Friday, 4 March 2011

The Demons of Red Lodge and Other stories written by Jason Arnopp, Rick Briggs, William Gallagher and John Dorney and directed by Ken Bentley

An English Gentleman: Having not yet reached circular Time, the first of the four anthology stories it was very interesting to listen to four different authors take on the quietest of incarnations. Each bring something different to the character, Arnopp allows us to hear him genuinely frightened in an unforgettable opening sequence, Briggs offers a shy and thoughtful version who takes Nyssa to Concordum because she is missing her father, Gallagher writes him with real gusto giving him an awesome Shawshank Redemption moment were he becomes the prisoners hero and finally Dorney who captures Davison’s effortless ability to dramatasise exposition whilst digging ever so brilliantly at his DVD commentaries in the Doctor Who range. The Demons of Red Lodge and other stories really brings the fifth Doctor to life, if you (like me) used to think this was the blandest of incarnations this is a great example of what Big Finish have done with the character. In the first story the Doctor is genuinely afraid but this is proven to be artificially induced. He admits that it is always his fault. Gratitude through the death of others soon chews through the soul. If he would only take the time to explain what he was doing people would attack him far less! On the first morning the Doctor spends in prison he manages to organise the library according to the dewy system, improve the nutritional value of the food, set up night classes, allow 18 prisoners to get out on parole because of his counselling, start a 20/20 cricket tournament and write the F-wing pantomime! People listen to him, they like him, he has the common touch that allows him to gain peoples confidence. He refuses the Governors job offer and winds up in solitary for 6 months! A year is the blink of an eye to a Time Lord. He leaves prison with the reputation of the notorious criminal Doctor John Smith! It turns out he was the historical adviser on the Devil Whisperer and cheekily arranged for Nyssa to act in the film in 1976. Its hilarious how quiet the Doctor is in the commentary since Davison himself is the most verbose in his (in fact Davison’s comments are often the most insightful and hilarious). Nobody can remember him being hired but he admits himself that he is very cheap!

Alien Orphan: However if you think Big Finish has done wonders with the fifth Doctor wait until you see how well they have bolstered Nyssa! Sarah Sutton really is getting opportunities on audio that she never did on TV and its great that even though they have re-introduced attention seeking Tegan and shameless scene stealer Turlough (on TV he managed it just be looking shifty, somehow your eyes always drew to him) its wonderful that we will still be treated to stories with just the fifth Doctor and Nyssa. We have never heard Nyssa as panic-stricken as she is at the beginning of Red Lodge and Sarah Sutton subtly changes the emphasis on her characterisation throughout to a jumpy, twitchy young lady who is completely at odds with her situation. She asks the Doctor if they really have to explore everywhere they arrive unintended. I loved that scene where she has had enough of being afraid and throws aside the curtain to see what is banging on the window. Sunrise and sunset are her favourite times of the day and she used to sit with her father in the Grove and watch the sun, happy. Now Nyssa has a new home in the TARDIS. She has good memories of Tremas and she hasn’t had happy memories like that in a long time. The Doctor takes Nyssa to Concordum so she can listen to a piece of Trakenite music that her father used to play to her stepmother when she was feeling low. Nyssa the groupie almost made me spit my coffee out (‘Right, doll?’). It’s nice to see that her manners haven’t been lost with her morals! The Doctor thinks she is magnificent. Unfortunately (and hilariously) Nyssa does not make a very good criminal and is completely rubbish at trying to get herself banged up! Of all the warehouses she could have chosen to steal from Nyssa chooses the only one on the planet that is empty! Nyssa Trayken only did one film and then went back to her hometown of TARDIS but she is a good little actress (she does it all with her face you know!). Clearly Nyssa loves playing a little bit of melodrama as she really goes for it in the film!

The Demons of Red Lodge written by Jason Arnopp

What’s it about: A long, dark night in 17th century Suffolk for the TARDIS travellers – when they find something nasty outside the woodshed.

Great ideas: I love the opening sequence of the Doctor and Nyssa waking up in a dark, unknown place. There is a noose hanging from the tree outside of the cabin. Ivy was never a twin but the original creature modelling itself on her. There are duplicates of Nyssa and the Doctor. The Earths new human race will be genderless and statistically optimised. The image of the Doctor and Nyssa sitting to watch a sunset is a lovely one, a little pause of reflection amongst the rest of the madness!

