Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Pier Pressure written by Rupert Ross and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: Brighton, Sussex; 1936 "Ere, listen listen, I've got one for you. There once was this bloke, you see. Good-looking sort of chap. Lovely, brightly coloured coat. No rubbish. Quality gear. Never bought a drink neither... or so they say. But his name wasn't Miller. Oh no, there'll never be another Cheeky Chappie, lady, there'll never be another. They broke the mould when they made me you know. No, this bloke called himself the Doctor. Doctor who you ask? And may well you. Don't know me self. No one ever knew. Funny that. He was a real strange one. Odd things happened when he arrived. Mind you, them were dark days. No one was laughing. And these were my people. My public. It was like playing first house at the Glasgow Empire. Just like the entire town was cursed it was. Cursed by something not of this world..."

Softer Six: There is something very odd going on with Sixie’s characterisation in this story. Like Medicinal Purposes (although it was a lot subtler there) Ross is determined to write the Doctor as a verbose, prickly, selfish alien…which is fine if you are trying to capture the sixth Doctor we saw in the series. Big Finish have developed the character since then into a far warmer, more complex sort of man and plonking him back into the bellowing self obsessed bully role feels…I dunno, wrong. Fortunately Colin Baker is around to deal with this dodgy characterisation and he manages to soften it in general but there are still a few moments where you want to reach into the audio and tear his head from his shoulders. Evelyn is contemplating a universe without the Doctor and she doesn’t like the sound of it! He’s down in the dumps because of the futility of it all. Lives spent in constant danger, countless centuries wasted on puny civilisations that don’t give a tailors cusp whether he arrives in the nice of time or not! He’s an alien; he spells that out perfectly clearly to Evelyn. Once in a while he would like to be able to enjoy a thoroughly bad mood! It’s no fun anymore! Oh Doctor, cheer up! Evelyn suggests that being saviour of the universe must be a hard graft after all these years but gets him to admit it was worth it. His autobiography should be a rollicking good read. He tried Blackpool once and it didn’t go well. When they arrive he is excited to be at London-by-Sea, Brighton! Death follows you around when you have a ship that can sense danger. He hates mysteries without mystery! In his queer clothes he looks as though he is lit up like a Christmas tree! The Doctor comments that the BBC are often unforgiving to their finest assets (ahem). Moves pretty fast for an old ‘un. Don’t he talk funny? His sugary sweetness positively rots Miller’s teeth! The Doctor once spent the night on Brighton beach as did I but I am almost willing to bet it wasn’t for the same reason! He’s a proper little HG Wells, isn’t he? Running away is no him at all. How long has it been since he sat calmly and serenely and basked in the sound of the ocean? He never just sits and listens, he is the watchmaker, regulating time and there are so many cogs that don’t fit, so many worlds that could shatter (that’s quite a lovely moment, actually). You don’t get to talk with the authority of the Doctor without seeing some stuff. I raised an eyebrow when he started kicking the ¤¤¤¤ out of the possessed Emily with driftwood! The Doctor is very pleased that Emily is dead because she is finally at peace. Max Miller always said he was a lovely bloke!

Learned Lecturer: While she is still a guest in this battered old box she will speak her mind and shake him from his doldrums if she wants to (go Evelyn!). A holiday without Evelyn would be doomed to failure. Max Miller is another feather in her cap along with Queen Mary, Darwin and Burke and Hare. Sometimes she could happily turn away from a problem that might not even be a problem! Speaking as somebody who has spent an awful lot of time there, the Doctor and Evelyn larking about on Brighton Pier is wonderful! Mrs Wells! Evelyn secrets Miller back to the TARDIS and he asks what are they supposed to do in there all night and instead of getting her jollies on they play I Spy! Evelyn has learnt the hard way that she should never question the Doctor. She’s never had the need to use the little girls room in the TARDIS and has no idea if there even is one! She accidentally says the First World War rather than the Great War, which tells Miller there will be another. Calls the Doctor the bravest man she has ever know and she thinks he is rather fantastic.

