Wednesday, 2 February 2011
The Maltese Penguin written by Rob Shearman and directed by Gary Russell
What’s it about: It was just another quiet day on the mean streets for Frobisher, private eye. But then a dame walks into his office and into his life. A dame who is drop dead gorgeous and drop dead deadly, offering him a case he just can't refuse. Well, he could refuse it. If he really wanted to. But he has to pay the rent. When their paths cross, Frobisher finds himself involved in a web of mayhem and intrigue. A web of gangland killings, corrupt cops, sentient bloodstains, and very rude hotel receptionists. A web of murder and deceit, treachery and fisticuffs. That sort of web. You know. The sticky kind.
Fancy Flippers: I find it hard to imagine anybody hating Frobisher but I know there are people out there who really wont give him a chance simply because he is ‘just a cartoon character’. He’s as bold and brassy as the show itself and as imaginatively conceived as the TARDIS with a great, cynical attitude and a heart of gold. He’s no Albert Einstein and no one gives a fig for what he says but he has his philosophical moments. A shamus, a snoop, the guy who forages through your trashcan and for the right money he’ll find all the answers. He left the Doctor three weeks ago because he was tired of playing second fiddle to him and because he thinks his travels in the TARDIS has turned him soft! Frankly, the Doctor cramps his style. As soon as the Doctor’s back is turned we discover he yearns to hop back in the ship again but his pride is getting in the way (bless him). He was in love once, long ago and he discovered it was for chumps because of Francine, his ex partner and ex wife. By day they would solve crime and by night they would be making whoopee! Frobisher adopts the Doctor’s body for this story because it is the easiest humanoid form to mimic. Being knocked out isn’t an occupational hazard anymore but more the chance to catch 40 winks! You don’t need a steady grasp of economics on 12 Muzumbas a day. He’s not a hero; he’s a private eye and not very good one at that. Francine tells him he is better than the cynical private eye he pretends to be. He has stayed a penguin all these years to remind him of his wife. He steps back into the TARDIS at the end of the story for more adventures in time and space! Yippee!
Softer Six: The comic strip sixth Doctor is such a delightful character love these little forays into his life in print. Frobisher admits he employed the Doctor as his assistant on many occasions and almost considered giving him full time employment! The Doctor pops back to see Frobisher after 3 weeks of being apart and attempts to boast about all the wonderful things he has been up to when its clear he is desperate to ask the Whifferdill to come travelling with him again. Stuck in his shape Frobisher wonders how the Doctor manages to run up and down so many corridors with such a aerodynamically challenged body! He keeps popping back throughout the story to ask Frobisher is he has changed his mind and glumly realises he is having a ball on his latest case. He’s lonely and misses him. With the Doctor it is only interesting when people start trying to kill you.
Standout Performance: It is worth listening to The Maltese Penguin just to hear Colin Baker’s astonishingly funny cod American accent!
Sparkling Dialogue: The script is littered full of little noir-ish gems but my favourites were the typically witty Rob Shearman moments…
Amongst Dogbolter’s art collection is ‘an original John Ridgeway!’
‘A very smart bomb indeed!’
‘Imagining is unprofitable at least without a feasibility study!’
‘I think this could be the continuation of a beautiful friendship!’
Great Ideas: The Doctor has saved the universe twice since they parted whilst Frobisher has rescued a missing cat! Alicia wants Frobisher to follow her cheating fiancé – she knows Greengrax is sleeping with another woman. Dogbolter is so rich and powerful he’s practically unknown despite pulling the financial strings on thousands of worlds. He’s half man, half frog – one dangerous hybrid! I love the scene when Frobisher is pushed off the cliff and he has to morph into something to save his life
– what else but a penguin! Imagine if this had been on the telly… we would witnessed Colin Baker snogging Alicia! Dogbolter uses the Chief of Police to find Alicia and then terminates his employment. Dogbolter is rich because he maintains the monopoly on all businesses and he doesn’t produce anything on this planet – that way things can stay as they are. If something was created they could inspire anything’s and where would his profits be then? Dogbolter shoots his henchman just to prove what happens when people have no information! Alicia set this whole thing up so Dogbolter went after the ‘something’ that had been created – there never was an Arthur Greengrax, it was her disguised as one of his workers. The something is simply a computer chip which Dogbolter cannot resist seeing what is on it. Turns out it is a joke to make his employees laugh, firing up their imaginations, talking, sharing ideas…soon they will be creating and eating into Dogbolter’s profits. Alicia turns out to be…Francine, Frobisher’s ex wife!
Audio Landscape: Telephone, cars honking, thunder rumbling, rain falling, diving into an alley and scaring a cat half to death, bubbling, police siren, cliff top scenes, seagulls, thunder, walking on shingle, kissy kissy noises, gun cocking, a ticking Muzumba coin, explosion, footsteps, tinkling ice in bourbon.
Musical Cues: One of my favourite David Darlington scores. He seems to be having an absolute blast creating a sleazy gumshoe score! The music gets very tense when Frobisher discovers Greengrax’s body. Alicia gets a delicious sax theme all of her own. I love the use of the tambourine to create suspense and the low piano stings. The harmonica theme at the end of the story is one of my favourite pieces of music from any Big Finish stories, speaking of both love and friendship and rounding things off beautifully.
Standout Moment: I loved the reveal about Francine and Frobisher’s touching decision to leave her and travel with the Doctor. It made me go ‘aww.’
Result: Another superb Frobisher story, charming and witty with just the right dash of whimsy to make this a good time. What a shame that The Holy Terror sold so badly (especially since it is still a range highlight after all these years) because Frobisher is far more likable than practically any of the Big Finish companions and the storytelling possibilities with a shape shifter are endless. There’s nothing too deep going on here but it’s a gorgeous love letter to the comic strips and a great slice of comic noir to boot. Colin Baker and Robert Jezek excel: 8/10