Sunday, 13 February 2011

Mission to Magnus written by Philip Martin and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: The Doctor and Peri face enemies at every turn on the planet Magnus. There's the Time Lord bully Anzor, who made the Doctor's life hell during his time at the Academy. There's also Rana Zandusia, the matriarchal ruler of the planet, who seeks to prise the secret of time travel from these alien visitors. Also on Magnus is the slug-like Sil, still bitter from his defeat on the planet Varos and seeking to make his fortune from the most potentially destructive ends. And, deep within the planet, there is something else. Another old enemy of the Doctor's. And the future is looking decidedly colder...

Softer Six: Aside from the big wuss hiding under the console from Anzor, which is a moment of hilariously camp cowardice, this is another phenomenal showing for the sixth Doctor. Colin Baker says in the interviews that this is a return to the violently reactive Doctor of season 22 but having just listened to it (and since this is so authentically as written for at the time) I have to say that the original season 23 was clearly moving away from his unlikable persona. He’s great fun here, nice to his friends and horrid to his enemies and wonderfully fun with Sil! Anzor was a school bully in the Academy who used to torture the Doctor and his friends at school and made their lives a total misery. I loved the scenes with Jarmaya invading the Doctor’s mind and describing it as a dance of delight and thought. They dance around in each other’s mind but as she tries to probe for the dematerialisation equations he turns the tables and invades her memories. When he wakes up he is delighted to be surrounded by beautiful women, the old perv! Sil, Anzor…Magnus seems to be a magnet for all the Doctor’s least favourite people. Because of the Doctor’s interference on Varos Sil was ex-communicated from his home planet. The Doctor plays a game of double bluff with the Magnesians, planting the wrong information into Jarmaya’s mind so they would access Anzor’s TARDIS and programme it with the data and send the old bully spiralling back to the beginning of time – what a crafty sod! As tricky as a four armed Tholian monkey! He surrenders to blind chance to deactivate the bomb. I adore the Doctor’s persuasion techniques – ‘Saving the planet means saving you!’ In a moment of pure sixth Doctor he strolls into the Ice Warrior base, all confidence, ego and commanding and putting them in their place. Twice in the story he attempts t save his friends lives at the cost of his own. Funnily enough the Doctor doesn’t seem too bothered by Sil’s disappointment of him. At the close of the story he brilliantly (and hilariously – see sparkling lines) stands up to Anzor, mission accomplished!

Busty Babe: I would have loved to have been able to have seen Peri trying to drag the Doctor up from the console, how nice to have some comedy coming from the characters without them barking at each other. She wonders why he didn’t just stand up to Anzor and tells the Doctor to grow up and face his fears. In return he tells her to stop being so dramatic (
about time somebody said that, the melodramatic harpy!). She seems quite perturbed to have young boys kissing her feet! Like The Hollows of Time (yes I know it comes after this story but I listened to it first) Peri gets to act like a mother again but this time she gets a much gentler, less irritating kid to ingratiate with her maternal instincts. There is a moment when Peri is soaked through – considering the sexist angle to this story I bet some of the lads would have loved this to have been televised for that reason alone! There was one line where Peri mentions she is from a planet where women aren’t the equals of men that was a very important message to make at the time. Peri tries to save her life at the ‘great clumsy’ hands of the Ice Warriors – nice one Peri, insult your captors! Apparently she has a degree in TARDIS technology from the UCLA! Described as a Magnesian she-devil! Just as a comparison to how much things had moved in since the sixties, Peri is cheeky with the Ice Warriors (‘Tell room service hot chocolate’) whereas Victoria whimpered and screamed. I would pay cash to be able to see the Doctor and Peri carrying Sil as he says ‘mush...mush!’

Standout Performance: What a joy it is to have Nabil Shaban back as Sil – I don’t think I have ever laughed so much during a Big Finish adventure! He toadies up to everybody but backs both sides from the middle so he always comes out on top. I loved the scene where he helped the Doctor and then seconds later blamed him for everything! I would just love for a trilogy of stories where they are stuck together; it would be a laugh riot! Any scene with Sil is gorgeous; he calls his Ice Warrior allies ‘great clumping oafs!’, encourages our hero – ‘Doctor! We need something brilliant from you! At once!’, begs piteously for his life (‘save me Morgo! I will sacrifice every credit I own!’ and made me heave with laughter when the Ice Warriors were defeated and fell ‘flat on their stupid faces!’ He’s just so naughty! I love him.

