Thursday, 17 February 2011

The Song of Megaptera written by Pat Mills and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: Deep space in the distant future, and Captain Greeg and his crew are hunting mile-long Space Whales on a vast harvesting ship. By pure accident, they also capture the TARDIS. The Doctor and Peri must use all their wits to survive. But what is the creature running loose in the ship's bowels? And can the Doctor save Megaptera before its song is extinguished forever?

Softer Six: Considering they have been coined (on occasion) as the least likable duo in canon it is lovely to see them portrayed here fighting to keep the space whale alive, it’s a fantastic cause to fight and gives them a very amiable edge. You can sense his frustration as he admits the TARDIS helpless against a factory ship. The jury is still out on whether he is crazy or not. A Time Lord’s TARDIS is his castle and he is not just any Doctor but the Doctor. Its great how he can think up an alias on the spot and an inspector for the Wildlife Interstellar Life Federation (or WILF for short) he carries some clout! A typical Star Guardian reading eco-freak! Whale hugger! He takes the role to comical extremes to cause a distraction – ‘Be careful that fly could get sucked into an air vent!’ He insidiously inserts an eco friendly virus into the bloodthirsty computers personality. Constantly regenerating, can’t he pick one he likes and stick to it and besides his fashion sense is much worse in this incarnation (ooh harsh Peri!). In a moment where you realise just how much this Doctor cares he realises that they were the whales enemy all along and responsible for it not being able to dive and escape the whalers. He is appalled and doubles his efforts to save the magnificent beast. The TARDIS wanted to see the universe as much as the Doctor do and you would be hard pressed to make her do anything she doesn’t want to do. Is he chivalrous or sexist? Judging by his behaviour here definitely the former. The Doctor met Jonah once and he was a very nice fellow! I really enjoyed his Mexican standoff over the scanner with the Captain of the whaling ship (‘Lets see if your bleeding hearts are really willing to bleed?’). The framily seem to have him pegged instantly by asking him to turn the conversation down a notch, turn down the volume and change the record! With the right packaging and presentation he might even pass company quality control standards – as food! He annoys the Captain to such an extent that he goes after the Doctor with a harpoon gun (a thousand mini harpoons with explosive tips!). From peace neck to paranoid, his personality does get around. Peri makes some funny digs at his ample waistline ‘ ‘What about you? It’ll be even tighter!’ ‘Thank you Peri!’ Hahaha!

Busty Babe: Her botany is accentuated quite a bit during her television tenure so she is the perfect companion to remind the Doctor of his responsibilities to the space whale, what with her concern for protecting the environment (The Mark of the Rani). The whale is the most beautiful creature she has ever seen and begs for the Doctor to help when the factory ship goes in for the kill. She always worries when the Doctor tells her not worry! Peri’s spaced out delirium is genuinely rib tickling (‘Will you still be my friend, Doctor, even though I’m growing into a mushroom? I can still grow on you! I’m growing my own eco system! I’m not delirious…I’m an American!’). It’s very sweet that she tries to take the blame for disabling the whale but the Doctor refuses to let her take on that responsibility. The Doctor had no idea she was a head banger! You can tell that the Doctor’s ship has really becoming her home when she says ‘TARDIS…sweet TARDIS!’ Peri has a family she wants to get back to eventually; she is a city girl and the village life aint for her! Is she prepared to die for her beliefs? Her courage is only matched by her stupidity. Go listen to how she says ‘I’m Peri and this is the Doctor!’ as though she is so proud of the association – they are a hell of team by this point in the season. ‘MIND THE GAP!’ she says as they evacuate the whale, bless her, there’s a good job for her if she ever returns to Earth!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The blood and rust gives a fabulous Jackson Pollock effect!’
‘I feel like I’ve been violated by flowers and sugar!’
‘Your company should adopt a greater cause. Save the spud or something…’
‘Parasites, protein, people…not much different on a molecular level.’
‘He’s gone Ahab!’
‘Your office will get smaller and smaller until one day they move your desk into the lift!’
‘This is what happens…’ ‘…When you don’t have Framily values, yeah, yeah…’
‘Here be space whales!’

