Sunday, 12 June 2011

Crime of the Century written by Andrew Cartmel and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: The year is 1989. In London, safe cracker Raine Creevy breaks into a house – and finds more than the family jewels. In the Middle East, the kingdom of Sayf Udeen is being terrorised by Soviet invaders and alien monsters. And on the Scottish border, a highly guarded facility contains an advanced alien weapon. These are all part of the Doctor's masterplan. But masterplans can go awry…

The Real McCoy: After Raine’s birth in Thin Ice the Doctor always remembered her birthday as she was growing up – a lovely touch. The famous Doctor-in-a-safe sequence lives up to its reputation as being a fine introductory scene between him and Raine and imagine the wonderful surprise of the scene if this had been transmitted? Wonderfully the Doctor knew he had to be in the safe because he read it in Raine’s diary and her descriptions of him were less than complimentary. All this feels very Steven Moffatt but its worth remembering that Cartmel played about with these sort of timey wimey tropes first. He steals black pepper to throw at the dogs as they pursue them across the grounds, the clever sod! Even more brilliantly Raine manages to outsmart the smart ass by escaping in the getaway car and failing to mention that in her diary which is extremely unsporting considering he hired her to steal the things in the first place. The way the relationship between the two of shifts like this is extremely entertaining and as far as the audience is concerned gets them off on exactly the right foot. McCoy tries to pour on the menace in the last episode in a club sequence on the Thames but ends up sounding rather like a monotonous robot whose batteries are losing power.

Oh Wicked: Ace is still hanging around like a bad smell. I have stayed firmly on the fence where formulating an opinion on Ace staying on beyond Thin Ice but after episode one of Crime of the Century I have made up my mind. It was a bad idea. The Cartmel/Platt/Aaronovitch triumvirate have decreed that this is how they would have proceeded with season 27 and I trust them that that is the case but on this evidence it would have felt like flogging a dead horse to death. The first episode of Century is a witty and wonderful game of cat and mouse with the Doctor and Raine and works wonderfully as an introduction to the new companion…crow barred to this episode awkwardly are two entirely unnecessary scenes featuring Ace off on an exotic sojourn to a war zone packed with weapons. Not only would this not have happened in a kids TV show (there is no two ways about it, it wouldn’t) but these scenes threaten to the spoil the otherwise fun opening instalment. Ace feels like an irrelevant hanger on and with these being Lost Stories made years later and considering the wealth of material the character has enjoyed in that time period (between comics, books and audios she must have racked up 100 stories on top of her TV appearances, easily) it feels even more like this is a monotonous and staid character that will never leave. It’s a sad state of affairs for a character who was once considered revolutionary but Ace has long outstayed her welcome. She’s like Charley Pollard times ten without the awesome stretch of Colin stories at the end. Oh gosh go and listen to Ace screaming her head off in the last episode as she is insulted and claims her victory – these moments of strained melodrama always bring out the worst in Aldred’s performance. ‘Hey ugly…pick up your sword and fight!’ and even worse… ‘Come back and fight you sexist Metatraxi!’ Somebody stop the paaaaaaaaain.

Safe Cracker: Like Ace’s introduction before her, Raine’s opening scene sees her putting all of her cards on the table and admitting what her secret profession is to both the listener and a character within the play. She seems disillusioned by her father (like Ace was about her mother). And where Ace had a penchant for explosives, Raine has a similarly illegal trick up her sleeve in safe cracking. However there is a world apart from these two characters when you move away from their character spec and into the performances. Beth Chalmers has been working with Big Finish for an awfully long time now and it about time she was qualified to play a companion and she successfully brings a great deal of middle class charm and confidence to Raine. To keep the comparison up Aldred’s performance as Ace is so hackneyed these days it lacks any kind of charisma – Raine feels fresh as a dew soaked daisy whereas Ace is the rotten old near-to-death thistle. When Raine told Ace she doubted she could learn anything I could have kissed her.

To Raine the sound of a safe clicking into place and opening is the most wonderful sound in the world. She is so sneaky she knocks her observer unconscious with one of her deliciously anaesthetised marceno cherries! She actually says that the artefacts are the fruits of her ‘capers’ which I thought was very cute before unsheathing the Martian sword and having at their thief with a cry of ‘on guard!’ Nice to see Raine’s estranged relationship with her father dealt with in her second episode – not a protracted deluge of melodrama like Ac – you get the idea. You tries to be tough in rejecting her wayward father but as soon as he shows her the slightest moment of affection she falls into his arms with a cry of ‘daddy.’ She’s a resourceful lass and is critical of the helicopter pilot because she thinks she can do a better job.

Standout Performance: There is an instant spark between McCoy and Chalmers that proves very refreshing to listen to. I love the way that the Doctor exasperates Raine in a way that Ace has seen it all before – it makes him seem more quirky than usual and Raine the inexperienced wide-eyed newbie which is extremely appealing. Despite my criticisms of both Ace’s character and Sophie Aldred’s performance there is a smidgeon of hope in the last two scenes that this trio could work well together.

Great Ideas: The Prince needs weapons to fight off the invaders and one of the invaders is selling the weapons to him.

