Saturday, 11 June 2011

Thin Ice written by Marc Platt and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: Moscow 1967. The Doctor and Ace have arrived behind the Iron Curtain, and the Soviet Union is seeking a new weapon that will give it mastery in the Cold War. What is the secret of the Martian relics? As the legendary War Lord Sezhyr returns to life, the Doctor is faced with some of his oldest and deadliest enemies. The fate of Earth – and the future of Ace – are now intertwined…

The Real McCoy: ‘Why exactly have you brought us here?’ the Doctor asks to persons unknown but one thing is for sure he is keeping secrets from Ace again. He’s the biggest hippy of them all! The Doctor thinks that Joseph Stalin was the worst Tsar of all. They are in Moscow because Ace is undergoing a series of tests or should we say further tests since the Doctor has been gearing her up for the past couple of years to become a Time Lady on Gallifrey. Does that idea have any real merit…possibly but considering the Doctor cannot bear the place dumping his best friend there is possibly the cruellest thing he could do to her yet! Being an alien is hardly a disadvantage, he notes. He wants to take a back seat and let Ace deal with things and he will defer to her judgement. The Doctor objects to not knowing what the Time Lords expect of Ace – it’s a chance for him to see what its like to be manipulated. He is not allowed to meddle in Ace’s test or his engagement will be terminated. He thinks Ace has such potential for good, as a catalyst.

Oh Wicked: Whereas the sixth Doctor and Peri sounded utterly authentic in the first season of Lost Stories this is a mixture of the Ace who appeared on the telly (sensitively played for the most part) and the Big Finish Ace (which sounds like Sophie Aldred a lot older over enthusing in a sound booth). The former I find tolerable but the latter is unbearable. The Doctor promised Ace 1967, London during the Summer of Love…not chilly old Moscow! Ace hates not being able to see her enemies eyes. Ace finds that there is nothing necessary about a fashion show and removing the fur from animals to make coats. Not just a dolly bird, she’s indispensable! The Doctor thinks she is good with people and when he puts her in charge she tells him not wander off because she might need backup. When Ace says that she never changes I couldn’t help but find myself nodding in agreement. All this time the Doctor has been setting her up as a candidate for the Gallifreyan Prydonian Academy and upon learning this she feels abandoned and cries that she will never trust him again! Until the next time, obviously. ‘Who are you calling small?’ she screams in a nod to Remembrance of the Daleks (or it’s a remarkable coincidence). An Ice Warrior admits that Ace is more worthy than many warriors long dead. Ace challenged Sezhyr to a fight to the death but Hesh was her friend and its what Martian’s do.

Standout Performance: Ricky Groves deserves some merit for managing to be the one bright light amongst all the blandness. Its nice to know that Raine’s dad was a bit of a jack-of-all-trades cockney wide boy! There’s hope for her yet…

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I am hungry! Where are the fish fingers?’
‘Its from an old family recipe but then I suppose we all are in one way or another…’
‘Good…Ace Warrior!’

Great Ideas: Two years patrolling under the sea found wreckage for what appeared to be a crashed spaceship full of weaponry that the Soviet government hopes will give a military advancement over the west. The city of Moscow is cold and the Ice Lord feels the people have a resolve of hardship and he empathises with them. The seven Ice Warriors on Earth have been exiled from Mars for the past 43 years. A dodgy temporal anomaly that needs tidying up for the Time Lords and they have parachuted Ace in to do their dirty work. They are looking for the relics of Sezhyr. A Martian exoskeleton melds with Raina’s body and she is begins turning into a cyborg, invading and reprogramming her. If the truth about Ace’s test hadn’t been known the end of episode three would be a great scene. Gallifrey turns Ace down much to the Doctor’s anger.

Audio Landscape: Footsteps, heartbeat monitor, the Doctor’s echoing voice, café, sonic weaponry, motorbikes growling, parties, clinking glasses, sonic gun, marching, crowds, gunshot, alarm, helicopter, walking in the rain, gunshots and explosions, lots of hissing Martian reverence, ambulance, birdsong.

Musical Cues: I have heard comments that the musical score is authentic McCoy as it was on the TV but as an enthusiast of the music of the era (especially Mark Aryes and Dominic Glyn’s wonderful scores) the music in Thin Ice felt rather primitive and quite simplistically instrumental. There are a few moments of overdone percussion that screamed Keff McCulloch but his efforts are the least inspirational source material I can imagine. After a while the tuneless synth really grated on me, it failed to capture the best of the music of the era and made an excruciatingly dull story even more irksome.

