Monday, 27 June 2011

Sympathy for the Devil written by Jonathan Clements and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: 1997… and a lone exile arrives on Earth, years later than planned. On the eve of the Handover, an advanced Chinese stealth bomber crashes in the hills above Hong Kong. The discredited UNIT has just 24 hours to steal the technology, rescue the passenger and flee to international waters. Down by the harbour, there's big trouble in Little England - a bar owned by an old soldier, who simply wants to forget the past. But an ancient evil is stirring in a place of peace. The Doctor finds a world on the brink of terror. A world that has lived without him for years. A world that is frighteningly like our own…

Alternative Good Grief: Another obvious choice to play the Doctor is David Warner who has worked his way through many cult TV shows, impressed in movies and enjoyed a vast range of roles with Big Finish. Like Geoffrey Bayldon he is one of the countries leading acting talents of his generation and it is a delight to see him dominate a story with his own unique take on the Doctor. I seemed to remember him being far more abrasive in this story but my biggest impression was of a sensitive and beaten man who is trying to make the best out of bad situation. He often picks the wrong time to arrive and realises that something is very wrong when he lands in a world where the Brigadier is a pub owner rather than a military man. Because in this reality the Doctor was never exiled to Earth the Brigadier doesn’t understand why the Doctor has a different face and the Doctor palms him off with a story about cosmetic surgery. The Doctor’s superiors don’t like him interfering. The Master tells the Doctor that he never sees the big picture, that he just turns up and helps the little people but he argues that they are all little people. He makes a difference where he can with the people around him, he can’t change everything but he can make a difference for the common good. He can’t be everywhere at once and the Master accuses him of abandoning the Earth during the Dinosaur and Lizard disasters. The Doctor turning his back on the madness that spreads at the end of this story is shocking but its less him being thoughtless and more him not thinking the Earth is his responsibility. There are so many potential story ideas in that it is such a shame we only had one more adventure with this pair.

Alternative Chap With Wings: He didn’t get much to do in Spectre of Lanyon Moor and was let down badly by Minuet in Hell and so if you want a thoroughly enjoyable slice of Brigadier audio action Sympathy for the Devil is the one for you. Nicholas Courtney is always a joy to listen to and he builds an immediate rapport with David Warner. The Brigadier is running a pub in this timeline and Englishman’s house is his castle – trespasser will be shot. He was a career embarrassment and only noticed when he made mistakes and problems like that start to build up on your record until you are discharged. There was nothing for him in Britain anymore and so he sought refuge in Hong Kong. He’s a past master at Venusian acupuncture! We hear that the Brigadier was made a laughing stock after the Auton fiasco as he ranted about plastic daffodils being unsafe and he became known as the man who whenever he organised a peace conference somebody was killed!

Standout Performance: David Tennant’s Brimmicombe-Wood was the best thing to come out of the UNIT series and it is a joy to see him in another spin off series. Whilst I genuinely think Lethbridge-Stewart’s personal and polite approach to problems (except when it’s the enemy of course, then open fire!) is the better way it is very refreshing to see the other, less cricket, approach. Bullish, insulting, arrogant and thoroughly unlikable, Wood is hilarious and fun to be around (‘Take it up with Miss Manners!’). ‘It’s the Chinese Ambassador!’ ‘Och, tell him to piss off.’ ‘Boo hoo! Don’t be such a pansy!’ Hahaha! A definite officer but not a gentleman. I bet Mark Gatiss was jumping with joy at the chance to bring to life an alternative Master and he approaches the role with all the oil and menace you would imagine.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Where were you when I needed you?’
‘You can’t just barge in there…it’s a Buddhist temple!’ – what would Barry Letts say to see his innovations to the series shat on so completely?

Great Ideas: An invisible jet crashing into the hills. The Curler Division are the Chinese brigade of rehabilitated criminals, suicidal zombies that fight on the front lines. That’s a very nice take on the Keller Machine from Mind of Evil. UNIT will allow Curler to defect, war crimes and all, if he comes up with stealth gadgetry for them. The Master is brainwashing soldiers for the Chinese and fleeing before the handover back to the people he betrayed. The Soul Jar is a prison for something that feeds on human misery, madness and evil and the Monks have been chanting day and night for many centuries to keep it from effecting the people who live in the surrounding areas. It turns out that Captain Yates and team of crackpot soldiers volunteered to go back in time with nuclear warheads to wipe out the Silurians before they had a chance to get a foothold on London. As a result there is a large abscess at the heart of London where the explosions took place. The Doctor wasn’t there to help during the Mars Probe crisis and that’s why there is a line of craters in America. The Master lived through all of these disasters exiled to Earth whereas the Doctor was nowhere to be seen. Rather wonderfully the Master is tricked into thinking that the Brigadier’s pub is the Doctor’s TARDIS. Unbelievably the Doctor and the Brigadier skip off as the world goes mad, the Curler troops have been driven mad by their conditioning and are taking out their vengeance on the whole world. Starting with Hong Kong.

Audio Landscape: Nightlife is conjured up very well with late night traffic, music blaring from a pub and bottles being smashed and rolling along the pavement, an explosive atomic test, the Brigadier clearly up the empties, a jet roaring overhead and crashing into flaming wreckage, wind stirring the trees, insects in the scrub, helicopter blades, crackling radio communications, guns cocked, chanting monks, the creature feeding off anger, birdsong, fireworks exploding in the sky, bullets flying everywhere, helicopters crashing.

Musical Cues: Now we have moved into an alternative seventies the theme music is much bouncy, much more…disco. There’s a gorgeous exotic sting every time the Doctor starts reminiscing and it sends you off down memory lane with him.

Isn’t it Odd: Given what I am currently reviewing in the main range (ie after his time) it was a real shock to hear Gary Russell’s voice in a Hitchcockian cameo again.

Standout Scene: The last scene really warms the cockles because the Doctor gives the Brigadier a chance to redeem himself and venture off into time and space with him. It is a partnership that I hope had many, many adventures together.

Result: What if the Master had been exiled to Earth rather than the Doctor? The answers aren’t pretty. Sympathy of the Devil is an odd beast for sure because the main plot that is cobbled together from elements of The Mind of Evil isn’t really very interesting but all of the peripheral elements combine to make the overall piece one that is well worth seeking out. You have the gorgeous Warner/Courtney dynamic which is so successful it scored a sequel, a lovely oily turn from mark Gatiss as the hard done by Master who was forced to live through all the invasions the Doctor failed to stop and the world building is extraordinary – painting a picture of a devastated Earth that has taken too many knocks from Silurians, Dinosaurs, Autons and the like. As an audio production it is very good indeed with some strong direction from Gary Russell and a beautiful score. I forgive this story its few sins just to be able to spend a few more seconds with David Tennant’s brilliantly rude Colonel Brimmicombe-Wood: 7/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

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