Monday, 17 January 2011

The Doll of Death written by Marc Platt and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: While investigating a temporal anomaly in Central London, the Doctor and Jo Grant meet Professor Harold Saunders, a man who possesses an unstable alien artefact, and who is seemingly haunted by the ghosts of dolls.
Who is the mysterious Mrs Killebrew? Why is a pack of hounds hunting them in reverse? And can Jo pick up any bargains while backwards shopping on Oxford Street?

Groovy Chick: After two stories that deal with companions I could take or leave finally I get to listen to a story that features a companion I adore! God bless dippy Jo Grant who made early seventies such a delight; deliriously sweet, flashing her knickers and growing up before our eyes before she broke all of our hearts and ran of with a hippy. This script ties in beautifully with Russell T Davies’ Death of the Doctor, Jo is still married with Cliff, she is his manager and she writes a blog which chronicles their world saving adventures. It has been ages since she last in London. She looks back on her days of travelling with the Doctor and wonders if she was a bit of a lost cause. I love how Katy Manning plays the two Jo’s, adopting a squeakier more innocent voice for the younger version and a gruffer 40-a-day relish for her older self. Mike Yates coined her Jemima Bond, licence to spill! Jo took things like that took much to heart in those days. The Brigadier wanted to send her on espionage training but she would much rather race around London in a yellow jalopy. She wants to prove that she isn’t a total dolly bird by coming up trumps on her own but she is (brilliantly) distracted by a boutique in a moment of crisis (‘Look at those groovy boots!’). She was supposed to be going out with Mike Yates that night – did you ever notice how something always got in the way? I bet the Doctor engineered invasions just to crowbar between them! Jo is the world’s greatest procrastinator. I really love that Jo bought the boots that she saw and still has them now (probably just about to come back into fashion!).

Good Grief: Is there a Doctor that Marc Platt cannot ace? He was wasted writing all those seventh Doctor novels when he could have been regaling us with tales of the first Doctor waltzing with Jane Austen and the third Doctor having backwards adventures! Future Jo wonders if the Doctor is not about who is saving the world on Fridays? The Doctor really enjoys poking fun at the Brigadier’s bureaucratic pomposity. A whirlwind in a frilly shirt? He never did incognito and bursts onto the scene with his cloak billowing behind him! Doors marked private are an invitation for him. He notes that people rarely appreciate the rarity of true genius! The Doctor is always up for a right old barney and is a superb pickpocket. The Brigadier wants more co-operation from the man and is banning all of the Doctor’s private missions and expects him to fill out all his paperwork. To which the Doctor explodes! In a sequence that made me spit out my coffee he karate chops a dog! He is the one factor in Earth’s history that continually sees off all disasters. Hilariously he decides to risk eating backwards food, picking up bacon sarnies before the cook could unmake them! Does he fight the system or is he part of it? For all their quirks, he is quite fond of the people of the Earth. How much longer must he endure this exile? The Doctor is desperate to know and considers using this adventure as a way to escape the Earth. As usual Jo reminds him of his responsibilities.

Sparkling Dialogue: I’m taking a different tack in this story because whilst there were many great lines there are some very descriptions throughout.
Her young hair was ‘salt and peppery’, the dogs sniffed ‘slobbery sniffs’, the Brig ‘bristles with irritation’, Benton thumped into Jo like a ‘scrum half’, she gave him a look that could have ‘fried bacon’ and reality ‘checking itself in and ticking itself off’. Lovely. Plus a tin containing a hand-sized lozenge of brown glass, flickering with red and blur light like a ‘wedge of Christmas pudding flaming with brandy!’
‘As I see it we’re stuck inside some sort of backwards time flow and we better get out of here before we disappear up our own birthdays!’ – trust the Brig to get to the heart of the matter so gruffly!
‘And Lethbridge-Stewart, meet us yesterday evening!’
‘At this point in time it feels like half the galaxy is queuing up to invade!’

Great Ideas: Retro causation is another fantastic Marc Platt idea that allows him to have a great deal of fun with this story, events before their cause. Which is literally what we get – part one has lots of unexplained moments which when time starts running backwards and our heroes start crossing their own time streams are explained beautifully! Ghosts are linked to a place or an event and these ones are disrupting the flow of time itself. Jo has a vision of herself dead on the floor. Timelines are passing like ships in the night. UNIT HQ is now an Embassy but Jo remembers the days when it was staffed by the army grudgingly loaned by the MOD. A conduit, linked to a parallel universe where time travels in the opposite direction to ours and its future is our history. I love the creepy idea of dolls sitting upright in old style bonnets (‘they were watching’), leaning forward, hand over hand, crawling closer. An explosion in reverse time means it hasn’t happened…yet. Two Brigadiers pass each other in the night. The Doctor speeds away in Bessie…backwards! Seeing yourself going in reverse is like rewinding a 3D video. Our villain is an observer, a social historian from an earth that runs side by side with ours but in the opposite direction. A future historian studying the Doctor. The reverse Jo from episode one saw the possessed Jo from episode two!

Audio Landscape: Bessie’s engine guns hungrily, fizzing electricity, dogs barking in anger, snuffling and breathing, an unexplosion (sort of sucking back in!), a creepy cute doll voice, the Brig emptying his pistol at the dogs, traffic going backwards, twittering birdsong, sirens wailing…

Musical Cues: There’s a beguiling musical sting that sounds like a ghost crying ‘ma-ma!’ that really sent the chills down my spine. At times the music sounds like the apoplectic Cybermen from Tomb of the Cybermen…that kind of electronic warble!

Result: I do love a good jigsaw and The Doll of Death assembles the overall story with devilish panache. So far Marc Platt has written all of my favourite companion chronicles and this is no exception, a gloriously complicated plot and yet simple if you can get your head around the groovy central premise. There’s nothing I like more than a hole-ridden plot that cleverly plugs those holes in an imaginative fashion. The characterisation is a lot of fun as well, the Doctor almost crosses the line to escape the Earth, the Brigadier is as stuffy and wonderful as ever and Jo keeps them all together simply by being so cute! The Doll of Death wont score as high as Platt’s others simply because this wasn’t infused witch rich history but this is still another sparkling script brought to life with passion by Lisa Bowerman: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

1 comment:

dark said...

this was one that i didn't really remember first time around. The plot is certainlyclever and just having watched several stories with Joe Grant, Yates, Benton The Brigadier and the third Doctor I can say this felt just right, from Joe being caught in yet another spat between the Doctor and the Brig on military protocol to Joe deciding to get out and try investigating on her own (random platform shoes aside).

Certainly all the peaces went together and there is just something inherently creepy about china dolls. However there was something lacking here and I'm not sure what it was. maybe it was that Mrs. Killebrew and the toy angle, for all it's great creep factor got a little lost in the time dialation. Maybe it was that despite an amazingly worrying voice I never really got where the titula Doll of death was coming from, (social backwards historian, activist or criminal),

Maybe it was that I never really bought the idea of extra dimentional dogs as a credible threat, indeed the unfortunate "retreavers" phrase used to describe this made me think of Reever, my own absolutely lovely retreaver cross (she's also a guide dog), and probably the least threatening canine in the universe!

I don't know why, Katy Manning is always a delight to listen to, and the plot to this one was definitely clever, I just can't put my finger on what was wrong here, maybe it's just that much as there are many Pertwee stories I love a contemporary, or at least semi contemporary story needs a little more to get my attention sinse it inherently has a less interesting setting to explore than the past or the future, and this one never really got beyond the creepy and the great ideas.