Monday, 9 May 2011

Valhalla written by Marc Platt and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: Welcome to Valhalla, Capital of Callisto, Jupiter's premier moon, where anything and everything is up for sale. But Valhalla isn't quite what it says in the brochures – not since Earth granted independence and cut off the supplies. The former Doctor (FOR SALE. EXCELLENT CONDITION) visits the Job Centre and finds power cuts, barcoded citizens and monthly riots (ALL BOOKABLE.) And then there's the problem with the termites

The Real McCoy: An impressive showing for Sylvester McCoy. It has been my experience that if you take away his companions and let him get a bit grouchy and menacing he brings a rare level of intensity to the role which is riveting to listen to. It happened in Master and Valhalla continues that tradition. This tired, lonely man at the end of his regeneration is infinitely more interesting than the goofball that excitedly travels around with Ace. The 7th Doctor stories have been on the up of late (The Settling, Red) and this continues that tradition by experimenting with a solo Doctor and succeeding in spades. Six previous owners and only 900 years on the clock, extensive experience in cross cultural affairs and science, practical, witty and highly clubbable – much sought after in all major star systems even if he says so himself! He’s available at all times, has his own transport and would make an excellent companion! I love the idea of him opening a hostelry full of fascinating people with them coming to him for change – imagine a mini season set in the Doctor’s crazy hotel that just happens to be the TARDIS! He has a stunning property but lacks the view of Jupiter’s red spot…actually lacks windows altogether. These days he’s endlessly busy and always on call, he finds it hard to settle down anywhere. He feels very at home amongst creatures that scuttle in the dark and fall off gratings! McCoy kept making me giggle with his constant ‘I could do that!’ every time someone gives them his job title – bless the little dude, he really needs a role in life again. Why do his companions ever not listen to him? There’s a telling moment where the most schizophrenic of Doctor’s listens to a grieving woman discovering the corpse of her friend and cannot decide if she is self indulgent and lacking bravery or if he should feel sorry for her – either way he has to convince himself to help her out despite his better nature. The impression is this is a Doctor who has seen and done everything and lived through some pretty dangerous extremes and now has to be dragged into adventures rather than willingly seeking them out. He’s very particular as to who he pesters! Valhalla is something of a letdown because there isn’t a Valkerie in sight (perhaps he was hoping to meet up with his old flame Angvia from Bang-Bang-a-Boom? ‘My leet-le man!’). ‘That’s the trouble with watertight schemes! They leak!’ – he’s gone all witty on us. I was cracking up at the Doctor bom-bom-boming away to Jevven’s Valkerie communicator jingle…this seventh Doctor is so much fun! He tells his two companions to stop wallowing when they think that they have been left behind. Whilst he suggests that all the subservient jobs are right up his street, being the Mayor isn’t his style. He keeps sneaking up on Gerium, perversely methinks! The Doctor is distracted and quirky, talking to himself. He likes the birthday girls style when she suggests the TARDIS is smaller on the outside than in! His ship is many things but its not a tupenny, ha’penny taxi service or a luxury cruise line despite the constant string of non paying guests! There are no end of people who would pay a small fortune to have his head on a silver platter. He’s had enough of being him and the Queen reminds him that he is fortunate to be in such demand. The universe is too busy and he can hardly deny his admirers.

Standout Performance: Sylvester McCoy gives a beautifully understated performance and go listen to his scenes with Michelle Gomez as we approach the end of episode one…they really bounce off each other well. I know I was just championing his solo status in the section above but she has a gorgeous Scots accent and sounds effortlessly natural on audio…I’m just saying! The Doctor offers her a place on the TARDIS but she wants to see the bits in between when she travels – there’s no point travelling if you can’t see where you’re going. He admires her ambition and wishes her well.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The higher we are the better we see’ – very creepy when you realise these are giant termites we are dealing with.
‘Eat ‘im…just eat ‘im!’
‘Civilisation is what humans smear across the wound they leave on the face of the universe!’
‘Poetry! I could do that! Or take up the trombone…’

Great Ideas: The Mayor of Valhalla is being played by a puppet, the decision are no longer in his hands. I hate the idea of riots but the way this story dresses the ones on Valhalla up as encouraged and managed and a good way for people to address their aggression does make you think for a second. Its like boxing on a grand scale with a scheduled beginning, middle and end – institutionalised tribal aggression! Ugh – a termite Queen that is constantly giving birth! During the riot the termites tore through the people with their razor sharp pincers. Why are these termites so naturally omnivorous? Bio engineering? Size? They have barcodes on their tongues for immigration purposes, it speeds things up at the check outs. The average termites knowledge of construction is second to none. They begin tearing the habitation towers down. The discover a brochure that the termites have created to sell off the people of Valhalla as slaves, laboratory specimens or food. Long ago human pioneers engineered a race of heroic termites to burrow into the heart of Callisto seeking new energy sources. When Earth cut Valhalla off no one remembered about the termites but they kept working outside the gravity fields and growing massively inside Jupiter’s infamous gravity fluxes.

Audio Landscape: Steve Foxon provides a cinematic soundscape with some terrific you-are-there soundscapes. Valhalla is one of those audio locations that feels real. Opens on crowd scenes, a tannoy voice and vehicles grooving past, market traders, alien insults, the power failiure cutting off the Mayor’s speech, screaming rioters and noise makers, the creaking and splitting floor, screeching creatures in the darkness, scraping stone, termites marching, mandibles twitching and their screeching and singing, a dog barking in the distance, screeching truck, the panicked crowd at the space port, the last ship blasting off, a car horn, all the communicators going off at once, the termites tearing through the hull of his escaping craft and turning it upside down, the McGann TARDIS hum and scanner activation definitely proves this is the latter end of the Doctor’s life, the termite voices, heartbeat, fanfare for the termite Queen, packaging humans in shells, Laxton electrocuted and the console shorting out,

Musical Cues: There’s some really lovely percussion work that sounds like somebody is banging something metal like a dustbin – I know that sounds odd but its really effective. Simon Robinson provides some spooky atmospherics in episode with the Termites on the march and the Doctor and Jevven creeping about. As they sweep through the city in the truck Robinson goes nuts with the music and its loud and proud and really exciting!

Standout Scene: Pretty much any scene in which Sylvester McCoy appears – with kids around to ground him he gets to play the lost and melancholic magician he should have always been and frankly he is a delight to listen to.

Notes: Nice cover; no robots, an intriguing looking setting and a pre-TV Movie McCoy.

Result: For two episodes this is one seriously creepy audio! The termite sound effects clacking away in my ears made me want to shake the insects out of my head and the rising sense of panic amongst the colonists as the termites tear through the population is similarly uncomfortable. Once we get to hear what they are saying the story becomes great entertainment with the workers sounding wonderfully like a group of lads on a stag weekend! This is such an odd story I really don’t know how to judge it; it has a simple linear narrative which holds few surprises but with lots of peppy dialogue and some lovely performances. I found the events unfolding thoroughly engaging because the direction was so strong and energetic and it features my favourite characterisation yet of the seventh Doctor and a fantastically quirky and appealing performance from Sylvester McCoy. A terrific little piece of whimsy with an captivating new alien race I personally would love to see again. Weird and pretty wonderful: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

1 comment:

Ed Azad said...

The working class termites had me in stitches.