Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Here There Be Monsters written by Andy Lane and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: The distant future. The TARDIS, with the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara aboard, is drawn out of the Vortex and lands aboard the Earth Benchmarking Vessel Nevermore, where Captain Rostrum is navigating by punching holes in the very fabric of space. The Doctor is appalled by this act of vandalism, and fearful that it could unleash monsters from the dark dimensions. As the benchmarking holes begin to fray, the fate of the universe is at stake. And while the Doctor contemplates a terrible sacrifice, Susan befriends the Nevermore’s First Mate - someone she will remember for the rest of her life…

Screaming Violet: I’m going to tell you something now, something that may stun you rigid. I’m not a big fan of Susan! I know, I know I keep going on about it in every review I write where she is included in the story but the simple fact of the matter is I was not looking forward to this companion chronicle because she was the centre of attention. What on Earth does she contribute to the show apart from the paternal side of the first Doctor a load of wailing? What’s more I am thoroughly convinced that Carole Ann Ford is more than a little sorry that she took the part in the first place because it destroyed her career (she has made illusions to that in the past). Listening to the documentary at the end of this story spoiled things somewhat because I was wrong and I found this to be a highly enjoyable audio and it taught me some interesting things about Susan and made some observations about the other regulars that made perfect sense. However listening to Carole Ann Ford’s clipped and barbed responses in the extras it is clear that she still resents the show, which made her famous. Annoying since if it wasn’t for Doctor Who she probably would have fallen into obscurity a long time ago (because lets face it she is hardly the best actress this island has produced). I better not tell Simon any of this – he already finds Susan more irritating than a scrotal skin rash!

Susan often wakes up with a terrible sound ringing in her ears, the sound of punching a hole in the universe. She has always had a perfect memory since that is a curse of her people. Somewhere inside she knows she has to leave her Grandfather behind and make a life for herself outside of his huge shadow. Her husband wouldn’t understand the things she has seen and he thinks of her as human, something she lets him believe. Ian and Barbara thought of her as a child but she was older than the pair of them put together (why doesn’t she act like it then?). She genuinely thinks her Grandfather is always right. Susan has a habit of wandering into places that are not safe. She would go mad if they were forced to stay in one place with the Doctor fussing over her all the time. She thinks it is a scary prospect heading off on her own. Not a child anymore. She always was a good judge of human character. She might be alone but she will never be lonely, that’s what gave her the strength to leave her Grandfather in the end.

Hmm: Andy Lane gets the first Doctor’s character spot on, it feels as though he has watched his stories intensely and picked up all his little quirks and foibles. He spent so much time protecting Susan from the universe that he was missing the wonders of the universe himself. That was why he left his people in the first place, not for Susan (she was an accidental hanger on) it was so she could see the beauty and the majesty of the universe rather than just watch it. I loved the mention that his fiddling with the console was merely for Ian and Barbara’s benefit, he was still learning how to work the machine and still made mistakes. He had yet to establish that mystical bond with the TARDIS his people have, he knows how to take off and land but everything else he makes up! He loved point scoring with Ian, he has to spot everything first! The Doctor can be so condescending at times! He is clearly shaken by the news of Rostrum punching holes in the universe, its almost as if he cannot come to terms with some so unbelievably insane. Selfishly doesn’t want to lose the TARDIS to save the universe but could probably build another. The Doctor realises Susan is growing up and isn’t comfortable with the idea.

School Teachers in Arms: Susan wonders if they ever got together and hopes that they did. Because Ian makes intelligent suggestions the Doctor thinks he must be rubbing off on him! Barbara shakes her head minutely to restrain Ian. They are both on probation as far as the Doctor is concerned and probably always would be. Barbara ignores the Doctor’s insults and continues making her point! She slips into her lecture mode when talking about a subject she is comfortable with.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘It was a terrible sound. Like someone had stabbed the universe and it was crying out in pain.’
‘I hope they learn their lesson but humanity being humanity I doubt they will.’

