Monday, 28 February 2011

The Necropolis Express written by Mark Morris and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: Strange things are happening in the pauper’s graveyard at Charnel’s End. There are hideous creatures in the undergrowth, a mysterious light emanating from the church, and something deadly beneath the ground itself. Someone from Litefoot’s past has come back to haunt him, and things may never be the same again…

Theatrical Fellow: Never let it be said that Henry Gordon Jago will abandon a friend in need – he cautiously follows his dear friend Professor Litefoot on the ghoulish Necropolis Express. He’s really not sure about travelling with a cart of cadavers and finds the idea of looking inside at the coffins contents against the law of God. He is the past master at letting his imagination run away with him and swears that he can hear the contents of the coffin stirring and making noises! Jago is such a brilliant old coward; he tries several attempts to get out of their midnight sojourn. Describes himself as a Theatrical Impresario…and that’s about all really. Tact has never been his strong point: ‘This broth looks as inviting as pond water!’ Admits he is not built for all this skulking. Jago finds even torturing the dead to be inhuman and he apologies as he electrocutes one of them! He will have no part in Crowe’s madcap scheme no matter how he dresses it up to be humane.

Posh Professor: Finds Jago’s appearance heartening in the cold weather. His mission is clear, they need to find Ellie and if she has turned they will have to put her out of her misery. He doubts that an infirmed old man will be a match for them. Poor Trevor Baxter often has to play the straight man whilst Chris Benjamin runs away with all the best lines so it is great to see somebody from Litefoot’s past turn up and give him some interesting character background. He was sure that Mr Maud was a fraud from the start and is appalled when his old friend Sabilius Crowe. Turns out he was disgusted by his friends betrayal of science. He tries desperately to appeal to Ellie’s better nature as she begins to savage Crowe.

Standout Performance: Vernon Dobcheft takes what could have been a one-note role; a nutty professor dabbling in some unearthly experiments and makes it far more sinister and interesting. It helps that the character has a connection to Litefoot but Crowe has a purring charm that beautifully matches his psychotic intensity.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Its only a locomotive for all its macabre connotations…’
‘For all I know the bally lot of them are about to leap from their boxes and set about us!’

Great Ideas: Gabriel Sanders murdered Ellie in cold blood and she is to make her final journey to the pauper’s graveyard at midnight by the Necropolis Express. Only those who are completely exsanguinated that don’t rise again, those who still have blood in their veins are filled with the virus and become like Sanders. Jago & Litefoot have to inspect every coffin in order to find Ellie – ugh! They are back amongst the graveyards (like The Bellova Doll) and discover that the corpses of penniless paupers are buries on top of each other. There are hot spots on the ground, machinery humming and lightning reaching up to the sky. Jago is attacked by a hideous, ravaging, dead old woman. Crowe is stacking bodies like firewood and wheeling them away. There is a laboratory under the graveyard that is as well equipped as the Royal Society where they discover bodies in vats of preserving liquid. Crowe disgraced himself and their profession and was struck off the medical register for his macabre experiments on the cadavers of the dead. He wants to find a way of reversing death; an army of tireless, fearless corpses that would see Great Britain rule the world. An invincible Empire. His re-animator scheme has been funded by Gabriel Sanders in a sideline to his evil schemes, to bring more people back from the dead. Sanders is still alive. If the deceased can undergo the re-animation process soon enough after death before the brain atrophies, then their bodies and mind can be fully restored and all trace of illness and disease vanished. Ellie is re-animated as a vicious, undead beast! Crowe tries to shoot her dead but she rises again and savages him. Ellie can hear the blood rushing in her friends and her hunger is like an itch you can’t scratch. They need to help her in whatever way they can and decide that her nighttime job at the tavern is perfectly discreet for a vampire. Sanders visits her at the bar and reveals his face, it is burnt beyond disfigurement and he is seeking revenge on those who caused it…

Audio Landscape: Train whistle, horses, luggage trolley, crows, the vibration beneath their feet in the graveyard, snarling, growling creatures, crackling fire, breaking into the coffins, a creaky old wheelbarrow, electricity crackling, rats, bubbling vats, the horrific screaming experiment, a slavering dead army, gunshots, the mass of undead soldiers tearing Crowe apart.

Musical Cues: Another very good score, I especially loved the music as they pursue Mr Maud and the exhilarating crescendo when Ellie comes to life.

Standout Scene: Ellie’s resurrection is absolutely gripping and Crowe being torn apart by his undead army is an unforgettable ending. The chilling last scene suggest very dark things to come…

Result: I have been waiting an age to hear a Mark Morris audio (I haven’t reached his Dalek story yet) and he doesn’t disappoint, this is as macabre and ghoulish as I was expecting and then some! It starts with a very simple premise of seeing Ellie to her grave and weaves through some very funny scenes of Jago trying to keep brave in a ghastly graveyard, the return of an old friend of Litefoot’s, an awesome horrific reveal of an old character and the revelation that Sanders has his hands in far more than we were led to believe. The dialogue is as rich as a fine claret, Lisa Bowerman really aces the Victorian atmosphere and scares and the performances are top notch. I hate that these seasons are only 4 stories long as I really enjoy them and feel that they are over far too quickly but if less running time means this level of quality goes into what we do have then so much the better. Top notch: 9/10

Buy the second season box set from Big Finish here:


Tony Jones said...

I thought this was somewhat clunky and not well balanced. It might have been better as two stories - one focussing on Ellie and one focussing on Crowe.
I felt that Ellie's attempts to rationalise what had happened to her were brushed over in a rush to finish the story.

More 6/10 for me

rumblebars said...

I also thought this one wasn't that great. The performances and sound design were as good as they always have been in this series, but I didn't like the writing here. What really bugged me was the fact that Litefoot needed to go through all of this to prevent Ellie turning vampire. He's the bloody coroner - if he really wanted to ensure that didn't happen - and up til now all we know is that Ellie was dead, he could have staked the heart, removed it and burned it even, cut the head off - all of that stuff, in the autopsy. Then none of this episode would need to have happened. Or they could have written a better reason for J&L to be at that graveyard.

Now, it was nice to have Ellie back, but having listened ahead a couple of episodes I must say that vampiring her only really results in a one-note character that just whines about how hungry she is.

Anyway, I'd give this one a 6/10 as well.