Thursday, 30 June 2011

Deadline written by Robert Shearman and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: It's been forty years since Martin Bannister encountered the Doctor. They were different men back then. Martin was young and talented and The Times' seventh most promising writer to watch out for. The Doctor was mysterious, crotchety and possibly oriental. It was an encounter that destroyed both their lives. Pity poor Martin now... His career is in ruins, all forgotten. His estranged wives keep dying in the wrong order, and there's a nasty green stain by the wardrobe that could be an alien footprint or, possibly, just mould. Martin's life is about to change unexpectedly… Impromptu poetry readings. Elephant expeditions. An obligatory bug-eyed monster. And a last, desperate chance for love, before it's too late. Sounds like it's time for the Doctor to come into Martin's life again. And sort him out. Permanently.

Trev’s Brother: Martin Bannister is one of the finest characters in any Big Finish audio drama because he provokes the listener into feeling so much towards him. Throughout the course of this piece I felt sympathy, hatred, annoyance, shock…in a way he reminds me of Tom Baker before he became the cuddly Uncle he is today, Thoughtlessly rude, hilariously arrogant and scathingly intelligent- maybe not a person you would want to know personally but someone who it is always fascinating to listen to and be provoked by. In some ways the premise that fuels Deadline is even more heartbreaking than the one in Auld Mortality. A broken, failed writer trussed up in a nursing home and taking the elements of his dull life and trying to recreate them into a mysterious and exciting adventure in time and space. You have to wonder what Martin could possibly have done to make his son what to hurt him so badly by visiting and telling him that they had his wife’s funeral without him. His only reaction is that his wife forgave him everything and that was why he found her so dull. When he was young he wrote plays of dazzling sophistication and intellectual rigour but eventually got stuck on a show as tedious as Juliet Bravo. He never got Doctor Who off the ground but he was in love with a show that had that much imagination – he could do anything and go anywhere. Reality and fantasy starting bleeding into one another until Martin doesn’t know if he really is Doctor Who (should that be the name of the character or the series?) or an old man in a nursing home. His characterisation was always disappointing because he never took the time to understand real people, not even his family. Unbelievably Martin pours his wife’s ashes into a tea cup and then when asked by his son why he left them he tells him that he thought they were boring! Its almost enough to argue for families to live under a pretence of niceness and keep the bubbling resentment away! Like Dickens and all the great writers he treated his family like shit because only the art mattered.

Standout Performance: The chance to hear the scenes where Ian and Barbara enter the TARDIS for the first time being played with Derek Jacobi in the role of the Doctor is worth buying this CD for alone. I never realised that the marvellous Jacqueline King had played a part in a Big Finish audio before appearing in the series as Sylvia Noble…and it was a lovely surprise to find her here playing the role of Miss Wright. Her hysterical madness when talking about her ex Ian Chesterton is shocking stuff. Peter Forbes has the impossible job of bringing a character as loathsome as Phillip to life and he gives one of the tour de force performances from Big Finish – he’s exceptionally good at provoking sympathy whilst at the same time you hate what he has become. All this in just a handful of scenes.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Does it mean the Granddaughter is called Susan Who? Doctor Who? Sounds vaguely oriental.’
‘We know each and every anecdote back to front!’ – Is he talking about Terrance Dicks? Even my husband who only flirts with watching the classic series has picked up enough from DVD Commentaries to be able to shout out ‘Daleks are not wobots!’ and ‘The colour for monsters is always gween!’ oh and that brilliant one about the kid who refused to take his teddy bear to bed!
‘Any series which kicked off with Neanderthals grunting about making fire wouldn’t have lasted four weeks let alone a full year!’
‘But Grandfather I love you!’ ‘Well I don’t love you so sod off!’ – my all time number one ‘I wish this had been in the series’ exchange.
‘Doctor Who you utter bastard!’
‘If we weren’t father and son we wouldn’t have anything in common at all! I wouldn’t give you the time of day! – a brilliant line that probably works nine times out of ten when applied to families.
‘You start of as an Unearthly Child but before long you’ll be just another teenage girl screaming at shadows and needing to be rescued.’

