Thursday, 24 March 2011

Red written by Stewart Sheargold and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: Subject 2660 Celia Fortunate, designated citizen of the needle. Subject experiencing traumatic, violent delusions during waking moments. Subject remains pacified and under control of Whitenoise. Medication has been prescribed. Subject 0357 Vi Yulquen, designated Matriarch of the needle. Subject is under constant surveillance due to her wish to experience harm. This is in direct contravention of Whitenoise's programming. Also supplier of the drug classified as Slow. Editing is required. Subject 0841 Chief Blue. Technician in symbiotic relationship with this Whitenoise system. Knowledgeable in human psychological evaluation. Subject has been diagnosed a voyeur, and has a dangerous obsession with the Red Tape. Machine augmentation is favoured to curb this defect. Subject [error] Melanie Bush, designated companion of subject 3999. Subject [error] is not chipped and is a threat. Her ability to harm has not been checked, compromising the continued security programming of this Whitenoise system. She must be inhibited. Subject 3999 the Doctor. Subject has committed homicide. This subject now in constant redline. His propensity for violence remains unchecked. Analysis suggests synchronisation with the killer. The Doctor will attempt to kill again. He must be stopped.

The Real McCoy: Wow! Who would have thought there could be such a devastating amount of mileage in exploring the seventh Doctor facing his own violence? Sylvester McCoy gives an astonishingly good performance in this story, possibly his best for the range to this point, he manages to be frightening and sympathetic – it’s an astonishingly intense take on his character. What an interesting stance for the Doctor to take, standing up for the right for people to hurt each other. I think the last time we had something this interesting to explore within the Doctor was in Creatures of Beauty when his decision to leave Gallifrey was put under the microscope. The Doctor has always been opposed to violence and war but when those feelings are restrained within us by Whitenoise he is even more appalled that people should be manipulated and controlled in such a way. When violence becomes the lesser of two evils does that make it acceptable? Interesting stuff and a moral mine of gold for Stewart Sheargold to unearth. The Doctor states that people should be allowed to make those choices and to take responsibility for their own actions and I have to say I agree with him, even though the world would be a safer environment if those impulses were controlled. The Doctor walks out of the TARDIS feeling there is definitely something wrong. The last time he did that was The Fires of Vulcan and that story was an absolute treat with one of McCoy’s finest audio performances. The Doctor has the rather unfortunate effect of people suspecting ‘guilty until proven innocent’ of him. Uses his million and one uses brolley to access the systems mechanics! He always gets the last laugh. Attempts have been made to eradicate all violent impulses but the Doctor knows that violence always bleeds through – he’s appalled that they are being denied very real, very necessary emotions. He cannot be controlled; he’s always the random element, the spanner in the bonnet, the bee in the works! McCoy really goes for it when the Doctor is chipped and it’s gripping. When he wakes up the Doctor is gripped by violent impulses and McCoy is really frightening – this is a new side of his character that I hope we don’t see too often (brrr…). When Uviol snaps his wife’s neck he learnt that from the Doctor. He abhors violence and it is never the moral option because he has seen things that would make you curl into a stuttering ball of denial for the rest of your life. He’s done those things, pulled the trigger, pressed the button, detonated the bomb – it doesn’t make you feel any better because you win. He’s never been so close to death, to killing before – usually he is two steps removed from the state of play. He exists synchronously with the killer, redlining at all times because there is a temporal aspect to this – a psychic spillage in time. The killer reached out and pulled the TARDIS here. He has destroyed races, destroyed worlds and sometimes he even enjoyed it, he is capable of so much violence…the Doctor teases Red with his potential violence but I wonder how much of this that he means. He admits that he has bottled his violent impulses for so long once he has trapped Red within the Slow and he is now finally going to release them all and kill it. He tells Mel he could be violent – he could be.

Generous Ginge: What a shame that this is one of Bonnie Langford’s last audio adventures in the main range since she has come so far in this medium, throwing off the stereotype of her television persona and creating a real person in Melanie Bush. Its stories like Red that see Mel pushed to the limit and forced to confront some pretty uncomfortable scenes that show the character at her best. With The Fires of Vulcan, The One Doctor, The Juggernauts and Red we have managed to see a whole new side to Mel that suggests that she might just be the ideal companion for the Doctor after all. Mel is worried that the Doctor is cracking up on her. She can’t hold back if torture is on the cards. She tells the Doctor to never presume anything about a foreign society. She had enough of being called Red at school. Mel pretends that she is going to let Draun feel in all the best ways before grabbing a bottle and smashing it over his head – go girl! She’s an honest person to a fault and she’s afraid she is responsible for her own actions. ‘Make her red like her name…’ – poor Mel is under the influence of Slow and almost murdered by the Doctor! She can’t teach them to be more human but she can tell them the difference between right and wrong. Because Mel isn’t chipped she’s such a wonderful curiosity – she can hurt people and I loved the sequence where Yulquen refuses to tell her where the Doctor to try and make her inflict pain on her! Always on the side of right but she is right beside the Doctor when he burns whole planets. Why does it always come down to the last minute (its always much more exciting, that’s why!).

