Tuesday, 8 March 2011

The Greatest Shop in the Galaxy written by Paul Ebbs and directed by Alistair Lock

(Let me just catch you up with the events that have been going on in Bernice’s life in novel form since we last left her in season two…

The Glass Prison is a deeply human drama, a claustrophobic horror story, an intense character study and a gripping whodunit all rolled into one. I have to admit the first chapter (compelling as it is) left me a little worried. How could a book set in a transparent prison last the 200 odd page count? Surely there has to be a change of location? If everyone can see everything how can there be any twists? I shouldn't have been so silly, this is an expert novelist at the height of her powers and she takes you on a roller coaster ride of excitement, mystery and horror.

Bernice is just so damn human. A simple sentence but it says everything you need to know about her fascinating character. She has all the worries, paranoia's and complexes we all do and yet there is a real brain behind the neurotics, a real sense of optimism and a craving for adventure. She's easily the most rounded character to come out of Who fiction and totally deserves her own series. It is her voice that we hear throughout the story and it is because of these qualities in her that makes it so compelling. She's a born adventurer so being trapped in a prison is just hell. Worse, it's a prison were you have no privacy and you're watched at every moment. Worse, you're banged up with a seriously loony cult. Worse, the floor above you houses a criminal who wants to get at you for putting him away. Worse, you're heavily pregnant. Poor cow. The first person narrative is exceptional, because we are so accustomed with Benny she feels like an old friend. The horrors she is put through here, seen through her eyes, are degrading, humiliating and terrifying. We're with her every step as she is terrorised and stripped down piece by piece until (in the last chapters) she almost welcomes death. It's utterly heartbreaking but impossible to put down. There must be something to cling onto, some form of hope...? Of course, her newfound friends who are wonderfully rounded characters.
Claire is lovely and from the first page on you just want to leap into the book and give her a big hug. Her protection of Benny is admirable and heart-warming and her apparent cowardice makes her all the more endearing. Gripper's role is functional but because of her shifting loyalties you never know when to trust her or not which makes her one to watch. Her callous attitude is fabulous, reminding me in many ways of Compassion but Gripper is even less humane, taunting Benny with scissors actions at the possibility of a C-section. But it is Sophia who impressed me the most. The Grel are such a funny creation, Jac's interpretation of them in the audio Oh No It Isn't! was hysterical but she adds more layers to them here. Whether excitingly screaming out "Good fact! Good fact!" or inappropriately going off on a tangent about human sayings Sophia made me laugh and, more importantly, sob when she pitched in to help. There is a phenomenal scene in the middle of the book where things are getting tense and they all start talking about baby names... Benny realises what good friends she has made. It sounds schmaltzy but it hits all the right notes.

If that wasn't enough Jac adds a very scary murder mystery plot. There are two deaths in this book that really unnerved (let's just say makeshift noose and chicken wings). It was surprising because of my earlier doubts about the lack of surprises but it is shocking because we see every disgusting detail through Benny's eyes. Things hot up when we realise Benny is in serious danger and I was, like Bernice herself, desperately trying to work who the murderer was.

The last third of the book is an incredible rush of emotions, shocking events, brilliant twists and blood rushing action. It is practically told in real time as we rush towards the birth of Benny's child. The cultists want the baby. Someone wants Benny dead. I truly couldn't see a way out for our intrepid heroine this time. Its very exciting, events rushed by and I was waiting for things to subside but as soon as they do it's just twist after twist after twist... this novel is expertly structured so, while not only telling a great story, you're left feeling rewarded by the ingenuity of the plotting.

The ending should have felt twee but after all the terror it feels like a breath of fresh and ends the book on a really gentle, relaxed note. This is an exceptional novel, rounding on the Benny books in true style.)


What’s it about: Benny is not digging up the car park of the Gigamarket for nothing. Oh no. There's no way on Sirius One Bee that you could conclude that she was there for any other reason than to investigate the famed Latrines of Baladroon. Shoes? She was there to buy shoes? Get outta town! Get off the planet bub! And don't come back until you've washed out your brain with new-biological-Cortexscour. Monsters? Nah! Don't be silly! The Borvali are on their side on the force wall they could never break through it. And anyway, what would a cross between a ten-foot Pepperami and a cockeyed autopsy want with the Greatest Shop in the Galaxy? I mean, come on what would they want to buy? And Time Anomalies? You need the science fiction section on the four hundred and twelfth floor of the book department if you want Time Anomalies, mate. Tch! Everything here is under control. Honest.

