallam’s diary. You really want McGregor to have a happy ending but instead Hallam attacks her! Mel made such an impression that leaving him causes him to have a breakdown (usually that’s when she turns up!). Ultimately Mrs McGregor did become Hallam’s second wife after she nursed him back to health so everyone gets a happy ending.

Audio Landscape: Spectres cry out for help in the TARDIS, a cat meows, purrs and hisses, Hallam gets on with the washing up, wine glasses smash, a grandfather clock ticks away the seconds, crunchy footsteps in the snow, Mel is swallowed up within a scream, heavy rain patters on Hallam Hall, the TARDIS gets a good buffeting, birds twitter in the summertime.

Musical Cues: Inoffensive but not very memorable, so perfect for the story really.

Isn’t it Odd: The cliff-hangers to this story are as understated as everything else but the end of episode two is especially odd, Mel coming to terms with something we knew about at the beginning of the episode! Irritatingly the most exciting thing that happens is that Mrs McGregor breaks down, Mrs Bennett style (‘Now I shall never become the second Mrs Hallam!’) and Mel and her uncle try and set the two of them up! The time travel implications are so easily rectified you have to wonder why they bothered to set it up in the first place. There’s no obstacles or dangers, the Doctor simply buries the casket to be discovered later. Even worse is the solution to the catch-22 – actually you can’t really call it a catch-22 when the solution is this easy! Mel is trapped in times clutches because the diary says that Eleanor Hallam didn’t die until 1811 and she is Eleanor Hallam…but the entry in the diary was just symbolic, the year when Hallam gave up on seeing her again! What a useless resolution that is! So they can just leave at any time knowing that time is on track. That’s the least clever solution I can imagine, dismissing every the story has told us to allow Mel to simply leave. After Dreamtime’s plotting issues I am starting to wonder if there was a script editor at Big Finish at this point!

Standout Moment: I was never riveted but I did enjoy episode ones reunion between Mel and her uncle, it was really nice to see her get some backstory.

Result: I honestly don’t know what to make of Catch-1782. It’s a gentle, unassuming story with a plot so light a gentle sigh could send it on its way and nice performances that recall Upstairs Downstairs and Pride and Prejudice. At the same time it is one of the most meaningless Doctor Who stories, setting itself as an examination of Mel and a time travel puzzle and fudging both of them with the laziest answers imaginable. Mel forgets everything that happens and they could have left at any time so let me ask you, what was the point? The 1781/2 sections lack the witty wordplay and entertaining characters of a good Austen whilst highlighting the melodrama of the genre. It’s never a chore to listen to and quite enjoyable in spots but I cannot fathom why it was made. Now I remember why I don’t remember anything about Catch-1782, because there’s nothing to remember: 5.5/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @


conradslater said...

Thanks for these last few reviews. Good work.

Doc Oho said...

Thank you. Keep your eyes peeled because I plan get through many more in the coming weeks!