Thursday, 3 March 2011

The Crimes of Thomas Brewster written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Nicholas Briggs

Aristocratic Adventurer: What a delight it is to have the sixth Doctor and Evelyn back together after what feels like the length of a bible! They just click together beautifully, she can insult him without it seeming rude, he clearly adores her and their time together and it’s just wonderful to see the pair of them so happy. When Big Finish first started who would have thought sticking together the least popular Doctor (as I say, at the time…) and a prickly old crone (sorry Evelyn!) and it would have made for one of the best (for me the best) ever pairings of a Doctor and a companion. Now that they are back in cahoots expect laughs and tears in equal measure. The Doctor thought he was too old for this sot of lark a couple of centuries back. He went under the original London Bridge with king James II you know! This is before the Doctor ever met Menzies, a fun place for her to be which means at the beginning of The Condemned when he first met the DI and said ‘typical!’ he was remembering her! He has another dozen identical coats back in the TARDIS (and hilariously answers a criticism levelled at the Doctors and companions of the JNT era – ‘Why did you think I always wore the same one?’). You’ve gotta love his escape plan which consists of jumping from a warehouse window, even he comments that this is no way for a 900 year old Time Lord to behave! He cannot stress this too strongly, he is not Captain Kirk! The Doctor is clearly having a barrel of laughs in this story, especially when he crosses swords with the Terrovore (‘On guard!’). His pseudonym is Norman de Plume! Oh Doctor! He is told something about one of his future selves saving Symbios from the Drahvins to which he shoves his fingers in his ears and screams ‘lalalala!’ People should know by now that he always has a plan but sometimes he hasn’t thought of it yet. What I found especially interesting was how Jonathan Morris asked the question ‘what if there was a conflict with both the Earth and another, worthier planet in danger – which would he save?’ It really seems as though the Doctor has stuck two fingers up at the Earth and Colin Baker plays it for all its worth (although deep down I knew that wasn’t the case). If there’s one thing you can be sure of there is more to the Doctor than meets the eye. I loved the final knock of pretence where the Doctor tells Menzies that he knows that they will meet again in the future and he will return the same courtesy she gave him and pretend not to know her.

Learned Lecturer: I loved the Doctor’s adventures with Charley and do wish there had been more but the only thing I wanted more was Evelyn back! Maggie Stables isn’t given enough credit for her dazzling portrayal of the Doctor’s elderly companion. She took hold of a role which was potentially one note and turned the character into a warm, witty, resourceful, delightful woman who you would love to go travelling with (especially since you could end each adventure with a delicious slice of chocolate cake). We all love Evelyn so much (except those that don’t and who cares what they think?) and that’s why they keep breaking our heart with her tragedies; first with her devastating reaction to losing Jem and Cassie, then all the business with her dodgy heart, then her leaving the Doctor for another man and finally her choke-back-the-tears heart attack in Death in the Family. I am very pleased to see Jonny Morris harking back to her more enjoyable days in the TARDIS, a time when she jumped on police launches, pretended to be gangsters and got taken over by alien what-nots! The Crimes of Thomas Brewster is a firm reminder of how much fun this character can be, I didn’t need to be reminded but I’m sure glad we were!

One day, she muses, she’ll be too old for this sort of thing. Finally Evelyn is given a reason that the Doctor wore his hideous coat (‘apart from fashion, you mean?’). She is reluctant to be sent on the inside of a criminal gang because she hardly looks like a gangster! She thinks on her feet and tries to pretend that her wiretap is a hearing aid! Its brilliant how she turns on the helpless old woman act when she needs to (‘There’s a man after me! He’s trying to mug me!’). The Symbios might control her mind but they could never make her pull the trigger on the Doctor. Just this once she wants to remain in blissful ignorance of everything that has been happening! I have always wondered what it would be like to have a younger man travelling with husband-and-wife team the sixth Doctor and Evelyn, despites Brewster’s roguish behaviour I think they will make a nice family unit.

Chirpy Copper: I know you shouldn’t always give the fans everything they want but Colin Baker and Anna Hope have such gorgeous chemistry it would be the most natural conclusion for the Doctor to ask her travel with him after Evelyn, Charley and all the others have left him. Menzies is delighted to see the Doctor again and uses Botox as the reason that he may look younger to her colleagues whereas she knows this is an earlier version of him. She says ‘that’s definitely my Doctor’ which made me go ‘awww’ (soppy get). She often tries to forget about the insanity that is her life and has a truly crap (but very funny) reaction to the Doctor saying ‘I am a Time Lord!’ Menzies likes the TARDIS but asks where the chairs are (Thank you! Finally somebody has noticed how bare that eighties console room is!). She also comments that it is not exactly fascinating watching the Doctor press buttons and claims she understands all the rules because she has rented out The Time Travellers Wife. Menzies deserves full respect for pretending to be the Doctor (having regenerated into a woman!) with her companion Norman! Admits that if she is going to die she would like it to be on the Earth.

