Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Dark Husband written by David Quantick and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: "This whole wedding is like making a nuclear bomb with half the instructions missing!" A week-long respite from a prolonged and bloody war, the Festival of the Twin Moons of Tuin makes Glastonbury look like a church fete... or so the brochure says. The Doctor and Ace are looking for rest and recreation. Hex is looking for the beer tent. But eternal enemies the ginger-haired Ri and the coot-bald Ir are plotting to turn their Festival truce to their own advantage. Only the Dark Husband might stop the celebrations turning to horror... but who is the Dark Husband? And what terror awaits him on his wedding night? If anyone knows any just cause or impediment... speak now. The lives of billions depend on it.

The Real McCoy: You can usually tell within a scene or two whether McCoy is having an on or an off day with his stories and it took me about 30 seconds to realise that this was having an extreme off day when this was recorded. He sounds distracted, unrehearsed and tonally all over the place. There are very few lines that he delivers with any hint of believability and I find it inexplicable because we know that he can deliver when he wants to (Master, Valhalla). The script is full of humorous wordplay that needs a quick performer to reel the lines out and score the jokes but McCoy’s delivery is so slack and robotic it pretty much kills every gag. There are only so many times I can hear the Doctor say sor-ry in that singsong voice of his before I want to gouge his eyes out with the sonic screwdriver set to high frequency burn. The Doctor came here to end the war, not to party and his method of which is marriage. Thank goodness the Doctor is due to marry a woman – I don’t think I could handle the thought of the seventh Doctor bedding another man. I would probably have to start batting for the other team.

Oh Wicked: Ace wants a break, a day off or even a week. Hex thinks she is very attractive when she gets angry. After Ace is tricked into becoming the Doctor’s intended she actually says ‘That’s another fine mess I’ve got myself into!’ without a hint of irony. That’s the level of characterisation on display here. I don’t want to go into any detail about how dreadful Aldred is here because I’m pretty much bored of hearing myself say it. Just take it as read.

Sexy Scouse: Since when did Hex become a raging, jealous, chav of an alcoholic? I was always so happy that he was written as a sensitive sort of lad and found him to be a positive role model for young men. I take it all back. Now he just wants to knock ‘em back and get pissed and regale the Doctor and Ace with tales of his misspent youth spreading graffiti on the walls where he used to live. David Quantick clearly hasn’t listened to a single Hex story or been given a clue how to write for him and this is the one and only time he is portrayed as a loutish, unthinking thug with lines like ‘I snogged your mum and she was rubbish!’ and ‘Oh no the ginger mingers back!’ Thank goodness. It would appear that Hex means something naughty in Ri (obviously in a tale so obsessed with crudeness). ‘I thought I’d come out on the interplanetary lash!’ – shut up Hex! The script gets so desperate it resorts to having Hex acting up because he is jealous of Ace who is getting married to the Doctor. I would understand if this was played in jest but Olivier sounds deadly earnest and as such Hex feels completely out of character. How awkward does he sound when putting himself forward for the wedding at the end of the third episode? You can hear in Olivier’s voice that he is mentally contacting his agent and screaming blue murder about having to perform this horrific script. Argh, Hex actually says to Ace: ‘You were all for it when you were going to get married to the Doctor’ in a jealous tone. I’m reaching my limit… What is the next Hex story? The Magic Mousetrap? He’s back to being a sensible young man again in that one so I can only imagine the TARDIS must have picked up some chavvy space plagued that unhinged his mind throughout the course of this adventure.

Standout Performance: Danny Webb is clearly having a ball playing three parts and whilst you would find it hard to distinguish his voice in any of the three characters I didn’t find any of them especially memorable. Well the Brian Blessed impersonation was but not in a good way. There’s only one Brian Blessed (‘His name is Dorff and you are scum!’). In a few desperate moments Webb sounds panic stricken as he has to play two characters talking to each other and you can hear him getting out of breath.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘There’s a war on and it wouldn’t be much of a war if we didn’t kill anyone, would it?’

Great Ideas: Brochures without a screaming face on the front are the more humanoid friendly. The Doctor is coerced into taken his friends to a weeklong party on the planet Tuin to celebrate all that is great about their culture – the planet that has been coined the brewery of the galaxy. Unfortunately it turns out to be a planet of gravestones, the churchyard and only common ground between two warring factions. The Ri and the Ir have been at war forever but they share the same religious belief system and one day every few centuries they all come together for a wedding. Tuin is the planet and it gave birth to the Ir and the Ri.

Audio Landscape: Even the sound effects so as though they are from Big Finish’s stock library. The party atmosphere, gong, thunder rumbling, crackling flames, lightning, rain.