Archaeological Adventuress: After her weariness in series two this is an astonishing representation of Bernice, she bursts from this story as the fun, funky, utterly delightful heroine we all remember. Shallow? Moi? Bernice is in love with shoes and will go to any lengths to shop for them! Braxiatel thinks Bernice is hiding an ulterior motive for going to the Gigamarket beyond the dig in the car park…as if she would come all this way just to buy lots of shoes! He has much to learn… Adrian will be quite happy to know she has borrowed his credit chip to get the bare essentials for the baby…and her feet! When Keelor realised that Bernice was going to take over the dig his heart leapt like a salmon! They have a book display for Down Amongst the Dead Men with a 30-foot Bernice in a skimpy costume! Joseph keeps trying to sell Bernice upgrades (for a small cost he can be programmed to answer rhetorical questions). We never find out what precisely he is referring to (or who) but Joseph relays one of Benny’s diary entries where she enthuses excitedly about an absolutely enormous, biggest-one-she’s-ever-seen! If there’s one thing she’s learnt in the (mumbles) years of her life its there’s no such thing as co-incidences. A diversion, a tasty titbit in case Keelor gets cornered! Benny slaps Tarvin about until he realises that violence is not always the answer! All she wanted was a few pair of bloody shoes to make her feel like a woman again – not a dusty archaeologist with sand in her knickers!

Standout Performance: Toby Longworth gives a perfectly repulsive performance as Joggon…which is precisely the idea! This is the same man who brought us Beep the Meep and Dogbolter! He’s very diverse as villainous nasties!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Bugger that, give me a discount on the shoes!’
‘Keelor, you seem to be standing in a cow.’
‘Oh granny…what big eyes you have!’
‘I’ve been shot at, blown up, spat on a served as lunch…I’ve had enough!’

Great Ideas: I love the title – a great pun on a popular McCoy story. Ooh Joseph is back – not heard from since season one! How funny – Adrian set his chip to lukewarm as soon as he realised Bernice had left him with the baby whilst she went gallivanting shopping. LSD implanted footwear – can I have some of those? The shoes turning back into cows! One week ago Adrian’s chip was set at ‘Cor blimey guv’nor, d’you wanna take the shop as well?’ There is a vegan terrorist faction who don’t agree with the sale of shoes. Rescued by soldiers from the past, a century out of date! Tarvin is Keelor’s grandfather and to convince him this is the case Bernice suggests he tells him something only he could know as his grandson but unfortunately he fudges it by telling him how he dies! A tidy little sideline in boil in the bag humans…supplying to cannibals? The Gigamarket exists in two separate time zones, one in the human section and one in the Borvali Protectorate – nobody had ever tried to sell them anything before, doing business with the enemy. They took a long time to accept a humanely killed product (person) rather than the live alternative! Time spillage on this scale will arm a bomb the like of which you have never seen so the corporation cannot be blamed for how things have gotten out of control – give the executives time to leave the planet and then BOOM! To be covered in expectorate (slobber) from one of the Vorax family is a rare honour! Keelor sabotaged the time systems. The sabotaged time field containing the explosion, rewriting it back to the point of detonation, letting it run so far and then dragging it back again. The bomb exploded hours ago – the chain reaction has moved too far, there is no way of predicting how long between each explosion sequence. The explosion gets longer, the instability worsening with every loop. Bernice’s credit chip bounced and her shoes have been impounded!

Audio Landscape: Opens with Bernice tuning a radio through various advertisements, the silky voiced brain scan, shuttles whizzing by in the sky, the Jogoth is vile, a sloppy, dribbling monster, you can hear people off in the distance, Joseph goes loopy in superb style (‘5, 4…he’s a jolly good fellow!’), cows, I love the sequence that saw Bernice going on her mad shopping spree (‘take two trolleys into the shopping canyon…not me! I’ll take six!’), growling Borvali, Joseph bobbing up and down like a demented ping-pong ball, lasers, screams, a great fall and smashing through glass, an injured child Borvali, time rolling backwards, the bomb exploding backwards, lots of fun to be had with the rolling back of time over and over (boing boing boing), Jogoth’s orgasm of death,

Musical Cues: Love the funky, upbeat music that joins Bernice on her shopgasm!

Standout Scene: A great example of the pleasurable madness that occurs here is the audio equivalent of the Grandfather paradox. The time anomaly takes Tarvin back to a time before he had his son, no son, no Keelor – Keelor can’t be there to shoot him, so Tarvin comes back, has son who has Keelor, shoots Tarvin…! Time is being tied up in knots and Alistair Lock brings it all to life with such delicious fun!

Notes: Already it feels as though there is a mythology building up around Benny – the first scenes mention Brax, Joseph, Adrian and the baby.

Result: Deliriously enjoyable, after the lethargy of season two The Greatest Shop in the Galaxy is like a slap in the face with an LSD induced wet fish that takes you on trippy, imaginative, hysterical ride. Paul Ebbs is the perfect writer for the Bernice Summerfield range, his writing oozes with energy and inventiveness and he dismisses the standard narrative rules for something far wilder. In many ways it reminds me of a Dave Stone story, a whacky premise with lots of entertaining diversions and the odd moment of choking pathos. Bernice gets killed over and over and also gets to buy lots of fabulous shoes and the only story that climaxes with an alien climaxing and dying because he cannot stand the pleasure: 9/10

Buy this from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/31-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Greatest-Shop-In-The-Galaxy

No comments: