Monday, 7 March 2011

The Extinction Event written by Lance Parkin and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: An exclusive auction house is offering the only known object to have survived the destruction of the planet Halstad. Professor Bernice Summerfield goes with Irving Braxiatel to secure this unique object for the Braxiatel Collection. But this is not a straightforward sale there is a murderer on the loose, on the trail of whoever owns the Halstad Harp.

Archaeological Adventuress: Poor Benny hung over again! She’s co-ordinating the dig and wishes she could get out there in the mud and join them…hahaha! Her pyjamas have teddy bears on them and she tries to convince that they have historical significance rather than just being cute. Appalled that Brax turns up in his luxurious personal shuttle when she had to nip a ride in a cargo freighter. Braxiatel’s expert on Halstad…and she hasn’t even been there! Her voice is identical to Jamara, Hulver’s lost love from Halstad. It is great to see Bernice as a moral crusader, feeling so strongly about the atrocity that has happened to Halstad and the perversity of turning a blind eye for the sake of money. The planet she was living on was destroyed, she’s been in the middle of wars, she’s seen friends killed and her mother died when she was eight during an air raid in the galactic wars. She wanted revenge, to live, to make her proud. Her past isn’t the only thing that defines her, there is a future. Benny really comes to grips with Braxiatel in this story, thinking all he cares about is the artefact when genocide has been sipped over. Braxiatel tells her that she is a good person, he isn’t proud of his actions but he is proud of hers.

Standout Performance: The first appearance of the irreplaceable Miles Richardson as Braxiatel who manages to be silky smooth and quietly menacing at the same time. He’s a brilliantly ambiguous character and Richardson taps into those shades of grey with consummate ease.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘This harp represents a whole planet…’
‘Benny…there are things we can do and there are things that we can’t…’

Great Ideas: First mention of Ms Jones in an audio. Halstad, the mud planet (sounds charming). A Halstad harp going for auction. The planet of ash right on the edge of known space, destroyed by a burst of cosmic rays 7 years ago. There was a humanoid settlement, pre space flight technology but the radiation wiped out all life on the planet. The seas were vaporised, the first hundred metres of bedrock were blasted to dust – now it’s just a big sterile desert. Only a handful explorers have been there. A particularly musical people and Brax wants to know if the harp is genuine. If it looks like Brax is interested the reserve price will mysteriously double. An auction of items exclusively from lost civilisations, cultures that died out suddenly. Somebody tries to kill the Ambassador who looks like a pile of offal in a bowl of dirty water from a planet of ammonia oceans – their language is one of expletives! The Gulfragians abducted Hulver; they took half a dozen of them and experimented on them, testing their intelligence so they could see what they were made of before destroying the planet with a radiation weapon. If the original owners are dead, their heirs are the legal owners of the property, which makes Hulver the owner of the harp rather than the Ambassador. Who profits most from a lost civilisation…the auctioneer! Davon is involved in the destruction of Halstad, helping to plot destroy the planet so they can sell off the remaining artefacts at ridiculous prices. It wasn’t never necessary to destroy the whole planet but the Ambassador just found it good fun!

Audio Landscape: Water flowing, birdsong, a destructive, ground shaking earthquake, blistering wind, footsteps, walking through puddles, a shuttle landing, rain pattering (hey that exact effect was prevalent in the last story!), lightning (its that rubbish fake lightning from Cassandra again!), polite chatter at the reception, a bizarre gurgling voice of the Ambassador, crockery, glass smashing, the wind tearing in,

Musical Cues: The beautiful music playing in the first scene is the most pleasant thing we have heard all year. Unfortunately the farting opening of the theme music soon begins but blissfully without the horrific lyrics – its still not great but its much more bearable that way! More percussion instruments but it has been toned down significantly – methinks Gary Russell has chewed Toby’n’Emily’s ears off! There’s a nice tinkling of piano music in the auction reception. Gah the lyrics are back at the end of the episode!

Isn’t it Odd: These early Bernice stories have the oddest way of having performers speaking in different ears making it feel as though they are miles apart – these audio techniques were refined over time but it is quite jarring here. Why are the tracks so long? One track is 18 minutes long, which makes turning the story of and returning to it very irritating.

Standout Scene: I love the argument between Braxiatel and Benny over the separate crimes of the Ambassador and Hulver. It is a fascinating moral debate that sees both characters giving it their all, Brax wonderfully pointing out the life isn’t as a straightforward as good and evil and Bernice trying to make him understand how wrong the destruction of Halstad was. Its real drama, something this season has sorely been missing until this story. I also really liked the ‘expletive expletive’ Ambassador! The closing music is very poignant.

Result: Hooray for Lance Parkin who manages to drag this misbegotten season into shape. He’s the first writer to remember what Bernice does for a living and writes an intriguing morally ambiguous tale that introduces the wonderful Miles Richardson into the range. Whilst there are still a few issues with how these stories are realised (don’t worry Toby’n’Emily are off soon) the strength of the script and performances shine through. If the last story of the season can maintain this standard we will be well on our way to a halfway decent series. Another superb cover: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

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