Isn’t it Odd:
· I should have been forewarned when the story opened with Ace screaming her head off (Aldred’s hysterics cut through my brain like cheese wire), Hex being covered in snot and crying ‘that’s another fine mess you got me into!’
· The humour lacks any subtlety even when the actors aren’t killing it – the sequence where the Doctor suggests that the war probably started over something trivial that turns out to be a plague missile stinks like a bad fart.
· Groan – the Doctor, Ace and Hex are saved from death by a ceasefire as the festive of the twin suns begins. Saved by a party?
· The Dark Husband has the worst first episode ever. You’ve got a clichéd situation weighed down with dismal humour, rabid attempts to be funny that fall flat on their face, mischaracterized regulars who bore the pants of you and the scarcest of sound effects conjuring up zero atmosphere whatsoever. I think I was more impressed with Dreamtime’s opening episode than this. If I weren’t reviewing the story I would happily have turned it off at this point and go and do something worthwhile.
· How long did it take for Quantick to think up names as exciting and innovative as the Ri and the Ir?
· Having one actor play three parts is fine by me but why go to the trouble of disguising it with such ridiculous pseudonyms?
· Quantick seems to think there is a great deal of humour to be had in repeating the same plot contrivances over and over and so we have Ace learning about the Shining Wife and that nobody knows how the wedding is to be conducted, then Hex, then the Doctor. It all gets a bit tedious if I’m honest. More tedious.
· The stone made chroniclers of Tuin might have been worth a chuckle had the multiple-choice gag not been played so often and so nonchalantly.
· The plot twists are banal too…they are looking for a Shining Wife – a brave woman without fear and terror who will save the Dark Husband. Can you guess who it is? Make the pain stoooooop.
· How much funnier (or possibly more awful) would it have been if the Doctor had to marry Hex?
· Episode three is dragged down to further depths by listening to the riveting stories of how Ir and Ri came to be…twice.
· ‘Step forward Hox!’ Everybody: ‘Hex!’
· Just when you think this story cannot get any worse the Doctor screams out (mock Battlefield) ‘There will be no wedding here!’ Even McCoy sounds embarrassed.
· Head on desk. Head on desk. Head on desk. I couldn’t bear the scenes between Ori and Irit (more imaginative names) resolving their differences. ‘You speak with wisdom!’ ‘I doooooo?’ ‘And I, Irit of Ir, I can show courage!’ ‘You caaaaaaan?’ I’ve never heard anything this retarded in my life before!
· The ‘Is that a clinical diagnostic Master Hex?’ is repeated again and again…
· Ace and Hex are turned into zombies and in both cases it sounds like a blessed improvement! Seriously, if it were a choice between the bolshie screaming harridan and the drunken coarse prick or a pair of robotic nomads I would take the second pair any day of the week.
· ‘Tuuuuuinnnnn! Yoooou are eviiiiiiillllll!
· War ended, harmony restored, job done – just read this line and save putting yourself through the story.

Standout Scene: My favourite moment came when the Doctor was gagged (as far as the seventh Doctor is concerned that is a blessing) and he is tied to the stake and set on fire. Its like David Quantick was providing wish fulfilment for me…

Result: Can you imagine listening to anything more tiresome than a pair of stock Doctor Who species being forced to reconcile their differences through a wedding that has a list of tiresome comic customs attached to it? I’m not sure what the writer and script editor were thinking when they were putting The Dark Husband together but if it was supposed to be a witty farce it has lost its sense of humour somewhere in its realisation and the resulting tale is a car crash of hideously embarrassing moments. Move over Lakertyans, push off Trogs, stand aside Dulcians…we have a new winner for the most tedious alien race in Doctor Who. The Ri and the Ir aren’t even bad enough to annoy me - they are just insipid, tasteless caricatures and their ridiculously bland approach to marriage and war and well everything left me desperately wanting to the turn the story off each time an episode ended, But I knew if I did that I would never put it back on again. Any story that even suggests the seventh Doctor being chained to a lamppost in his boxer shorts is an affront to humanity and every copy must be tracked down and destroyed. Sylvester McCoy gives potentially his worst ever turn as the Doctor (I’m not sure if this was worse than his ‘Dorotheeeee! Mcshaaaaaannee! Hacccceeeee!’ delights from The Rapture but its pretty close), Sophie Aldred gets to shout a lot which is as stomach churning as ever and when these two have frequently let us down in the past we can usually we can rely on Philip Olivier to salvage something. But even Hex is badly characterised (as the ultimate happy slapping bling boy - what was Quantick thinking) and even Olivier surrenders to the appalling tone of the script and delivers an awkward performance. I would have thought it an impossibility but Big Finish have delivered a seventh Doctor story that is even worse than The Rapture and Dreamtime. Without merit: 0.5/10 (I lied, half a point for a nice score in places)


Chad Moore said...

One of the few Seventh Doctor/Ace/Hex stories I haven't listened to yet. Methinks I shall avoid it! Thanks for the yummy Hex pic :)

GusF said...

Your rating was much too generous.

Poley said...

Up to end of pt 3 and shouting at the cd in frustration at how totally crap this awful story is. Sadly I'm a completist but will never listen to this 2 hours of garbage again!

Nicholas Wolfwood said...

Thank you, i thought it might have been just me but no this episode was utter rubbish that should have been scrapped on a single review. so much so i sought out a review immediately after i listened to it. Good sweet lord, how did i know the writer was new? Oh that's right it had me sobbing in my hands pining for 'Time and the Rani'. Fortunately, a bad Big Finish story is quite rare so i forgive them.