Isn’t it Odd:
· One thing I always associate with the Sylvester McCoy era is a lot of noise and bluster. Even when the stories lacked finesse (umm…Time and the Rani, Paradise Towers, Dragonfire, The Happiness Patrol, Silver Nemesis, Battlefield) there was always plenty of sound and fury to (just about) carry you through…the thing that struck me about the first episode of Thin Ice was how unnervingly quiet it was. Seriously there was so much talk and so little spectacle there was no way this story could have been produced by JNT!
· Twenty-four minutes into this story I was reminded of why I still have some serious problems with the Cartmel era – Thin Ice mimics stories such as Silver Nemesis and Battlefield in that it conjures up a great idea (alien weaponry in the Soviet governments hands) but the story unfolds in a confusing and totally uninteresting way. The first episode is shockingly dull and lacking incident where it should be building up to the devastating revelation that the weaponry will be demonstrated in Red Square. And yet this twist is simply dropped into conversation in the most casual manner and not dramaticised in the slightest. Its an unbelievable oversight and symptomatic of this stories unwillingness to engage the listener. The plotting was spectacularly unengaging.
· I didn’t buy the scene where the Doctor has a paddy because he’s not in charge – is this really the same master manipulator from season 26?
· The idea of the Ice Warriors working with a cockney finger-in-all-pies lad and manipulating the Russians feels wrong somehow, this is a race I have always associated with strength (their thick armour and sonic guns) and to skulk around in the shadows lacks their usual violent efforts. I realise people don’t like Mission to Magnus all that much (I loved it for its camp madness but then I’m a bit weird like that) but the Ice Warrior plan in that story was devastatingly exciting compared to this bunch of softies.
· Moscow was brought to life far more evocatively in Singularity; I thought I was actually there in the Davison story whereas the bare sound effects of this tale fail to conjure up any impression of this unusual location.
· The action sequence at the end of episode two is shockingly inept with short bursts of sonic weaponry sounding awkward and cheap.
· Ice Warriors actually stand around craving fish fingers, suggesting watching the news or reading the paper…why does Marc Platt want to humanise these once proud creatures so much?
· Forgive me but are you seriously telling me that JNT would have sanctioned the scene where Raina is transforming into an alien and giving birth to her daughter? Green puppets popping out of eggs maybe but I’m not sure Doctor Who was ready for full on pregnancy at the time (and still isn’t now as we happily skip over the icky stuff with Melody’s birth in A Good Man Goes To War).
· When Sezhyr comes to life we get scene after scene of poor Beth Chalmers having to growl throatily and spit out Ice Warrior propaganda – the story stands still for fifteen minutes whilst she/he gets all this out of her/his system!
· The third episode felt like it went on forever
· Doesn’t the Time Lords turning Ace down make the whole exercise redundant? What is the point of the whole Cartmel Masterplan if the conclusion is so underwhelming?
· There has been much discussion of the ending of this story which sees Ace not being accepted to the Gallifreyan academy and has upset a great many people because of what has been mentioned before in Doctor Who magazine and the feature on this season on the Survival DVD. I don’t wish to dredge up all the ill feeling the debate caused on a certain Doctor Who forum but I will say that on my part I was also disappointed that this wasn’t the Ace’s departure but am perfectly willing to accept that that was my fault because of I went into the story with certain expectations that weren’t met. On the same note this season was brought together by Andrew Cartmel, Ben Aaronovitch and Marc Platt who were the three biggest names of the McCoy era and I defer to their judgement since this is their era to play about with. On the plus side it ties in beautifully with Big Finish’s own chronology where Ace goes on to have many solo adventures (from The Fearmonger to The Rapture) and then an even longer run with Hex. Beyond the fact that the character seems to go on and on (and on and Ariston) I think I simply really wanted to listen to a genuine goodbye scene for the character. Maybe one day Big Finish will fulfil that wish for me. Hopefully at the end of this season. I am willing to be surprised and find that having Ace continue was a smart move but I am willing to bet that she will feel bolted onto the next three stories.

Standout Scene: There’s a great moment between McCoy and Aldred in part four where Ace finally has it out with the Doctor and questions his motives. It is played with passion and intensity and really shows up how inadequate the rest of the story is dramatically.

Notes: Andrew Cartmel conjures up a clever ploy for introducing Raine by having her mother appear in the story before her introduction, shown giving birth to her. Had this been screened on the television it might just be considered one of the strongest companion openings for its sheer audacity. Hesh can’t get enough of fish fingers – is that supposed to be a touch of The Eleventh Hour? How on Earth will the Doctor and Ace break this news to Raine – I’m really sorry but we saw your mother turn into a alien cyborg lizard creature, sorry. Can I just ask…has the Doctor been having secret conversations with Time Lords every time he behaves inappropriately towards Ace in their nine televised stories together or did he only contact them at the beginning of this story?

Result: Wow, that was…boring. There are many criticisms I would happily level at the McCoy era from being crass, middle class, badly plotted and cheap to name a few and also having a Doctor that only just earns his merits on the fact that half the time his performances are diabolical but I would never, ever say it was dull. Not even Silver Nemesis which is about as bad as Doctor Who gets. I was really looking forward to Thin Ice because Marc Platt’s Ghost Light is my favourite McCoy story but this Russian Martian drama lacks his debut stories atmosphere, scares or intelligence and feels bloated well beyond its ability to entertain. Ken Bentley’s usually stellar direction falls way short of the mark, the story is timidly brought to life and inexplicably lacks the bang-for-your-buck feel of the era it is trying to evoke. The regulars get little chance to shine until the last episode and the decision to keep Ace on caused more fireworks than relief and makes the whole subplot feel strangely irrelevant. After Platt’s unforgettably evocative Point of Entry this was a huge disappointment and had the 27th season opened on this note then like Battlefield cancellation might still have come a’ calling: 2/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:


Chad Moore said...

I don't know which was more disappointing: the story itself or the fact that Ace didn't get the departure story we've been waiting all this time for.

Peakius Baragonius said...

Well, Joe, you wanted to know what I thought of this one as a McCoy fan…and I wish I’d kept the $4.25 extra it cost to order the CD during the Lost Story bargain the other weekend (should’ve gotten just the download, or maybe Leviathan or Paradise 5 instead…). And that CD *still* hasn't arrived to my knowledge, which in this case is probably just as much a blessing as a curse.

I've actually been writing down my full thoughts on this one over the past week as I've been inclined, so I'll post them whenever I finish. (I suppose I should just start my own blog or join Gallifrey Base eventually...but until then, thanks for giving us the opportunity to discuss as always!)