Standout Performance: Whitenoise is a wonderfully calm and frightening character and John Stahl plays the part with a level, controlled purr that is all the more chilling because it is restrained. I have always been an admirer of Sandi Toksvig and it thrills me that she should get to play such a meaty role in a Doctor Who story – she’s very convincing as the part time Slow and violence dealer. I loved the scene where she told Mel she bears her no malice but she would love to be able to kill her, to complete that emotion. Brrr

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘It is a defect of your species this violent intent but I have cured that…’
‘But I want you to hurt me!’
‘After a wave of crime and murders people got it out of their system.’
‘Will you only believe me when my hands are around your throat?’
‘But the point is you could hurt me. And I wouldn’t mind! I don’t think I should tell you where the Doctor is. I think you should force it from me…’
‘I want your violence…’

Great Ideas: Some big, imaginative ideas being explored in the last handful of stories, a healthy reminder of how Doctor Who can stimulate some astonishing creativity. Red condition, turning into a homicidal mainiac and killing your lover, neighbour, friend whilst repeating the word ‘Red…red…red…’ The TARDIS was warned away and then forced out of the vortex, violent time disruption that played havoc with the telepathic circuits. Whitenoise does live within the limited physical or temporal parameters that the human race sets for itself. He thinks that physical pleasure is the precursor to violence and so he removes the urge. All citizens are chipped and when they have a violent impulse they get a small, barely noticeable electric shock. The chip doesn’t stop the thoughts of violence, just the actions. The Red Tape, a recording of real violence that is not fictional. I love how the greatest compliment you can give somebody is to wish harm on them. A killer, overriding the chip and manifesting in hosts and forcing them to commit harm – that’s almost is scary as removing those desires. Every ship goes through the Sphere; Whitenoise infects your ships systems and brings you in so he can chip you. There was a vote between those who wanted to be under the machine, controlled and free of violence could remain in the Needle and those who wanted otherwise would have their chips decommissioned and be forced to leave for the safety of those in the Needle. After so long under the machine those that left were disgusted by their capacity for violence and they learned and they chose not to harm – that’s fascinating, psychologically speaking. Force people not to be violent and those urges break through and they want to harm, give them the choice and after experiencing the horrors of those urges they choose not to. Is the red condition affecting Whitenoise? Everybody could potentially be the killer; the red infection hides itself in the chip. In their quest to create the perfect society it has given this infection precisely what they have tried to stop. The most expedient way to stop Red is by turning of their chips and allowing them all to succumb to their violence anyway. Celia is the carrier, the killer; she is a time traveller and who attracted the Doctor to the Needle. Celia is from the 45th Century, an era of technocrats and machine driven life – they can create a biological temporal link to the machines that they use. She is to all intents and purposes the time machine herself. When she was chipped, when Whitenoise brought down all her barriers and unwittingly let out her violence it corrupted his own systems and fed on all its subjects mass wish for harm. In a moment of chilling calmness and infected himself by the Red, Whitenoise starts slaughtering all of the subjects on the Needle – that’s his cure to stopping them from being infected. Yulquen realises now the pleasure of violence is of being denied it, that makes you want it like a drug. Its great that Yulquen is forced to control her own emotions again, away from Whitenoise’s castration.

Audio Landscape: The silky smooth voice of Whitenoise, the story opens with scenes of a number of brutal murders, the montage of reds as the murders are being watched, a scream that merges into an electronic warbling of redredredred, Yulquen is listening to a deluge of insanely violent sounds, the approaching dirigible, Mel falls of the building and lands with a thump on a dirigible, elephant trumpet, fire crackling, Mel under the influence of slow, the Doctor talking to Mel and linked through the killer – what a trippy, hallucinatory experience, slowing down the scream to Celia saying redredredred, Whitenoise calmly saying his subjects name whilst killing them one at a time, Yulquen stabs Draun, the Red infection sounds like a child,

Musical Cues: There is an ominous background hum playing throughout the story that will keep you on edge. I really like the almost fairytale quality to the calming lullaby that plays over the murder scenes. Plus there is an electronic beat that turns up during the murder scenes that makes the story very exciting in spots.

Isn’t it Odd: Does Gary Russell ever get bored of using that football chant?

Standout Scene: The first murder (‘I’m hurting you…’) that the Doctor commits (‘I’ve wanted to do this for such a long time…’) is really terrifying. His rolling of ‘rrrrreeeedddd’ burrows into your ears…

Notes: Possibly my favourite Big Finish cover – absolutely striking and visualising the outbreak of violence in the story brutally.

Result: What struck me straight away was how clear and crisp Stewart Sheargold’s storytelling is, his premise of crushing violent impulses actually causing homicide coming straight to the fore and explored through some genuinely disturbing set pieces. There is no pretence that this is going to be an action adventure, Red is set in a gripping, Orwellian environment that has plenty to say about the violence that is hidden in all of us. Imagine if this story had been broadcast during season 24? I love it when Big Finish play about with different styles, ones which weren’t attempted on the TV and The Fires of Vulcan and Red offer a very different peek at what could have been. Gary Russell’s direction is astonishingly good, never shying away from the horror of being consumed by the urge to murder. He makes this a gripping, uncomfortable experience and creates a fascinating environment for the story to take place in. We have hadn’t had such an incredible run in the main range for quite some time - The Kingmaker, The Settling, The Nowhere Place and now Red…Gary Russell is certainly going out with a bang. One of the most adult and disturbing audios: 9/10

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