Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Earth Aid written by Ben Aaronovitch and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: Welcome aboard the space vessel Vancouver. Its mission: to guard a vast shipment of grain from Earth to the planet Safenesthome. Its Captain is called Ace. She seems a little unsure of herself. In fact, some might almost think she was new to the job... Its medical officer is called simply ‘The Doctor’, and he’s perhaps not all he seems either. When mysterious ships target the Vancouver, Ace and the Doctor are pushed to the limit. Meanwhile, there’s something nasty in the grain containers. And it’s not very happy

The Real McCoy: The Doctor suggests that Shepstay is a little too melodramatic in her approach to situations for his tastes so obviously he has forgotten that he used to travel about with an emotional firework called Mel. The Doctor thinks that Raine is quite charming. Can you believe the Doctor actually weakens under the barrage of Metatraxi insults? Big wuss.

Safe Cracker: Raine needed some time to look into her fathers death and her clues took her to Johannesburg. She ended up locked in the very safe that she intended to rob – highly ironic. And how much more so that she wound up in deep space in the future for the Doctor to turn up and let her out. Is somebody plotting these stories?

Oh Wicked: Ace left Earth before the airing of Star Trek The Next Generation because she doesn’t have a clue how to behave as the Captain of a Starship! For one thing you don’t sound uncertain about every decision you make and secondly you don’t bark orders in a terribly stiff fashion – it’s the sort of portrayal that people who don’t watch Star Trek think how it is every week. I thought this was Ace we were talking about, the same person who defeated the Cheetah infection and overcame her fears of Gabriel Chase. Surely she can feign a little confidence to get them through this bizarre situation? Does she really need the Doctor whisper every command in her ear? Why does she bark out every command as though she is delivering a Shakespearean speech (‘You have the helm!’)?

Great Ideas: Earth Aid is the greatest charitable organisation in the galaxy. They bring help wherever it is needed, stop suffering and bring the highest quality of life to every sentient being. The Grubs eat to forget their unhappy past where they lost their home. The planet they are delivering the aid to turns out to be the Metaraxi’s homeworld (cue maniacal laughter).

Audio Landscape: Shower running, rowing boat, bullets firing through the air, cutting through the door.

Musical Cues: The shuttle music is as dreadful as you would imagine it would be! I’m in too minds about the score for this story because without a shadow of a doubt it is the best of the McCoy seasons – its trying to be forceful and atmospheric in places (there is a nice sweepingly epic theme for the space themes). However comedy shouldn’t need the music to drive home every single gag and during the (not so) funny scenes the music is constantly there to slap you round the face and scream ‘this is funny…you should be laughing!’

Isn’t it Odd:
· I didn’t like the Star Trek parody in Bang-Bang-a-Boom (and no matter what detractors say, it is a parody of Star Trek – even the writers said so!) and I don’t like it here. Doctor Who has been around long enough to recognise that it is a more successful show than Star Trek but back in 1989 (or 1990 when this series would have aired) it was a fledging show with little love from its fans and the BBC and Star Trek had just enjoyed a massive ratings smash revival in America (and that success was bleeding over into the UK). Was a Star Trek style parody (‘She said “ make it so”’) really the best approach? It would be like Coronation Street (which is currently in a ratings crisis) taking the piss out of Eastenders (top of the charts) – it feels a bit like whispering poison jealously in the corner about a show that is doing better. I don’t understand the point of mocking up a Star Trek episode (they dock with a shuttle form and Away Team and explore the ship) whilst all the time taking the mickey out of the other shows clichés (‘You’re reporting that there is nothing to report?’) – if I want to watch an episode of Star Trek I’ll watch one. I don’t expect to turn on Star Trek and watch a story about Picard travelling through time and space in a small cupboard and do you know I don’t think the writers of Trek would ever consider bothering to write a parody of Who. They have better things to do. ‘She says belay that a lot. Its like she once she once heard the phrase in a story about a Starship Captain and its stuck in her head.’ Groan. Ben Aaronovitch is a much better writer than this. ‘There is a certain logic to his suggestion’ – thanks Mister Spock, oops I mean Doctor. ‘And if all else fails, engage!’ ‘Engage?’ ‘Fight!’
· Where the fuck is Raine? Forgive me but was the purpose of this season to give Ace another season or to introduce a new companion because it has focused squarely on the former at the detriment of the latter. I’m not surprised that people haven’t warmed to Raine…they haven’t been given the chance to! Given the choice between a whole episode with her or the crushingly predictable end of episode one I would choose the former thank you very much. And doesn’t she sound just like Bonnie Langford during the cliffhanger? In fact she sounds oddly like Mel throughout this story. Once again Ace is the focus whilst Raine does a whole lot of nothing on the sidelines. Can you imagine a more insane way of bringing Raine back into the Doctor’s life than her just turning up because – we never find out what the reason was behind her being kept in a safe and brought into deep space. She just happens to wind up in the least likely place and rejoins the Doctor. And not only that but they set up hints about Raine’s dads death not being what it seems…and fail to elaborate! It leads no where!
· Hang on a moment…why was Ace posing as a Starship Captain? The closest to an explanation that we get is that they are there just in case anything decides to happen. Does that mean there are millions of Seventh Doctors and Aces dotted throughout history in workplaces that see people going about their business just in case something happens? Check out your work place tomorrow – they could be there.
· I think I have figured out why this mini season of Lost Stories has done nothing for me. As far as season 26 is concerned I believe that it was probably the best season for some time because the run from Ghost Light through to Survival was bold, dramatic and genuinely groundbreaking for the time (and for the show). Then came the New Adventures and all of the writers involved in this season all wrote several novels during that period (as with anybody I loved some – The Also People, Warhead, Lungbarrow and some I found less favourable – Transit, Times Crucible & Warchild) which seemed (with the help of some BBC PDAs – Heritage and The Algebra of Ice) to move seamlessly from one to the other. If you stick this Lost Stories season in between the two and it just doesn’t work at all – Platt, Cartmel and Aaronovitch all contributing some mature, beautifully characterised and highly imaginative stories to both the series and the novels. But their work on this audio season jars terribly – the stories have been slow and dreary, there has been a dearth of monsters, atmosphere has been at an all time low and the imagination seems to have been bled out of the series (an Ice Warrior tale followed by exactly the same story followed by a story made up bits of old Who tales followed by a Star Trek parody). Even if you push aside the New Adventures and compare with the strength of season 26 this is a plummet back into season 24 territory.
· The Metatraxi are back and thank goodness they have repaired their translation circuits so no more surfer dude nonsense. However they are trussed up like victims growling ‘you will feel our wrath!’ and other such clichés so they still don’t work. They are pretty much the comic buffoons of the galaxy! The most aggressive and warlike race that the Doctor has ever met? Don’t make me laugh! Why bother to conceal the identity of the Metatraxi ship for two episodes when they are slapped on the cover? By the end of the story you will have heard so much of their aggressive hyperbole (whilst failing to do anything remotely threatening) you’ll wish for the Doctor to send them the same way as the Daleks in another Aaronovitch scripted tale. Or even better get the cracks in the universe to gobble them up so they never existed in the first place. They’re traditional execution method is death by taunting – head hits desk.
· After the imaginatively named ‘Num Locks’ in the last story we now have a race of grubs called…the Grubs! More comedy aliens alas and their peculiar way of politely eating their way through the Earth aid once again lacks any tension at all. They are just more pointless filler.
· There is not one but two scenes where the Doctor and Raine treat a character in a patronisingly simple way and walk away rubbing their hands together suggesting that they will figure out the subterfuge only to hear ‘hang on a minute…’ from behind them. This is not clever writing.
· The end of episode three is the Doctor being locked in a room. Big woo. Could this get any more exciting?
· There is a gorgeous idea of a sentient planet that comes from no where at the end of the story and doesn’t have the running time to handle it with any depth. Although the last time we dealt with a sentient planet (Scaredy Cat) things didn’t work out so well so maybe its for the best.
· Basically the whole plot is that the Doctor and Ace are tricked into visiting the Metatraxi homeworld, they hurl some insults at him and then Ace tips a load of grain and grubs on their world. The end. Just to save you from listening. That’s all in the last episode and you can actually pick this story up from there without losing anything so that goes to show how pointless the first three episodes are.
· By an extraordinary co-incidence the grubs just happen to be the old inhabitants of the Metatraxi homeworld. Bloody hell – this is exactly the same plot conclusion as Animal! Two opposing sides introduced separately and coming together at the end. They’ve done it again!
· ‘This is totally bogus! Muuuuuuum!’ – that is the conclusion?