Audio Landscape: Dogs barking in the distance, cars whizzing by, walking on nice crunchy gravel, a getaway car screeching away, a meowing cat, an alarm ringing at the party, dogs barking, a boat honking on the river, bullets screaming through the air, insects attacking, birds swooping through the air, walking through puddles, Big Ben chiming, Metatraxi laughter, a bally big explosion, sirens.

Musical Cues: Once again the music feels instinctively wrong for the McCoy era. I am a huge fan of television and movie soundtracks and have collected as many Doctor Who scores as possible. I have a huge amount of music from the McCoy era that I have listened to more than is probably healthy for even a geek such as myself (the Mark Aryes/Dominic Glynn scores are some of the best of the shows history). Like Thin Ice, the music seems to be a mad rush of percussion instruments and very cheesy (almost sleazy sounding) lounge music which fails to conjure up the feeling of any of the scores for the three McCoy seasons. The nearest it comes to is Keff McCulloch’s Battlefield (the worst score of the era, incidentally) but even the Synth King played about with the range a little. The music in these McCoy Lost Stories is dull, monotonous and intrusive – probably the worst music we have heard from any Big Finish adventures. What is especially odd is that this sort of godawful score would probably have suited the Sixie Lost Stories but the music for tales such as Paradise Five and Point of Entry were both authentically eighties in style and highly atmospheric. It is a score like this that reminds you how good the overall quality of the music is in Big Finish productions.

Isn’t it Odd: I’m really not sure that the idea of the Doctor sending Ace into a war zone on Earth with a shed load of weapons would have made it into the TV series. In all honesty it feels far more like the style and tone of Cartmel’s New Adventures (of which I am not a fan for all that his prose is blissfully good) than the TV series. The first cliffhanger of her first story should have belonged to Raine but instead tagalong Ace nabs it instead (I was willing the soldiers to put her out of her misery…which I don’t think was the idea!). The twist of the Doctor taking Raine and her father to Kafiristan is completely blunted by the fact that Ace is already there. This is a story that takes until the end of episode two to feature its monsters when really it desperately needs that perk at the end of episode one. During what I supposed was a tense action sequence at the beginning of part three the music was under the impression that we are in a Hawaiian luau and tonally it is all over the place – both gritty realism and camp science fiction. The plot has literally run on the spot throughout episode three so that the action sequence at the beginning of the episode is repeated at the end (bouncing bullets and all) with no discernable difference in the narrative whatsoever. Hang on…Ace gets the swordfight at the end of the story? When Raine is the fencer, Raine appreciates the beauty of the weapon, Raine has a place on the TARDIS to earn…that is an extremely odd choice and another example of Ace spoiling the natural course of this story. I was really disappointed that the unnamed aliens were simply grunting aliens with no character to speak of…until the Doctor gave them a communicator that allowed them to talk in groovy sixties hip speak and then I just wanted them to go back to grunting (‘Oh no! Bummer! Bummer, man!’). What precisely is the Crime of the Century? Engineering a recession? Makes the title feel a little like hyperbole. The ending that reveals that the weapon had been deliberately shipped to Kafiristan by the British to test its efficiency comes from nowhere and has no basis within the story. There was no set up for this twist and as such its inclusion feels superfluous rather than hard hitting and makes this whole story feel like a pointless four episode set up to set up for a later story.

Result: Lets get the good stuff out of the way; the introduction of Raine and her superb interaction with the Doctor. Beth Chalmers makes an instantly likable impression and has some very enjoyable scenes with McCoy which offers hope for future releases. And now for the bad; everything else. Much like Thin Ice, Crime of the Century seems to mistake a change of location for plot progression and once the introduction of Raine is out of the way the (barely registering) narrative crawls at a snails pace. The much discussed continuation of Ace’s storyline hampers the story to the nth degree (Raine literally vanishes for a good twenty five minutes in her introductory story to make way for more plodding Ace material), the guest characters are all dull stereotypes (without any memorable dialogue) and once again the piece lacks any kind of atmosphere (let down once again by an appalling musical score). Where is all the energy and madness of the McCoy era? Even the worst televised stories were imbued with a great deal of life but these two releases have a moribund mood that fails to capture the zest a dying but ever improving programme had in its last three years. Much like his novels Cartmel’s grasp of plotting is dreadful (although he cannot be criticised too much for that because this story doesn’t have a plot) and he usually has much more success at individual moments that stick in the mind but I can’t say that this was his most inspiring set of ideas either. I had to force myself to concentrate and finish this story because I was starting to drift in the third episode – but what I found most irritating is that beyond the first episode you would be hard pressed to find any substantial difference between this story and Thin Ice (an awkwardly realised foreign location, the Martian artefacts, deals between aliens and humans, the honour bound aliens, etc). Animal needs to be better than this because Raine aside, this was deathly dull: 4/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:


Chad Moore said...

Oh dear. Sad to hear this one wasn't much cop either. I've still got it sitting here on the computer, and I've yet to listen to it.

Doc Oho said...

Hey Chad,

Its totally IMO - there have been people who have *loved* this one so give it a never know! To me it was just more of the same but you must let me know how you get on.

J :-)