Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Stealers from Saiph written by Nigel Robinson and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: It's 1929, and the TARDIS crew is holidaying in Antibes. While the Doctor practises his painting, Romana attempts to fend off the playful advances of young Tommy Creighton. All is peaceful and idyllic except for the portentous warning of astrologer Madame Arcana, and the fact that personal items are being stolen from the hotel's guests. What is the secret of the cave on the beach? And why do some of Romana's new acquaintances suddenly behave so strangely? As her newfound socialite existence suddenly takes a turn into danger, Romana finds that the whole planet Earth is faced with a deadly threat…

Snobby Scientist: Whilst we have had a vast amount of material for the Romana’s second incarnation there has been a surprising dearth of spin off material for Mary Tamm’s Romana I. It really pleases me that there will be a fourth Doctor box set with Tamm and Baker reprising their roles because come The Armageddon Factor the pair of them were indulging in some exquisite chemistry and if they can recapture that we will be in for a real humdinger of a series. All this prevarication is a precursor to admitting that I think Nigel Robinson failed to engage me whatsoever with her character in this tale. Yep I think there is some mileage in Romana being on Earth in the past but the strength of the characterisation here is as weak as Simon’s tea, we rarely get to see inside her head (odd considering she is narrating) and for the most part she merely spouts exposition. I don’t think this is a fault of the character or the actress however as Tamm does what she can with the script. Romana is using their break in the Antibes as an excuse to the study Terran fauna since she still had her thesis on the Doctor to complete and it was only sensible for it to contain a case study of his favourite species. Prefers the charming and interesting conversation of the old than the immature company of the young.

Teeth and Curls: Madame Arcana is far too young for him! It seems very natural for Romana to return from a party on the yacht to find the Doctor slumbered with female company and surrounded by ginger beer bottles and gin fizzies, the old lush!

Sparkling Dialogue: Unfortunately much of the dialogue is awkward mouthfuls that would wear out the most Shakespearean of actors. A typical example is: ‘Somehow he couldn’t imagine an enormous blob of tentacled alien protoplasm moving unnoticed amongst the sophisticated residents of the Hotel de Cappe in Antibes!’

Great Ideas: Animals depicted in the caves that are not from the Earth and only found only on worlds orbiting the world Saiph in the constellation of Orion. They are dealing with a shape-shifting monster hiding within an ersatz Palaeolithic cave, the walls of which are covered with beasts from halfway across the galaxy, which can spontaneously generate parasites that can physically and mentally perform acts on human beings. The five Mediterranean cities the professor has visited are the points of a five-point star, a pentagram. Stealing personal items and providing a psychometric link with people. The Saiph inhabit the husks of human beings and turn them to their purpose.

Audio Landscape: Crickets, walking on gravel, a growling lorry, the crowd scenes of the party, clapping and dancing, dripping within the cave, the cawing of the bird creature in the cave, the waters of the harbour.

Musical Cues: I really enjoyed the jazz music playing through the party scenes.

Isn’t it Odd: This is where I come to ask what the nature of the Companion Chronicles should be about. Should this range be an exercise in taking hold of a companion from the shows history and holding them up to the light and seeing what makes them tick? Or should it simply be an excuse to bring back older companions that cannot perform in the main range because the actor who played their Doctor has passed away or refuses to take part? Or is it a way of capturing periods of nostalgia, looking back on golden ages of Doctor Who and bringing them to life again for the fans? With The Stealers from Saiph I really cannot decide which is relevant – Tom Baker is going to be performing main range stories soon so Mary Tamm’s inclusion is superfluous, the story is about as far away from anything in The Key to Time season as you can get lacking the wit or the imagination to stand with the stories of that season and the story rarely if ever bothers to probe Romana and tell us anything we don’t already know about the character. So what is the point of it? To tell a possession story? Been there, done that. To set a story in Antibes? What is this the JNT era? I realise that not every script can be a winner but surely there should be a point to the story that is playing out? There was talk of bouncing bio plasmic energy of off satellites and turning the Mediterranean into a breeding tank but really I didn’t have the faintest interest in anything at this point.

Standout Scene: Despite some rather florid turns of phrase from Nigel Robinson, Mary Tamm’s dramatic reading of the cliffhanger is extremely involving at last providing some excitement.

Result: Cheap characterisation, awkward dialogue and clichéd ideas make The Stealers of Saiph a deathly dull slice of audio drama. Its lovely to hear Mary Tamm reading the story but the material is beneath her, the barest bones of a story with little opportunity to add some sparkle. I waited the two episodes to see if the Professor would not turn out to be the Saiph because that was too obvious a path for the writer to take…but bugger me if he didn’t go down that route anyway! There is a massacre and most of the guest cast are murdered but since you had invested very little time in their and their obsessions and frivolities it is much of a muchness. I want Mary Tamm back for more because I think there is some real mileage in both the character and the actress but this is a hugely inadequate start. In all honesty I preferred the documentary at the end to the story itself (‘One take Tamm!’): 3/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:


Tony Jones said...

I just listened to this today and actually quite liked it (it was a sunny day for a change which may have helped!)

Although it may have been clichéd and ended conveniently I still had fun with it and sometimes just want to be entertained!

Each to their own

Joe Ford said...

Indeed, although I would that sometimes I just like to be entertained too. This just did a poor job of achieving that! I found it so dull!

dark said...

I actually agree on both thin characterization and a very standard plot. It's a shame sinse the initial scene with the two tennis playing girls and Tommy's affection for Romana with all the jolly ho what what 1920's phrasing did seem to hint at a more interesting story, putting the Icy academic Romana I into a courtly love triangle of some sort.
The one thing however that I really did like was the music and atmosphere. I really got that open sense of mediteranian waves and decadent luxury, and at least from their first horrible appearence in the clffhanger the Saiph were pretty horrific (again, mary Tam's narration plus the music did it).
Unfortunately, the Saiph get so over done and the characters so minimized that alien psychic goo monsters with laser cannons and promises to turn lead into gold (really were they just throwing things in here), all got too much too little. But the initial creepy crawly factor was a rather well done one.

It's a shame sinse I can see with this one what it could! have been, but elements of the shy anne trying to be like the outgoing Sally, or the Doctor evading a drunken old astrologer just didn't go anywhere.
I'm not sure if it was a case of too much or too little or too much that does too little or possibly much ado about nothing.

Either way, at least Romana's second encarnation got a far better stab at something resembling this time period in the hilarius Wodehouse mishmash The Aunty Matter, it's just a shame it came at the expense of her former encarnationn. A real wasted opportunity.