Audio Landscape: Logs falling, trees swaying, a crackling fire, creepy banging on the window, water rushing by, the Doctor jumps into the water and wades through, sucking sounds of the creatures taking somebody’s identity, birdsong.

Musical Cues: You’ve got a dramatic mixture of drums and piano creating a very dramatic and exciting score and managing to create a genuine sense of unease. I don’t want to suggest this in a boring fashion but the music is always good for Big Finish releases these days!

Result: It starts and ends very well allowing us to see the Doctor and Nyssa at their most panic stricken and their most relaxed respectively but everything in between is pure horror movie and sci-fi cliché with nothing terribly original added. The ideas let this episode down, I still don’t get how have 0.00001% of the Doctor’s heart defeated these aliens! Atmospheric but empty: 4/10

The Entropy Composition written by Rick Briggs

What’s it about: A lost prog rock symphony is unearthed from the vaults – with catastrophic consequences for the entire cosmos.

Great Ideas: Concordum is the repository for the most heavenly music going back to the dawn of time, an MP3 player on a planetary scale (that idea was probably enough for Briggs to win the competition – what an awesome concept!). There is a piece of music that is destroying all other harmonies, a sound that can strip flesh from bones. I loved the observation that the rich love their privacy and their isolation. Quantum sounds rage at the roar of the universe’s birth before it was silenced by nuclear synthesis – the music of the spheres. It is the sound of creation itself. Entropy sirens can’t live in our reality since the first stars formed. Without chaos to feed on she would die so she found Geoff Cooper and became his muse, directed him to compose White Waves, Soft Haze and infiltrate a copy into Concordum’s vaults. The Doctor broadcasts the horrid racket to the whole of Concordum and the two waves of destructive sound cancel each other out. I really liked the point that was made that what is important is listening to music, not cataloguing it.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Is that a vegetable you’re wearing?’
‘Sorry I can’t hear you through the cheese!’
‘So much silence to fill!’

Audio Landscape: It kicks off with an insane chord of rock and a dying scream and merges with the TARDIS landing, bubbling pots and pans and chopping vegetables, crunchy gravel, swaying trees, Mrs M being torn apart by music and laughter, the house breaking up, glass smashing, the Doctor’s threats over the PA, the stretched scream.

Result: Much better, the brilliant concept of a burst of music that can kill is used to great effect in this imaginative piece. It hops location with panache, first showing us where the music ended up and then where it came from, the dialogue has some real punch to it (I love the cheese) and I would suggest this freshman is given a chance to write a longer piece of drama given this unusual exploration of the medium: 8/10

Doing Time written by William Gallagher

What’s it about: On the planet Folly, justice catches up with criminal mastermind 'The Doctor' – but can he endure a year in the jug?

Great Ideas: I loved the faux Porridge opening. The Doctor is in Folly prison attempting to warn the Governor of an explosion that will take place in six months time. Personal time is slowed down in the force field around the prison and so what feels like a minute takes a week off your life. Thanks to the Doctor the Governor changes that to a year! She believes the Doctor’s story of an explosion and wants it to be her Election Day stunt, a disaster that will see her battling on regardless. The Doctor has inadvertently caused the explosion, Jabreth Starship engines use elliptical warp drive technology and in a time field the engines will go into spasm…boom! The Governor has timed it just right that the Jabreft’s will come and pick up their son on her election day and thus ensure her victory! Ugh, Jabreth throwing up his contraband is really nasty! The Doctor has a year to escape from prison and manages to put the Governor in her own little temporal prison whilst setting all the prisoners free!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘When did you grow that beard?’

Audio Landscape: Clanging doors and walkways of prison, Jabreth talks as though he is throwing up, the singing in the next cell, the meeting room, ‘oh when the saints go marching in’ slowed right down, the time field.

Musical Cues: My favourite score of the anthology, kicking off with a mournful harmonica and then becoming very spunky as Nyssa tries to get herself arrested and exciting as the story comes to head and the ship threatens to explode in the sky.

