Monday, 21 March 2011
Something Inside written by Trevor Baxendale and directed by Nicholas Briggs
What’s it about: WARNING. YOU ARE ABOUT TO ENTER THE CUBE. ALL FORMS OF TELEPATHY ARE PROHIBITED. DO NOT ATTEMPT TELEPORTATION UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. PSYCHIC POWERS WILL BE FORCIBLY REMOVED (MENTAL SURGERY IS COMPULSORY)
CAUTION. YOU HAVE NO RIGHTS. YOU HAVE NO POWERS. YOU HAVE NO DEFENCE. YOU ARE NOW INSIDE THE CUBE
Breathless Romantic: To be fair to the team of the eighth Doctor, Charley and C’rizz have had a run of stories they have had haven’t been bad at all (I personally rated their run 2, 10, 2, 8, 8, 8, 7, 8, 2, 8, 8 which only leaves three under par stories and otherwise a pretty consistently strong run of stories) but I find that as a team they distract from the qualities of the stories. If a story underwhelms they make no impression whatsoever (Creed of the Kromon, The Twilight Kingdom, Scaredy Cat) and it doesn’t help that I have been reviewing the eighth Doctor and Lucie adventures at the same time – a relationship where both characters compliment each other. C’rizz still doesn’t quite fit in, Charley has had her day as far as the eighth Doctor is concerned (as I’ve pointed out many moons ago that was around Zagreus) and the Doctor himself needs a new direction which Lucie gave him. Stories like Something Inside feel like time fillers until this team disbands and two of the three move on to find another Doctor and companion and unleash a new lease of life for their characters.
The eighth Doctor is suffering from amnesia! Are they mad? Something Inside was released in 2006, which was just after BBC Books EDA range had come to an end. For me the latter half of the EDAs is the finest run of Doctor Who novels and my personal favourite run of stories for any version of the eighth Doctor. Trevor Baxendale himself wrote a wonderful pair of stories, Eater of Wasps and The Deadstone Memorial for the amnesiac eighth Doctor. However I am not blind to the fact that the EDA readership grew very tired of the Doctor not getting his memories back and refusing to push to find out what catastrophic event pushed him over the edge. They managed to get around that in The Gallifrey Chronicles but at the same time amnesia had become a byword for everything that was tired and clichéd in the range. Goodness knows why Trevor Baxendale chose to bring that apathy to Big Finish and why Gary Russell let him, especially considering the last time the eighth Doctor suffered amnesia in the Big Finish range (oh yeah it’s a regular occurrence dont’cha know?) was Minuet in Hell, one of the least popular stories in the range. He’s bored with all the torture. He’s trying to reach the festival of Ghana, the very place where he visited the dark places of the human imagination in The Chase! Feels like an itch in his own mind that he can’t scratch. There is a hole in his mind where information used to be; emotions, people, places, colours…all the things that made him who he is. Listen to how McGann says ‘tele-kye-nesis.’ The Doctor is extremely short with Charley in this story, snapping at her observations when she is clearly just trying to help him out.
Edwardian Adventuress: At one point Charley says she doesn’t think there is anybody here who cares what happens to her – is that Baxendale commenting on the apparent unpopularity of the character at the time? There is absolutely nothing to learn about Charley Pollard anymore and beyond a sweet performance from India Fisher no need for her to be in these stories anymore. It breaks my heart to keep condemning her character because at its height (her first two years) she was one the best characters ever gave to us but it would appear that somebody simply cannot let the actress go and as such the character is being dragged along way beyond her capacity to entertain. All Charley does is react to things these days because there is very little to say about what’s beneath the surface because we have been there and done that. Somehow, astonishingly, when Nick Briggs takes over he managed to take this ailing, now unpopular character and do something truly audacious to bring her back to life and it really worked. As soon as we reach The Condemned suddenly Charley is a fascinating character again and has a great run of stories. But that’s for another time… Charley says the Doctor and C’rizz are like family to her now and they are always escaping from inescapable things.
Chameleonic Rogue: Charley says that she didn’t know C’rizz was telepathic and he mumbles that there is a lot that she doesn’t know about him and it was something he picked up from somebody he once saved. He’s worried that Tessa has looked inside his head and seen the truth about all the people he has murdered. Oddly there doesn’t seem to be a single characteristic to C’rizz these days except vague hints of the people he has killed.