Great Ideas: The original TARDIS crew is described as a ‘comfortable, extended family.’ A jungle on a spaceship and leaves that follow you. Hanging from the ceiling like some vast and organic chandelier was a trunk like swollen mass of bark and moss and roots with eyes like bunches of black grapes and vines stretching off into every room. There are areas of the ship where the leaves died away, affecting the memory of Rostrum and there is no horticulturalist on board. Its memories are stored in seedpods. They crew the ships amongst the stars and fight the occasional war. A vegetable, in genes it has a hundred billion years of reaching of the sun and never getting them – they thrive on borderm! I adore the idea of gravitational singularities punching holes in the fabric of space-time, the Doctor describes it as interstellar vandalism! The Nevermore is making markers in the universe so they can map its entirety. There are things living in the deep dark spaces beneath space, if you punch holes in their domain then you are providing an avenue for them into the real universe. An alien spacecraft, all spines and funs, like a tropical fish, dangerous looking. An impossible light like an insane rainbow, something squeezed through, tentacles flailing, wrapping around the alien ship and dragging them into the fissure. The very structure of space pulled apart, starting at the most recent benchmark and running to the last one. Whole sections of space detaching and floating away. Save the universe and lose the TARDIS? We believe there is nothing but monsters lurking beneath the darkness of space-time and that’s what they say about us on their side! They are civilisations apathetical to life in our universe. The benchmarking is causing great distress; vast tracts of their space are being laid waste by the process. Healing the fissure would kill the creature, its body turning to light and darkness and chaos.

Audio Landscape: The mysterious grinding of the TARDIS, the scream of the door opening, water trickling in the jungle, creepy and scratching vines, rustling branches…the sound effects are very effective and subtle, never once taking our attention away from the gorgeous ideas in the script.

Musical Cues: There’s some powerful, metallic music as they run back to the TARDIS to get away in time. Throughout the music is quiet and chilling, perfectly in tune with the mysterious nature of the first season.

Result: Far better than I was expecting, Here There Be Monsters is another winner for the Hartnell companion chronicles. What I loved was how the story wasn’t afraid to mimic the low budget, slower paced nature of the first season and once the crew meet up with Rostrum the rest of the story is practically one long dialogue scene. Andy Lane uses this to his advantage and throws in excellent concepts and uses the original crew to drive the drama of the piece. Lisa Bowerman directs this as a piece of unnerving theatre, allowing the imagination of the writer to provide spectacle and wonder. It’s a clever, quiet piece with lots to say about the original crew and a far better than usual performance from Carole Ann Ford: 8/10

Buy this from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/31-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-Here-There-Be-Monsters


d486d67c-b73d-11e2-8519-000f20980440 said...

This story is excellent. My few gripes are minor. The first mate sounds just like William Russell so many times I had to stop for a moment and think about who was saying those lines, thinking that it was Ian speaking.

It's really hard to date the benchmarking. It sounds as if it's early days of spaceflight but iirc there's dialog that implies that Rostrum's kind are hundreds of years old which probably places it past even the Earth/Draconia war. How much "benchmarking" is required by that point?

dark said...

Whenever I think of the original Tardis crew and their cc appearences, I always have wonderful landscapes and atmospheres in mind, and this is definitely one of those times. There isn't an idea I don't like from the idea of a spaceship crewed by one giant plant (puts the Vervoids to shame), to the idea that the Cthulhu style monsters behind space aren't so monstrous, or at least, don't behave that way despite appearence that is down right scary!

My only issue really is with Susan here, sinse to say this is the story where she realizes that she should leave the Doctor, she's hardly taking charge really? Indeed oddly enough the "perfect memory" remark early on just reminded me of Zoe and made me think again how Zoe was Susan done right, ie, a truly! unearthly child, not just a screaming, ancle twisting waste of cliche. Actually at some point if it wouldn't be far too taboo I'd love to see Susan on Galifrey, just sinse I really! can't reconcile her with being a timelord at all.

It also doesn't help that Carole Ann Ford feels a bit stilted for some reason even when trying to be as hysterical as she was back in the sixties, often she reminds me of someone's mum in an ameter production, trying her best but unable to shake the feeling that all this is a bit embarrassing. She has risen above this on some occasions, but usually when she's got some good support from other performers, less so on her own.

Fortunately, if the directing, the script, the music and the sound effects are up to the challenge, I don't find her performance hurts the story too much, and this is definitely one of the occasions that is true, sinse a darker and more weerdly alien story I can't imagine, I just wish it had both a better part for it's central character, and a slightly more enthusiastic performance from it's leading actress.

Still, I am definitely starting to remember why I enjoyed this range so much, and as I see that season 3 has the Empathy games and the transit of venus, both of which I have fond memories of, things definitely seem to be getting into gear after a slightly shaky start.