Sunday, 6 March 2011

The Secret of Cassandra written by David Bailey and directed by Edward Salt


What’s it about: A vicious war between two nations is coming to a head, and the final movements are centred on the sailing ship Cassandra. Along with a very strange cargo, Cassandra carries Captain Colley, a man with his own sad burden, and the paranoid General Brennan; a woman convinced that her actions will end the war once and for all. Their grim mission goes entirely to plan, until the Cassandra gains an extra passenger a shipwrecked archaeology professor by the name of Bernice Summerfield. Sensing something is very wrong aboard the ship, Bernice's snooping brings her close to a terrible truth. Soon, Bernice doesn't know who to trust, and she can no longer be sure if anyone is who they claim to be...

Archaeological Adventuress: ‘I’ve had enough of your snooping and your spying, Professor!’ screams the General but Bernice has barely done anything! Its probably the worst written Benny would ever be – she’s rude, snoopy, argumentative and childish – I always thought Benny was writer proof (like Fitz) but here’s a good argument against that.

Great Ideas: Bernice’s yacht falls into the path of a warship and she is shot down and shipwrecked on an island. Cassandra doesn’t have a crew, it is all automated. Brennan named the ship after his daughter; she programmed the ship before she joined the military, the neuro-technology division. The ship thinks of Colley as its father. Sheen is the General’s prisoner, transporting him back to Calabraxia for interrogation. For nearly a year the General has been working as a scientist at Glory Hill Base, a spy put there by the army after they attacked and devastated most of the base. It was hoped that in the mess after the attack she would blend in more easily, they were desperate for new scientists. Developing a super weapon, powerful enough to destroy the entire Calibraxian continent and she infiltrated to find out what the weapon was. Sheen was designed as the weapon, a living bomb. Sheen is Cassandra? She downloaded his body into Sheen when she died. Colley wants to die because his wife and child died and so wants to see the Calabraxian’s die and go alone with it.

Audio Landscape: Lapping waves, seagulls, an oddly accented computer voice, lots of deafening electronic humming as doors open and close, galley noises, people eating noisily, pouring wine, crackling thunder, the lightning bolts sound shockingly fake,

Musical Cues: You can tell it is produced by the same people who scored Colditz; it’s the same random percussion instruments lacking any sense of style or atmosphere. Lots of very loud drums crashing in on the action!

Isn’t it Odd: Series Two was the Bernice series’ nadir and it all starts here. What on Earth is going on with the theme music? It’s a discordant melody with terrible lyrics and a singing voice that renders the words barely audible. A friend of mine considers this the worst song he has ever heard and he may have a point! The first scene is horribly put together, its random loud noises with a barely audible Bernice trying to tell us what she has been up to. The dinner scene is really awkward – there is no chemistry between any of the actors and the dialogue is vacuous at best so it is a lot of silences and an uncomfortable sense that nobody quite knows what they are doing. Bernice’s supposedly relationship with the General is written and performed like two school kids in a playground! Is this the dullest war ever? Its told from the point of view of thoroughly unengaging characters, we only get a few scant details and it is not dramaticised in any way. I love how lamely the story attempts to convince us that Colley is a nice guy and Brennan is evil and how the director doesn’t even try and make the reveal that the reverse is in fact true a shock moment! The oddest thing of all is that there does not seem to be a narrative – people meet, barely discuss anything and random events conspire – there is no sense of this being a structured drama.

Result: What a load of horrible, eventless noise! The sound design for The Secret of Cassandra is horrendous, not just the random sound effects that burst your ear drums but also the horrendously inappropriate music (can you call an attack on percussion instruments music?) and the overwhelming amount of noise that obscures the dialogue at the crucial moments so its hard to hear what this poor excuse for science fiction is all about! It’s the first of the small cast Bernice dramas and it really feels as though the budget has been cut, David Bailey is trying to tell a large-scale story through a handful of characters and it fails to capture the interest. You don’t give a fig for any of the cast, not even Benny (perish the thought!) and after the extraordinary quality of the season one stories this is a shocking plummet into something amateurish and unengaging. One of the worst Big Finish productions, expert sound design might have salvaged something but it really is the pits: 1/10

Buy this from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/21-Bernice-Summerfield-The-Secret-Of-Cassandra
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