Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Frozen Time written by Nick Briggs and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: In 1929, Lord Barset's expedition to the Antarctic is lost without trace. Or so it seems… Nearly a century later, his grandson funds a much-publicized return to the icy wastes. His mission: to discover what happened to the original expedition. But what he finds instead is an enigma – a battered London police box frozen in ice millennia old. But something else lies in wait in this awful place, something from an era before humankind set foot on the continent's cold soil. A menace frozen in time.

The Real McCoy: What is it about the seventh Doctor towards the end of his reign that makes people want to shoot at him as soon as he leaves the TARDIS? He rambles about Ace, Mel and Hex as he wakes up after millions of years under the ice. Suddenly life becomes glorious with a cup of tea. I enjoyed how the Doctor’s amnesia of the events millions of years ago progresses the plot and peppers the narrative with further information. Unfortunately the characterisation of the solo seventh Doctor in Frozen Time is no where near as exciting as it was in Valhalla. It lacks the humour and the melancholy of how he behaved in Marc Platt’s script and as such I didn’t get the sense that this was taking place late in the seventh Doctor’s life. Saying that Sylvester McCoy seems so much more comfortable on audio these days it hardly matters, he’s still quite charming. He has an honest face and its enough for Ben to trust him. The Doctor thinks that Arakssor’s vision for the Ice Warriors should haunt them and then they wont let it happen again.

Standout Performance: Gregg Newton has the most gorgeous Scots accent I have ever heard in a Big Finish audio – I stopped listening to the story and drifted off several times at the sound of his voice… Fortunately he is playing a very likable sort of fellow and a perfect companion for the Doctor in this story. Nick Briggs does a fine job as the criminal Ice Warrior but forgets to give himself any memorable dialogue.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Poor and clever, the other end of the scale!’
‘I wont be beaten by bad weather!’
‘That’s the trouble with you! You think money is everything!’ ‘No, that’s the trouble with the world! I’m just a victim of it! That’s what I wanted to change, I wanted to free mankind from all that rubbish by giving them new technologies and new ways of living!’ – that’s a nice exchange a new angle on the greed of humanity.

Great Ideas: A mission to find a lost expedition in the Antarctic – you just know it is going to end in tears! The TARDIS is discovered buried in the ice and has been there for millions of years, I like the playful toying of our expectations since as soon as I heard ‘two metres tall’ I was sure it would be an Ice Warrior! The same trick is played when they talk of finding a man in the ice but this turns out to be the Doctor! There was one survivor of the original expedition, a crew member who went mad after he was found and had with him the expedition diary. The Rochester sank with trace. Finally they discover a reptilian creature but they aren’t discovered in a tomb but a prison – these Ice Warriors are convicted criminals. Lord Barset isn’t looking for his grandfather’s expedition out of any sense of honour but for the superior technology that these lizard men might provide. They were imprisoned because they tried to turn the Martians into a race of warmongers. Arakssor is planning on evaporating the heat out of the Earth’s atmosphere The TARDIS is telepathic and has a very nice swimming pool (sometimes). I loved the inference that ‘the past few days’ has been much longer for Jenny in the final scene suggesting that she and the Doctor have had many adventures after they escaped the explosion in the TARDIS.

Audio Landscape: Jeering crowd, snapping cameras, applause, screaming chilly winds, water dripping and trickling, ice cracking, a devastating avalanche, guns cocking, retuning the radio, sonic vibrations, hissing Ice Warrior voices. There is a sequence when one of the Ice Warriors walks through the corridor and out into the freezing winds and you don’t need a single bit of dialogue because it is perfectly clear through the direction. A fight between the Ice Warriors and the soldiers, gunfire versus sonic weaponry. I also enjoy flashbacks and the Doctor’s voiceover gives them a sense of importance. The choking engine of the snow plough. Jenny screaming over the communications, breaking up and then dying into static is a nice moment of peril. The canon firing into the atmosphere.

Musical Cues: Steve Foxon always provides a good score and what I liked about his music hear was he knew when to keep silent and let the impressive sound effects take control rather than smothering the whole story in a wall to wall score. He uses some vocals in the first episode that were very impressive and I really like the militaristic drumbeats as the Ice Warriors advance.

Isn’t it Odd: Was Nick Briggs trying to go for as traditional a story as possible? With a bunch of misguided humans led by a power hungry idiot who tries to bargain with the monster of the tale. A group of renegade aliens who gun down anybody who isn’t necessary and share threats with the Doctor. So far, so predictable. Are the episodes shorter than usual? ‘I’m sure I must have flown one of these before!’ cries the Doctor as he leaps aboard a helicopter – could this story be any more season five (Fury from the Deep) if it tried? The three cliff-hangers would have been sound on the TV come across as moments of jeopardy in the narrative that could have taken place at any point in the script – I like a cliff-hanger to feel important and as though it is gearing the story in a new direction but there is nothing unexpected or dare I say special about these three examples. The Ice Warriors are trying to change the atmosphere of the planet – its been tried before fellas and how else could it end but with an almighty explosion? Doctor Who by numbers?

Notes: This is the only cover that resembles those of the newly released (at the time) eighth Doctor adventures. I’m glad they didn’t repeat the exercise because the attractive shots of the impressive guests stars gave those early EDA releases a real sense of identity.

Result: What do you want from your audio adventures? That’s what Frozen Time made me ponder whilst I was shipped to the Antarctic for a run-around with the Ice Warriors. If you enjoy character dramas or literate pieces look elsewhere but if you come to audio looking for a story that feels like a genuine soundtrack of a missing story then this is the story for you. I don’t want to sound like I’m sniping because sometimes I am precisely in the mood for a traditional monster fest with lots of accusations, action and annihilation but in all honesty I have the BBC missing story soundtracks to fulfil that end of the spectrum. With its chilly location, officious characters and hissy monsters Frozen Time has leapt straight from season five into your ears. On the positive front the sound effects are extraordinary, the music is memorable and these are short punchy episodes – as an audio experience it is a terrifically authentic sounding story. But given the inconsistent quality of the last ten stories and lack of a knockout tale I need more than a clichéd slice of traditional Who at the moment to keep me interested: 6/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/98-Doctor-Who-Frozen-Time

1 comment:

rumblebars said...

I listened to this one the other day... at some point early on, I realized this story "felt" familiar to me. Not the plot (although the "going to find out what happened to a prior expedition" thing isn't exactly original) but in tone. This reminded me of the old Audio Visuals Dr. Who stories from the mid/late 1980s. When I was listening on my MP3 player, I didn't have the credits handy to look up, so I guess it's no surprise to find this was a Nick Briggs story - he wrote a few of the A/V stories back in the day.

Not that this is a bad thing - I generally liked the A/V stuff. (well, that's overlooking some bad acting in the first couple of series - Nick was always good though )

But was THIS a good story? It wasn't horrible... but nothing special either. Ice that is "millions of years old" doesn't seem that likely to exist. I also find it hard to swallow that the Doc and the Martians could have hibernated that long.

Yeah, I'd agree with a 6/10 score here.

Oh, and I'd like to know just how "old" the TARDIS is - there's numerous stories when the TARDIS gets parked for long stretches of time before the Doctor catches back up to it. Does it go into "screen saver" mode when the Doc steps out for very long? Is it like Marvin in Hitchhiker's, and is actually older than the universe itself?