Sunday, 30 January 2011

LIVE 34 written by James Parsons & Andrew Stirling-Brown and directed by Gary Russell

We interrupt today’s Big Finish update to bring you an exciting new review of LIVE 34 written by James Parsons & Andrew Stirling-Brown and directed by Gary Russell. Over to Joe Ford and his on the spot reactions immediately after listening…’

What’s it about:
"You're listening to LIVE 34."
"LIVE 34 ¤ news on the hour every hour ¤ LIVE 34 ¤ broadcasting to Colony 34 all day every day ¤ LIVE 34 ¤ constantly updated every minute of every hour ¤ LIVE 34 ¤ sport, weather, business, local news, inter-planetary affairs ¤ LIVE 34 ¤ live, independent, accurate, comprehensive ¤ LIVE 34 ¤ all news, all day, every day ¤ LIVE 34."
"Reports are coming in of an explosion."
"On the line now is the leader of the FDP."
"The President is about to begin his address."
"We can see bodies in the wreckage."

The real McCoy: I’m happy to report that the real Sylvester McCoy is back with us, the one who gave us dark, compelling performances in Ghost Light and Master as opposed to the gibbering idiot who phoned in an embarrassing performance in Unregenerate(!). Can you imagine a better front man for an insurrectionist movement than the Doctor, and particularly the ‘bring down the government in an evening’ seventh Doctor. The Doctor condemns blowing things up as an answer and tries to gain access to the rubble of one of the horrific terrorist attacks to help save victims. He always manages to get to the heart of the problem, criticising the news for their ridiculous conspiracy theories. The Doctor makes alarming accusations against the government and I found McCoy especially good in these scenes where he had to be firm and authorative. ‘How am I supposed to answer your questions f you don’t stop talking?’ he asks. When trying to explain the truth about the fuel crisis he gets an egg and a punch in the face! His slogan is very Second World War – Resident Doctor Needs You! You don’t miss the Doctor once he is declared dead because the story is so gripping without him but he truly makes an impact when he returns to confront Jaeger. His ‘Death to this! Death to that!’ hysterics are surprisingly well judged; the Doctor takes on politics (‘Oh do shut up!’) whilst McCoy learns to act angry (I wasn’t sure which to punch the air more about!). ‘You are your government are an abhorrence! You sicken me!’ A fantastic showing for the seventh Doctor and long past time.

Oh Wicked: It feels like ages since I last heard Ace and even longer since I enjoyed her this much. LIVE 34 manages to find wonderful things for all of the regulars to do in their separate radio broadcasts, the Doctor as a political leader, Hex as a trained paramedic and Ace as a terrorist organiser. She has always been extremely vocal about the oppression of freedom (but its usually in the form of trite ‘I hate Nazi’s dialogue) and this time she has a genuinely horrific regime to fight. Does the ‘Rebel Queen’ have an agenda or do her and her followers simply enjoy killing? Is Ace a subject of vilification or the invention of a few over excited editors (that really made me laugh considering Ace’s initial remit of bombs and good looks!). The press have come up with this rubbishy, pretentious name for her. Ace has had several names but this is the one she has decided she likes best, it’s her name (hurrah – finally dumping the McShane bollocks!). Ace came to the colony for relaxation and has a mum and brother. Although she had been hoping for a tan Ace hadn’t seen snow is ages and ran and ran when they left the TARDIS as the kid in her leapt free. Admits that she may have been a little too enthusiastic with the explosives. Its such a shame that Ace’s horrendous 80’s slang couldn’t have been bleeped in the same way her political comments are here! Ace is going to put a stop to injustice or die trying. She has been taught to always have a plan B. She has courage and a steadfastness of beliefs, bearing, leadership and a purpose. Jaeger declares Ace is nothing more than a grubby little criminal and after her arrest they forced her under drugs to beg for forgiveness for her crimes. She tries to speak up against Jaeger and he publicly beats her and almost has her executed. Wowza.

Sexy Scouser: My one complaint about LIVE 34 is that this is another experimental story for Hex; one which leaves his character absent for the first two broadcasts. It would be much better to allow us to get to know this new character rather than constantly sidelining him in unusually untried story styles. I think this might have been the reason it took quite a while for people to warm to Hex (in comparison to Evelyn who most people fell in love with right away), that and his second story was Dreamtime. Chips and gravy are a delicacy where he comes from. He’s smart enough to investigate but to not want to make already nervous security forces more so! Hex treats every call out as an emergency, even the ones that are more like community service. Some people do die but that is just part of the job and as long as he can say he did everything he could that’s the most important thing. His Gran made him want to be a paramedic (or rather a nurse), she told him to go and find a job they’ll always be a demand for. His Dad worked at the docks and had to accept redundancy and so when Hex left school he looked around at the options and figured medicine was a safe bet. He is very charming and gentle with patients; he has a superb bedside manner. ‘That’s why he sent me here! So everyone could hear the truth!’ I love how it is Hex who gets to expose the government at the end, he’s an everyman and people can relate to him.

Standout Performance: Sylvester McCoy deserves kudos for so violently trading against this system and not fudging it. Andrew Collins gives a wonderfully natural performance, he sounds like a genuine news reporter, dispassionate and to the point and I love how his role twists in the last broadcast as he becomes a puppet for the government.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Beneath the surface this is a sad and dangerous place where people disappear, rumour has replaced fact and the government can pretty much do whatever it likes in the name of security.’
‘If they are genuine then 34 is home to the worst corruption, fraud, oppression and murder imaginable.’
‘It may disturb you, it will certainly shock you but it is what happened…’
People were used as fuel. Burnt. Every single one of them so you could have toast for breakfast!’

