Monday, 7 March 2011

The Skymines of Karthos written by David Bailey and directed by Ed Salt

What’s it about: When Bernice receives a message from her old friend Caitlin, saying that she's found evidence of a ruined civilisation on the mining colony of Karthos, the good professor is naturally intrigued. After all, the planet is meant to be barren, with no life other than the colonists. Arriving on Karthos, Bernice finds that Caitlin is missing, and the colony is under attack from vicious creatures that seem to have come from nowhere. Bernice has no choice but to set out for the heart of the ruins to discover just why Karthos seems to have sprung to life once more...

Archaeological Adventuress: Brax is never in when she wants him! Bernice has since learnt of her condition in The Infernal Nexus and is more hesitant to rush into dangerous situations and save the day. Good at archaeology but an expert in hair pulling so watch out! When she says she’s easy she means she’s easy prey not…well you know. Bernice comes across half the galaxy to see her friend and Michael snubs her…and she bursts in anyway. Bernice Summerfield…drinking tea? Benny didn’t want Caitlin to make the same mistakes that she did with Jason and she shared that drunken conversation with Michael. Caitlin replied to Bernice’s criticism of her engagement with a punch in the face…leaving Benny, the maid of honour a week to get rid of her black eye! Michael asks Bernice if Jason is the father of her child and she evades the question. He suggests that she wont be any use in her condition but she firmly tells him it’s not what’s in her womb that matters but her brain. It’s really nice to see some mutual loathing going on that isn’t a hero and villain going at it but just two ordinary people who can’t stand each other. She has amazing faith in herself. You shouldn’t ask a lady how much she weighs! Benny feels the baby kick for the first time and declares that it definitely takes after the father!

Standout Performance: Jimmy Wilson gives a very relaxed performance which at first I thought sounded like he wasn’t trying but when I thought about it was simply because I am used to heightened, more theatrical performances in the Bernice Summerfield range. In actuality he sounds like a regular Joe and that is exactly the idea.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You would not believe your eyes, if 10 million fireflies!’ Okay nobody said that but I kept singing it!

Great Ideas: Was there a civilisation on Karthos before they started mining? A swarm of Fireflies, streaming into a storm of fire! Caitlin is at the heart of the Firefly nest. There was a war and the Maraliens made the Fireflies as a weapon, dispensable soldiers made from the mountains themselves but they lost the war and were wiped out. The invaders left nothing behind. The machinery builds the Fireflies out of rock and dust and they create the firestorms. Caitlin wanted the creatures to scare others away so Michael would have a monopoly on the firestorms. Just how much carbon is in the universe…all it would need is for one Starship to pass by and they would destroy it and use the raw materials to make more Fireflies and spread a little further and again…and again until they have taken over the universe.

Audio Landscape: The story opens on a phone from Bernice to Brax, reader a letter she has received from her friend, which leads into Caitlin actually discussing the events to her lover, Michael. The Fireflies are actually pretty scary sounding, I remember falling asleep way back in the misty dawn of time when I first bought this CD and waking up to the sound of the Fireflies which scared me to death! The cleaning bot, lasers deflecting the fireflies, convincing thunder, a screaming wind, the Fireflies banging on the glass, the extended groans of the creatures, flapping wings, walking on rubble, the birthing of a new Firefly at the end suggests they aren’t as dead as they seem.

Musical Cues: Big kisses and licky love for Alistair Lock who has composed a fun, jaunty and adventurous theme tune for Benny which has booted that horrific song to the closing credits…without the lyrics! Straight away the music sounds far more atmospheric, wistful and mysterious…and bugger me when I checked out the CD sleeve Toby’n’Emily were nowhere to be seen! Yay for David Darlington!

Isn’t it Odd: David Bailey still has terrible trouble writing conflict – the jarring shouting match in the shuttle sequences fails to engage. After getting Bernice to Karthos and meeting up with Michael and the Professor not a great deal happens so Bailey is also having trouble with stringing together an interesting narrative. We keep cutting to an alien culture chatting ‘we are rock, our eighth, people must die…’, which makes no sense to anybody except them! Do we ever hear from Caitlin again?

Result: Ultimately this story is just a stroll into a mountain to retrieve one of Bernice’s never heard of before or since friends. There’s some talk of a spread of vicious Fireflies building an army out of the building blocks of the universe that doesn’t really get going until the climax where they are all wiped out. What Bailey gets right here that he fudged in The Secret of Cassandra is his dialogue and characterisation, which isn’t to the level of Parkin’s in the last story but has enough oomph to keep you vaguely interested. With David Darlington in control of the soundscapes and music it is a far more pleasurable listen on a purely aesthetic level. This is passable stuff, nothing like the standard that would come in the next season. The stuttering season two is over: 5/10

Buy this from Big Finish here:

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