Result: Huge fun, Doing Time is a really tight script packed with some very funny moments. If there was proof that you can tell an exciting, satisfying story within one 30 minute episode I would hold this episode up as a very nice example. The Doctor as the prisoners hero is worth the admission price alone but this story gets even more bonus points for Nyssa’s rubbish attempts to get arrested: 9/10

Special Features written by John Dorney

What’s it about: At last, the cult 1970s horror anthology Doctor Demonic's Tales of Terror is set for release on DVD, complete with a commentary from director Martin Ashcroft, leading actors Sir Jack Merrivale and Johanna Bourke, plus the film's historical adviser – the mysterious 'Dr John Smith'!

Great Ideas: The concept of telling the entire story through a DVD commentary is inspired and the ridiculous comments the contributors make in the first five minutes really reminds me of the lesser Doctor Who DVD extras (‘Lovely man’ ‘Oh yes’). I loved the Doctor trying to tell the story of the myth with Joanna cutting in with ‘oh there’s me!’ (it beautifully pre-empts the twist about her later in a very subtle way). Just because it’s a horror movie people start bandying the word curse! The director is breathlessly enthusiastic, guiding the commentary, toadying up to the actors! I loved Merrivale; he’s so cynical and bored by everybody else’s dull comments! They comment that the plot doesn’t actually make any sense. Nyssa stumbled into the wrong office in a very Katy Manning-esque way and that’s how she got the part. One of the three commentators killed Jerome so they could do the commentary instead as they only had the budget for three. In the 1800s, in 1976 on the film set and now here, a mind parasite from another dimension is bringing its plans to fruition. An energy being, more of a concept, sending out seeding devices through space for somewhere to fertilise. Some poor unfortunate finds the device and touches it and it plants a seed in their mind, a lone embryonic Rast, growing, enveloping and devouring the hosts mind, eating it away, gaining strength and becoming one. Then it births new Rasts in new minds. The creature killed everyone that got in its way; it couldn’t have anyone changing things before filming began. The footage and the device were both destroyed by the Doctor but the final scene, which was shot first had footage of the control device and if you say the control phrase over that final scene you can control anyone who listens to the commentary. Jerome (‘Quite the ladies man’) was seduced by Joanna, making sure the script was written and the props were included and saying the words herself to ensure she would succeed. Alas that crafty Doctor has cobbled together his own version of the film for the commentary where he replaced the Rasts pictograms with his own! No I can’t quite believe one half hour piece featured quite so many wonderful ideas and twists and turns either – this is more than I write for some main range full-length stories!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Not the best dialogue in the world, fairly functional.’
‘Its not me!’ ‘Or me! I’ve got a BAFTA!’
‘I mean would anybody talk such inane nonsense all the time?’ ‘Not heard many DVD commentaries, have you?’
‘Do you know what this means Martin? I think we’re going to have to do it all again…’

Audio Landscape: Praise should be lavished on everyone involved for going the extra mile and recording a half an hour ‘film’ for the commentary to be placed over. There is a werewolf growling and howling and tearing a man to pieces, manic laughter, a clucking chicken, birdsong and a fire crackling. There was probably much more going on in the actual film itself but I was so absorbed in the plot I never noticed!

Musical Cues: I love how the horror film gives the musician the excuse to really go for a melodramatic score, its full of crashing drums, over stated stings and insane moments of nightmarish shock.

Result: Breaking through the audio version of the fourth wall (the sound booth?), this is an inspired piece of aural storytelling, which manages to tell a spooky story with lots of laughs and some great observations on the paucity of DVD commentaries. Going into this story I wasn’t sure how the writer would pull this off but it defied my expectations and then some and highlights John Dorney as the latest unique voice in Big Finish’s range. Exceptionally good and the highlight of the anthology: 10/10

Standout Performance: Sarah Sutton, for her brilliant turn as terrified Nyssa, groupie Nyssa, criminal Nyssa and actress Nyssa!

Standout Scene: The big reveal in Special Features where I suddenly realised not only would this insane approach to storytelling work but that it would work brilliantly.

Overall Result: It’s a shame that the first episode lets the overall anthology down but the subsequent episodes just get better and better. I wasn’t sure I was going to like the single episode stories but Red Lodge found some very interesting ways to inject all those qualities I expect in longer stories (pace, a well thought through plot, character moments) into condensed tales. A great Christmas release: 8/10 

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1 comment:

David Pirtle said...

Each tale really is better than the last. Great review.