Great Ideas: How does he do it? How does Rob Shearman get to the ugly heart of relationships so succinctly? When Phillip rages at his father about how much he hates him and that he refuses to let his son feel about him the way he does about his father…well it might have well have been me talking. It’s a universal theme but one that Shearman pulls off with uncomfortable accuracy. Looking into the notes of the behind the scenes making of Doctor Who when it was first broadcast there were scrawled notes all over the synopses for the characters with one line comments and suggestions from Sydney Newman – just like Rob Shearman plays out over the first scene of Deadline. Ouch, Shearman makes a brilliant dig about Martin’s writing career which has won him awards for sophisticated dramas but all he is remembered for is a cheap old tatty serial that appealed to the masses. Beautifully tying in with Auld Mortality the Doctor takes Ian, Barbara and Susan to the time of Hannibal. When they land on a petrified jungle on an alien planet Martin comments that it doesn’t look like the basis of an educational series and…oh dear – a bug eyed monster! Sydney Newman would never approve! Martin is appalled to learn that there are unofficial Juliet Bravo magazines as well as the official one…and videos, conventions, spin off novels and audio dramas featuring a handful of the original cast (‘the programme may be dead but it still lives on for us!’)! He’s perfectly disgusted to hear that grown men are trying to analyse a show that was just supposed to be a bit of cheap Saturday night viewing that was supposed to get the viewers from the football scores to the Generation Game! Perhaps I have matured like a stinky old cheese but I remember finding this all very distasteful in my youth but much like Sydney I seemed to be missing the point rather. This stuff is ingeniously self facing – and me writing a sentence as pretentious as that (and all the others in all those reviews)…well I’m just as bad. Writing reviews about stories about writing reviews and how sad it all is…I’ve just gone boss eyed. When Ian and Barbara die of radiation sickness Susan figures at least now she doesn’t have to do the homework they set her. The last scene is brilliantly ambiguous as Martin realises he has ruined everything only outside the wardrobe – inside he can be whoever he wants to be.

Audio Landscape: Nicholas Briggs makes a very wise move and doesn’t try and distract the listener from the strength of the script and the performances with a lot of audio trickery. As such the sudden scratching and banging at the wardrobe and the footsteps that approach are really frightening.

Musical Cues: Every time Martin remembers the series there is a lovely flash of the opening bars of the Hartnell theme tune.

Standout Scene: In a moment of unbelievable dark humour (even for Rob Shearman) Phillip admits that his mother isn’t dead and he made it all up just so he could see his dad and he bought and burnt a guinea pig to pose as her ashes. Words fail me.

Result: What if Doctor Who never made it to the screen? One of the boldest, most subversive scripts to bear the Doctor Who logo which also rather brilliantly takes the time to insult the hell out of me. There are so many spine tingling breaths of genius to the writing it would impossible to list them all but as usual Rob Shearman has put a lot of thought into his material and ensured that there is much to think about after you have turned it off. Big Finish should be proud for producing something that is so clearly going to divide opinion and a lot of the continuity is used as a weapon that knifes you in the gut over and over. Want to hear the Doctor swearing at Susan? Want to listen to Barbara talking about her scummy ex Ian Chesterton? Want to imagine Doctor Who as the work of a failed man who cruises through life treating people like shit for the sake of his art? Want to hear the brains behind Doctor Who mistakenly appearing to molest a young boy in a cupboard under the illusion of taking him for a trip into time and space? Maybe not but I suggest that you do. This is button pushing at its best and practically every line is a gem. I can understand why I used to hate this story but now I love it and oddly its for exactly the same reasons: 10/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:


rumblebars said...

I like the reviews here but I don't always agree with them, this is one of them. I recently bought and listened to this series. And of the episodes, I liked this one the very least. There were several points during it that I was thinking "I do not care about this, I do not want to listen to this" and I'd only give it a 2 out of 10 for a rating.

Joe Ford said...

Hi there and thanks for commenting. I completely understand your reaction because it mirrored mine when I first heard it. I though it wad perverse and button pushing and it made me feel really uncomfortable. however in later years those just happen to be things I rather enjoy in my fiction and so I have done a complete u turn with it. I'm not suggesting that you will too, just that I understand that this is a really marinate tale that people will (probably) either love or hate.