Great Ideas: An explosion has rocked the colony’s first city on the fifth anniversary of the postponement of the vote. All unsanctioned gatherings are prohibited and only approved political parties are permitted. The formation of the freedom and democracy party despite being condemned is gaining popular support by organising rallies and distributing literature. The desire to seek out the truth regardless of whether that truth is comfortable or convenient is what good journalism is all about otherwise it stops being news and becomes propaganda. How do you check your facts when the government has a monopoly on information? They are using immigrants as a scapegoat to deflect attention from the real problems. There is a petition to force an election, to give the people a say. Famine, disease, overcrowding, murder…these are all the things that aren’t reported. The meat wagons are vans that collect the bodies. The Cesspit officially does not exist since there is no poverty on 34. Earth was abandoned centuries ago. Corpses are being planted in the empty buildings Ace’s movement is destroying. There is a secret programmed of culling, the meat wagons not just picking up dead people and a very real reason why the population is decreasing. If you speak out against the government you will be tortured and your children murdered. There are 400 complaints about the documentary report on the Rebel Queen saying it was biased, inaccurate and unnecessary alarmist reporting…the journalist reporting ‘commits suicide’. BREAKING NEWS (I loved these constant innovations keeping the story interesting and urgent) – the Rebel Queen has been arrested! Hex and Charlotte discover skeletons underneath a patient’s house, a mass grave of burnt bodies. After that report LIVE 34 is taken off the air for a day and a half. The Doctor’s death is reported. I love it when it is stated that the government is taking charge of LIVE 34 but returns to Jaeger’s landslide political victory with plenty of propaganda (‘the people are singing, dancing!’). Charlotte takes on Drew (‘How on Earth did you ever make it in journalism? One sign of pressure and you gave in like a wet paper hat! There’s a revolution going on! Keep up!’). A handsome middle-aged man was elected Premier of colony 34 who was popular and incorrupt. However he contracted a disease and decided on corrective surgery to remove his scars but the deformity only got worse with every operation. He couldn’t risk being seen publicly so they drafted somebody from the security services that with a little surgery could be made to look like the incapacitated Premier at his height. Jaeger had two priorities, to stay in power and make sure the lights stayed on. For the former he engineered a state of emergency, bombs, rumours and postponing elections. For the latter they emptied graves and converted the bodies into fuel but the demand became too great and the disappearances began, political prisoners shipped off never to be heard of again. The final scene is gloriously open ended, with the truth of government exposed and the Doctor leaving as the crowd erupts into violence and chaos. Who knows how this colony reacted to all the lies.

Audio Landscape: I refuse to believe it is a co-incidence but with Gary Russell taking a break for a couple of stories sees him returning to the main range with probably his best ever direction of a Doctor Who audio. LIVE 34 is a difficult story to bring to life and keep entertaining and gripping but with a range of clever sound effects, radio narrative devices and narration Russell provides a truly immersive experience. Static, radio tuning, sirens, flames, a press hearing with chatter and camera snapping, explosions, rubble collapsing, car engines, dogs barking, dripping water, Ace’s awesome bleeped speech, riots and violence, hammering rain on both a plastic tent and Hex’s ambulance, adjusting Hex’s microphone, a hail of bullets, Hex almost crashing the ambulance, thunder, a doorbell, violent crowds at the close of the story.

Musical cues: The LIVE 34 jingle says everything you need to know about this tyrannical regime. The lack of music, both the theme tune and incidental music, really marks this out as something different and realistic.

Isn’t it Odd: That Gary Russell, the Alfred Hitchcock cameo of Big Finish Productions, turns up as a police broadcast. That’s some camp oppression!

Standout Scene: The Doctor revealing what has happened to the ‘disappeared’ colonists is revolting.

Result: Phenomenally good, the boldest departure from the norm since The Natural History of Fear and just as gripping. There is a real urgency to the live broadcasts with on the spot terrorist attacks, disturbing discoveries and political depositions and as someone who rarely listens to the news this really captured my imagination. Censorship, propaganda, terrorism and politics all come under the microscope in an intelligent, hard-hitting way. The regulars all get the chance to shine and the guests cast is the best assembled for quite some time. You wouldn’t want every story to be like this but it makes for a chilling, inspired one off: 10/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @


Anonymous said...

It's fun comparing these reviews to your older reviews on the DWRG, especially for this story; "Potentially classic, but underwritten and in desperate need of tighter direction, this is the biggest failure from Big Finish in some time."

Joe Ford said...

That's what comes with maturity...hahaha! I can't be the only person who changes their mind over time. I read those old DWRG reviews and cringe :-)

rumblebars said...

The non-standard format here is a huge plus here, but the bog-standard "dictatorship stomping on everyone" plot is far from original. And the whole burning bodies for fuel bit is just lame. Good performances certainly help overcome that though. But if this was told as a traditional Dr Who story, it would have been very pedestrian.

I can't give this one over 7/10.

kurumais said...

you were right about this one. what a great script. i find seven very hit or miss this was definitely a hit. a terrific listen.