Great Ideas: Gordon Latch, a very dangerous criminal and the leader of the Psikes. A lethal telekineticist. Telepathic assassination was his thing and one thought was all took and you’re dead. The army used the Psikes for special missions, ones where psychic powers might be useful; spying by telepathy, teleport incursions, telekinetic assassinations. Rawden engineered psi powers on the soldiers for use on the battlefield. They can read anyone’s minds, open any door, there are no secrets from them. They have been reclassified as killers and murderers, locked up in the Cube and left to rot. The Cube is a terrible sad wicked prison built from a special weapon so it nullifies psychic energy like a psychic ball and chain. Tessa was a medic and can clear wounds with her mind. You don’t literally see the brain worm – you see it like you would see an idea. Tessa is the brain worm, it is inside her head and it wants the Doctor because he is its ticket out of the Cube. The brain worm knew Tessa was going to tell them Rawden was housing the brain worm and it kills her.
Audio Landscape: Joseph Fox provides the sound effects for this story but you probably wouldn’t have known that because they are so scarce it’s hard to perceive a soundscape!
Musical Cues: What is up with the music in this story? I usually always applaud when they try and do something fresh and unusual with the music but the odd 80s disco themes of Joseph Fox is probably the most inappropriate score for a story since Keff McCulloch had a go at adding atmosphere to Paradise Towers! I gather the Cube is not supposed to be a very nice place but you would never be able to work that out given the groovy music that plays over the scenes set inside – I was bobbing my head with the repetitive disco dancing snatches of music when I’m sure I was supposed to be worried about the characters, fearing for their lives, etc. I gather the fact that Fox was never used again that Big Finish also considered his work a failed experiment.
Isn’t it Odd: The first episode is stultifying dull with the barest of sound effects, drab dialogue that reveals little character and hardly any enthusiasm in the performances. When a character mentions towards the end of the first episode that they have reached the top level of ‘the Cube’ I was confused as to what on Earth he was talking about – this script is so badly written that the writer hasn’t even bothered to set up his location adequately within his script. Its an ambiguous setting with an ambiguous monster, a bare soundscape and rubbish music that adds no atmosphere – nothing is defined or explained and as such its easy to drift away and not be too bothered what is going on. Speaking of which the cliffhanger to episode one is one of the worst examples of shoehorning in a moment of peril for no reason but to create a gap between episodes I have seen in a long time – in its most puerile form it is Charley and C’rizz going ‘Run!’ ‘Oh no!’ Come on Trevor I know you are better than this nonsense. Liz Crowther fails to convince as a Psike, her young fluting Welsh accent is not ideal for this sort of role. The first two episodes are all talk talk talk…there is very little action considering this stories premise (which is somewhere between the movie Cube and Doctor Who’s own Vengeance on Varos that sees the good guys locked in a deadly prison). After listening to The Catalyst in the Companion Chronicles range, a superb piece of drama that features Leela being interrogated by a military torturer nothing can quite live up to that as a framing device and in comparison the Doctor being interrogated by Rawden is simply dull in the extreme. Its not that Stephen Elder and Paul McGann are bad actors but Louise Jameson gives her material real bite and sympathy, you genuinely feel like Leela is in danger whereas it sounds like the Doctor and his questioner are simply chatting over a pot of tea. Keeping up with the comparisons Mr Twyst reminded me of another jolly torturer, Professor Capra from Flip Flop except he’s not as funny or as well written. Goodness knows how these Psikes worked as a military unit when all they seem to do is stand around arguing! All three of the cliffhangers fail to make an impression on me but episode three’s (‘Come on then if you think you’re hard enough’) is especially bad. Oh good grief the last episode tries to create some tension by having the characters turn on each other as the brain worm is in one of their heads – it’s a last ditch attempt to do something interesting with the very indistinct threat. It fails. The Doctor’s story about a European Footie match as an example that they should never give up is totally random and just a little embarrassing. Surely it is not a good sign if your three regulars are left pondering that they are the only ones left alive at the end of the story and you are disappointed because they made it out alive?
Result: As bland as watching magnolia paint drying, Something Inside is the most vacuous audio adventure I have heard in a long time. Trevor Baxendale needs a big slap around the chops for writing an adventure that lacks even a basic narrative or any danger especially when we know he is capable of so much more. Cube is a claustrophobic and clever movie that uses its lack of resources as an excuse to create an stifling atmosphere – Something Inside is the antithesis of that intense little classic; a predictable, clichéd, dumbed down run-around that fails to characterise even its regulars let alone the miscast vacant guest characters. I don’t understand the point of setting this story within a prison if you aren’t going to create a bit of atmosphere; the characters literally walk around the corridors throughout the entire story and fail to encounter anything that makes escaping a task. Compiling the problems is a repetitive and atmosphere destroying musical score and a lack of sound effects, Something Inside drags interminably at over two insomnia inducing hours: 2/10
Artwork by Simon Hodges @ http://hisi79.deviantart.com/