Artless Dodger: It makes perfect sense that Jonny Morris should be the one to bring his creation back and the charming, if a little brusque and violent Thomas Brewster makes a very welcome addition to the TARDIS team. He is pretending to be an East End gangster called ‘the Doctor’ (the young whippersnapper!) to make ends meet. He’s an old friend of the Doctor’s; they have history (like it). Has Brewster developed a conscience, helping out Symbios out of the good of his heart, following in the Doctor’s footsteps? Less of an artful dodger, says the Doctor, more of an artless dodger! You can take the boy out of the Victorian age… He’s pretending to be the Doctor because if the Locus knew who he really was they wouldn’t trust him. Thomas admits that if he really were the Doctor he would never choose our Doctor as his companion! He thought the idea of the Doctor becoming a woman was a bit dodgy but he went along with it. Connie was the love of his life and she had a terrible accident where she had to be euthanised. The Doctor thinks he wants to travel back in time to save her but he really just wants to go back to his time. Brewster is no good in the future; he wants to go back where he will fit in. Once and cut throat always a cutthroat, Brewster hijacks the TARDIS at the end and orders the Doctor to take him home at gunpoint (you can just hear Colin Baker ranting in the next story already, can’t you?’).

Foreboding: Evelyn said in A Death in the Family ‘that poor Brewster boy’ – are we heading for more heartache? And we never discover who created the Terrovore but I wouldn’t be surprised if the monster in the title of the next story had something to do with it.

Standout Performance: Tough one because this is a very good cast. My money goes to Anna Hope who seems to be having a whale of a time as Menzies one step ahead of the Doctor – her scenes glitter with great lines and funny moments. Helen Goldwyn’s recognisable tones provide a very memorable and funny voice for the Terrovore.

Sparkling Dialogue: Some very funny gags courtesy of Morris but unfortunately I don’t have room to recite them all so my favourites were…
‘The visual over stimulation has rendered it temporarily unconscious!’ ‘Not the first time your coat’s had that effect!’
‘Billy and Terry Dalek! The Dalek brothers!’
‘Without it it has no independent initiative’ ‘I know some people who are like that with their I Phones!’
‘He doesn’t know who I am and he doesn’t know who I know who he is!’
‘You sent them to an alien planet…by Tube?’
‘I’m quite a way out of town’ ‘What? Like zone four?’
‘If we dropped a nuclear bomb on them I’d expect to see them buzzing out of the mushroom cloud!’

Great Ideas: We open the story with giant robot mosquitoes! A new gang has started up in London run by ‘the Doctor’. Is the Doctor one of his future selves? The Terrovore have the ability to turn people into diamonds. Brewster has smashed a hole in the fabric of the universe, creating a temporal bridge between the Earth and Symbios. With trees like bones, roots like veins, the ground pulsating, the smell of bile and rives of blood it doesn’t take Evelyn long to realise Symbios is one huge organism. A planet of symbiants, different organisms working together to act as one. The Terrovore are created by…Neville Perkins (poor Mr Chakrabatti down the hall!) on behalf of some unknown force. Brewster still has his time machine. So long as the Locus survives there is no death on Symbios. The Terrovore escape through the underground and start attacking London! Without the swarm the Queen can’t survive and vice versa and the Doctor cuts them off and they both shut down. The government hushes up this latest threat to the Earth as ‘Japanese toy robot terror!’

Audio Landscape: Nick Briggs has always been a fantastic director but his work over the last two years has been extraordinary, really immersing the audience in the story and feeling as if these events are going on all around you. He pulls off a hugely exciting James Bond-esque opening sequence with mosquitoes screaming, the waters of the Thames beckoning, a police launch coughing to life and growling along the Thames, helicopter blades and a huge explosion! We get to hear the mad bustle in Thames house, ringing phones, water dripping in Brewster’s warehouse, smashing glass, guns cocking, police sirens, train tracks, ‘MIND THE GAP’ on an alien world, bubbling blood, flies circling around Neville’s corpse, clashing steel, rats screeching, Menzies crappy ring tone (‘What on Earth is that?’), bullets ricocheting and a helicopter blowing up. A superbly directed audio, Howard Carter’s sound effects are extremely vivid.

Musical Cues: A phenomenal score courtesy of Howard Carter, dramatic, bombastic and really giving the already fast paced story some real lift. The 12 minutes musical suite extra is my favourite so far.

Standout Moment: It would have to be a cross between the high octane opening sequence, Menzies playing the Doctor and the Doctor turning his back on the Earth. Great moments all.

Result: A rollicking adventure full of energy and pizzazz. Lately the main range has been nothing but death and misery and angst…what joy to finally have some fun! From its breathless opening, through its gigglesome ‘have we met yet?’ antics, London transport shot onto an alien world (like Planet of the Dead but far superior) and an intriguing moral dilemma at the climax, this is a colourful and dynamic story. Jonny Morris assembles some of the most popular Big Finish characters to join the party and it is genuinely gleeful to have Evelyn, Brewster and Menzies back in action. Add some polished post production work, a robust musical score and more funny lines than my underwear could handle, The Crimes of Thomas Brewster is a healthy reminder that Doctor Who can be a purely pleasurable experience: 8/10

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