Standout Performance: It’s a shame that he doesn’t have a better story to be involved in but Roy Hudd gives a grandiose performance as Max Miller, the unforgettable comic caught up in the Doctor’s adventures.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Sirius 4! Metebelies 3!’ ‘Sounds like a football score!’
‘He is engaged in forbidden tortures of the Far East!’ ‘Sounds like my honeymoon!’
‘Looks like the Northern Lights have taken a holiday down South.’
‘Its sucking us down! Women and comics first!’
‘How many fingers am I holding up?’ ‘Don’t be disgusting!’
‘Once more unto the beach!’

Great Ideas: The Royal Pavilion is described as a little taste of India in the South East of England. The Phantom of Preston Park? By midnight Dante’s Inferno will have nothing on Brighton! Max Miller is the naughtiest man in Britain (Evelyn seems g
enuinely gleeful to see him). Miller asks how many miles on the clock of the TARDIS (blimey, what a thought!). The concentration of human emotions have seeped into the piers structures, inconsequential holiday pleasures, flashes of the mind but the pier doesn’t forget. The human energy is stored in her structure, her heart. The war was a similar collection of human emotions, despair which allowed an evil presence to thrive. Happiness versus despair? A vessel that stores human feelings for its own good. When they arrived centuries ago the Endo were exiles from the furthest reaches of the galaxy they were frightened, homeless and desperate. They became parasites on the Earth, clinging onto life like intergalactic frogspawn. The Doctor tells Miller that he would become a favourite son of Brighton and have a statue erected as a national treasure.

Audio landscape: Almost as if compensating for the lack of plot, this is an extremely evocative productive conjuring up a nighttime seaside location effortlessly. The seagulls, shingle, tide and whipping sea breeze takes me back to evenings larking about on Brighton beach. There’s also the creatures terrifying roar, pub chatter, walking on the pier, a chilling heartbeat and Emily’s scream.

Musical Cues: A fabulous musical score which goes from cheeky to theatrical to moody. There’s an unusual use of the violin which gives Miller a fruity theme of his own but the guitar and piano are put to great use as well. I loved the ghostly score that tried to create tension that the story lacks!

Isn’t it Odd: The first episode is full of great Gary Russell atmospherics but the script is seriously lacking because nothing of consequence happens besides some witty wordplay! The opening scenes between the Doctor and Evelyn are unpleasantly reminiscent of the early 80’s where they tries to inject a little soap opera domestics into the show. Why is the Professor’s death worthy of a cliffhanger? We don’t even know if he is relevant to the plot yet! Oh I know why…because there had to be a cliffhanger somewhere in all the chatter! Its really strange how everybody stands around blabbering about everything before doing anything and then once they have done it they chat about what they have just done and why! The Doctor starts frightening the natives by saying the whole planet is in danger without a shred of evidence! ‘2/10 for originality’ – as Joe Lidster learnt in The Rapture you need to be very careful if you are going t include dialogue like that. ‘Walk, attack, kill…’ clearly the Edno have been taking tips from the Daleks! Evelyn and Max are playing I Spy in episode three…why aren’t they involved in the story (oh yeah…there isn’t one!). ‘If I can’t think myself through this nonsense!’ – you said it, Doc! The Doctor thoughtlessly tells Billy to get over the death of his girlfriend so they can get on with defeating the enemy (yeah like you weren’t affected by Peri’s death in Trial of a Timelord). The end of episode three sounds disturbingly like Colin Baker getting pissed and falling into the water (perhaps he’s been talking to Tom Baker). ‘You can talk the talk but can you walk the walk?’ is a sixth Doctor line! Gallifreyan zinc? They have Earth elements on Gallifrey? Unfortunately Miller was just there in the end to provide a little colour, he doesn’t contribute anything to the (lack of) plot.

Result: Get a script editor sorted for Big Finish, now! Pier Pressure is nowhere near as offensive as people will lead you t believe. Whilst it does ramble on it has some sublime performances, evocative atmospherics and a great musical score all of which prove quite diverting. Ross can certainly coin a phrase but unfortunately that’s all he does here, everybody stands around chatting about this terrible evil that is brewing but we don’t actually find out anything about it until the end of the story and aside from inhabiting and killing one girl it doesn’t do anything that would suggest the ‘end of the world’ horror the Doctor keeps talking about. I’m probably a more forgiving audience for this story because I am a Brighton boy through and through and I love the undergraduate humour it displays but I would completely understand if people were bored rigid throughout. I’m giving extra points for Roy Hudd’s Max Miller, a genuinely delightful character: 6/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

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