Great Ideas: Whilst this story has quite a simplistic storyline in that it goes for its one theme with real gusto and not diverting into many subplots it manages to explore that theme with some real imagination. Read on… Dark matter is another way of describing the unknown. Galeen’s are space whales with solar scales that draw energy from the suns that they pass in their migration. They communicate over vast distances with their song and sustain themselves with an internal, self-sustaining eco system – pretty much a micro planet, almost a mile long. They are the only animals to exist in the dept
hs of space. The factory ships let of fake distress calls to lure the whales to them. They can dive beneath the event horizon of time. The Doctor sticks the TARDIS inside the tractor beam to free the whale and they get drawn into the ship themselves. Sawing Peri’s arm is considered a viable option for her fungoid infection! The Doctor introduces a pacifist virus into the ships systems. The Toothons are callers of the whales and the Captain orders the pipes to be filled with scalding steam to draw this one out of hiding. This particular Galeen is a pilot and without it the thousand strong whales in this sector don’t have a chance. The TARDIS has been interfering with the whale’s signals, impeding its ability to dive. The Captain plots to torpedo the whale and deploy the tractor beam to bring the remains inside including the frozen oils and blood – that’s horrible. Galeen’s have been known to provide safe environments for survivors of space wrecks. Neural torpedoes are fired at the TARDIS and as they hit the temporal buffers kick in with a soothing programmed to ease any post TARDIS explosion distress disorder (or as Peri puts it ‘supermarket muzak’) – all you will remember is a slight impact. The Galeen evolved time technology on their own, the time core like a pearl inside an oyster. Toothons called the Galeen’s to their world and ate them. The Framily are a community living inside the whale in a shantytown made of debris of spaceships. Peace or death, if you wont join the Framily you will have to be purged for your disbelief just as the Sontarans were. The Captain genuinely doesn’t care that the humanoids living inside Megaptera will end up in the whale products – if the public knew what went into the blubber buggers there would be a rash of vegetarianism overnight! He considers it an unexpected protein bonus! The Doctor and friends are attacked by giant bacteria, as the whale believes it is being invaded by germs, not people. He leads the Framily onto Megaptera’s back in a sci-fi eco protest. The Captain wanted to steal the time core that would attract the whales to take profits away from the corporation that has treated him so badly. An antidote to paranoia = a convincing explanation!

Audio Landscape: There are plenty of computer bleeps, squeaks and alarms to give the whaling ship a fully functioning feel. The song of the space whale is beautiful and its cries for help piteous. You’ve got a grabber, lasers, a submarine sonar that accelerates when the whale is nearby, a cheeky computer voice, scrabbling claws, spitting bullets, the spray can, the screaming burning Toothon in the steamed out pipe, a chainsaw, sonic lance attack, climbing through the slimy air holes, explosions and the glorious sound of the whales singing together.

Musical Cues: Plenty of exciting synth music in this story that once again mimics the feel of the mid eighties scores. I really liked the TARDIS lyre and flute during its soothing programme!

Isn’t that Odd: I’m not sure what all this hyperstitious nonsense is all about but it seems to come from no where and go no where. The computer voice really grates after a while.

Standout Scene: Several moments stood out as being especially potent. Firstly I loved the scene when the Doctor and Peri realised that by helping the whale they had caused its plight, you really got a sense of their hearts breaking as they come to terms with their foolishness. The cliffhanger to episode two was another awesome moment, when you realise the Doctor is going to take the TARDIS inside the whale. Save the best for last though, the joy of the space whales reunited with their pilot and singing their song is a heavenly way to end a story.

Result: Not quite as strong as the last two but a fine story nevertheless, The Song of Megaptera plants the Doctor and Peri in a desperate situation from the first scene and explores the nature of the Galeen and their industry with considerable panache. There are some amusing characters to keep the story ticking over and an awesome shift in location inside the whale halfway through the story. The Galeen are one of the most imaginative races we have encountered yet and it is wonderful that we got to see them televised last year. Coming after the subtle and terrifying Point of Entry this is a complete change of pace, lacking the atmosphere but far more exciting and considering the gestation period this story has had it is astonishing that the end result is this entertaining and thought provoking. It’s a story that sees the Doctor and Peri at their best and proves they are made for each other, and the show: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

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