Result: What was the point of keeping Ace on if she is going to be made to look this stupid? What is the point of a Star Trek parody when there are a hundred million better premises to start with? What is the point of introducing a new companion and wasting her so thoroughly? What the hell is the point of this season? Unbelievably three of the strongest Doctor Who writers have put their heads together and created an abomination of a season and this finale seals its fate. Its not just that the comedy isn’t funny (its more like name calling and finger pointing) or that once again the guest cast fail to rouse any interest (the only I can remember is Yanikov whose character was made up of pointing out Ace’s mistakes over and over and over and over…) or that the story takes an age to get anywhere and when it does eventually develop its doesn’t have an interesting bone to its body – its that they thought that this camp sliver of old toot would have been in anyway acceptable as a season finale. I feel sorry for Beth Chalmers who hasn’t been given a chance as Raine – I desperately hope she returns in some form (without Ace) and gets the opportunity to shine otherwise her entire run as a companion is shoved at the sidelines. This isn’t just a bad Doctor Who story, it’s a bad Star Trek episode as well and that is a sentence I thought I would never write. The one good thing about Earth Aid is that it has been directed with some energy (not something you could accuse Thin Ice and Century ). Survival was a sensual and atmospheric treat to close the classic series on but if Earth Aid had led to cancellation and it would have been so embarrassing: 2/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: (go on, prove me wrong!): http://www.bigfinish.com/206-Doctor-Who-Earth-Aid


bohnny said...

spot on I'm afraid.

I did think Alex M did a good job on voicing the Grubs though.

Chad Moore said...

Agree wholeheartedly. Unbelievably poor run of stories.

Matthew Celestis said...

I totally agree with you about the failings of 'Season 27.'

For me, the New Adventures really were Season 27 of Doctor Who.

Christopher said...

Hey Joe, this is a great site you've got and even though I disagree on some of your viewpoints (Along with the 70's, Seasons 25-26 and Series 5 are highpoints of the show for me), I always enjoy your thorough and insightful comments/reviews.

As a fan of the McCoy years, I've been waiting to hear these for a long time, and I've got to ask...are these worth listening to just for curiosity's sake? Is it really *that* painful that even someone who *likes* Battlefield would walk away appalled?

Doc Oho said...

Hi there,

I would definitely say give this season a go if you are a big fan of McCoy because even though I have heard quite a lot of neagtive crticism of the stories (and certainly I didn't warm to them) as a fan of the era you might find much more of interest here. You'll have to let me know how you get on once you have listened to them!

Thank you for such kind words about the site - I think half the fun sometimes is reading through other peoples opinions and seeing how they differ from your own!

Have a good one,

Joey :-)