Sparkling Lines: ‘Do you like the creatures known as women?’ ‘Can’t stand them!’ – I spat my coffee over my notes at that!
‘The despised creature who owns every last woolly jumper on the planet!’
‘Doctor? You have thwarted our plans before, have you not?’ ‘Once or twice. I’d rather like to do it again!’
‘I should make a cosy killing! Lalalalalala!’
‘Oh get stuffed Anzor!’ – I choked on that one!

Great Ideas: The TARDIS is dragged off course by Anzor who activates his trans replicator mode and swaps his TARDIS with the Doctor’s trapped in the beam of a spaceship (nice mention of this – it’s the Ice Warrior ship and we don’t hear from them again until the cliffhanger). Anzor once sealed the Doctor’s friend Chevor into a block of crystal and dropped it from a great height. Sil (‘bath my person in glorious aqua…’) is an outcast from Thoros Beta and needs to make a fortune on Magnus to please Kiv so he can return home. The virus on Magnus makes men blind and k
ills them off at the age of 20 summers leaving a female dominated society. A few men are kept alive for breeding purposes (form an orderly queue guys!). The Magnesians wish to obtain time travel technology because they believe their neighbouring planet (male dominated – spit!) have developed an antidote to their male killing virus and they want to go back in time a year and stop their research ever taking place. Its either that or war. Sil the greedy devil wants to manipulate the universal money markets, jump ahead in time, see if a product sells well and come back to invest and make lots of lovely profits! The Doctor and Peri discover a detonator in the ice for a hydrogen bomb, enough to fracture the planet! The Ice Warriors burst from the ice in what would have made a deliciously visual cliffhanger. The TARDIS is partly sentient and takes Sil and the Magnesians forward in time a few hours where they discover the Rana’s palace has fallen. There is an invasion force from Salvak on Magnus that have been captured by the Ice Warriors and forced to engineer nuclear devices around the planet. They are trying to change the climate on Magnus to make it perfect for the breeding and hatching of Ice Warriors, the once proud race plan to rise from the ashes of this planet. The explosions shift the planets axis and alter its orbit, moving it further from the sun and propelling it into a perpetual winter. The Doctor returns the planet to its orbit and the sun rises and slaughters the Ice Warriors.

Audio Landscape: Magnus is one of those alien planets that feels genuinely alien thanks to some groovy sound effects. The story opens on the TARDIS going dolally, Anzor’s galvaniser stick crackles, the harmonious mind music, girly gasps, Sil’s delicious laugh, the freeze ray, we penetrate Anzor’s mind and hear his thoughts whizzing about, water flowing, ice cracking releasing the Ice Warriors, a ticking time bomb, lovely sibilant Ice Warrior voices, sonic weapons palooza n some terrific gun fights, Sil plopping about in his goo, bomb shockwaves, icy winds, the Doctor playing with the bleeping bombs and Anzor’s grumpy TARDIS returning at the end!

Musical Cues: Wow, that was a fabulously authentic eighties score, part Roger Limb, part Timelash and a whole lot genuine grooviness! I was instantly transported back to season 22 by the music alone – very nice indeed.

Standout Scene: Because I was looking forward to it so much I loved the Ice Warriors breaking from the ice and any scene with Sil had me in stitches!

Isn’t it Odd: Nicola Bryant suggests that if you were coming to this story from a 21st Century point of view you could find the sexism angle insulting. Are you kidding me? All the men are bloody idiots! I think a planet ruled by women is an awesome idea no matter how clichéd! The ending that sees the women from Magnus and the men from Salvak joining forces is hilariously funny (‘I promise you will enjoy the mingling of the sexes!’ he says of a bit of nookie!). It would take the most sensitive of people (and Janet Fielding) to find this bit of old nonsense distasteful.

Result: Wordy, clichéd, silly and stupid…who gives a shit? This story is an absolute laugh riot! Lisa Bowerman directs Mission to Magnus with a lightness of touch which ensures it is a very smooth ride and extremely reminiscent of the confidence of the Williams era. Fresh performances, funny lines, insane levels of inventiveness (oh right you can handle a time travelling police box but knocking a planet out of orbit is just ridiculous!), lots of great monsters and a general sense of crazy exuberance make this an incredibly fun slice of hokum. The story turns on its axis at the cliffhanger and becomes something quite different in the second episode ensuring the story keeps delivering. Turn off your critical faculties, this feels astonishingly authentic as though it has literally stepped from the mid eighties and should be thoroughly enjoyed as a lively and delightful breath of the past: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

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