Monday, 18 July 2011

The Goddess Quandary written by Andy Russell and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: Legend has it that the mighty warlord Aldèbrath will return to defeat the enemy of Imogenella. Should the need ever arise. When the monks of Etheria stumble across what they claim is Aldèbrath's last resting place it looks like the legend might come true. If nothing else the monk's could make some cash from tourism- perhaps even enough to repair the monastery roof. All they need is ascertain profess of archaeology to verify their claim. Simple. You think? Bernice soon finds herself trapped in a race against death on an unstable planetoid where there's more to the tomb than meets the eye. Mind you, the monks aren't all they appear either - oh, and Benny's old friend Keri wants in on the audience share

Archaeological Adventuress: She is told by Keri that her scepticism really is healthy. Travel light; move fast is the archaeologist’s motto which is wearing she only wears the clothes on her back. Even she knows that she is getting a bit long in the tooth for the damsel in distress routine. It takes more than a collision with a million tons of space debris to get rid of Bernice Summerfield! With her heavy scepticism how can she ever hope to understand true faith? Feeling betrayed by Keri she tells her she know longer has the right to call her Benny because that is what her friends call her. As she was running out of oxygen all she could see was Peter’s face and think that she would never see her son again and that was Keri’s doing.

Benny’s Gang: Benny’s old pal Keri the Pakhar is back (and I wonder if now Gary Russell is about to hand control of the series to Simon Guerrier if we will see any more of the Pakhars). She’s there as the galaxy’s top journalist to cover Benny’s little adventure. As soon as she hears that Bernice will be spending a great deal of time with a strange man on this venture she wonders (because clearly she knows Benny’s life patterns) if he will turn out to be a mad axe murderer! She hops it might be the case so she can snatch the scoop of the century! Poor Keri has hit hard times of late when she got involved with the multi zillionaire business tycoon Stellus Gad. She heard a rumour that Gad was finance arms to both sides in a war she was covering and her source showed her records of large sums of money leaving Gad’s accounts and going no where but it turns out that her source was one of Gads business rivals out to discredit him. The missing cash was going in anonymous charitable donations. Keri had already run the story and her company was sued for every penny. She is shocked to discover that her reports on Benny have been edited down and broadcast under the special interests sections which is widely known as a space filler! Being referred as ‘little mouse’ is extremely offensive and she points that out in no uncertain terms to Secundo.

Standout Performance: Jane Goddard is one of those performances that comes in for a lot of shtick because of her shrill delivery in the various Doctor Who stories she has appeared but I think it is worth noting that she is only ever given roles that are supposed to be shrill such as Alpha Centuri and Keri the Pakhar! Whatever role she is given she gives it 100% and I rather loved her as the cocky Anne Robinson character in The One Doctor (I love everything about The One Doctor) and she was desperately cute as Alpha Centuri. Whenever Pahkars have appeared in the various audio adventures Goddard has been there to put her own unique spin on the characters. It was one comic element too much in Bang-Bang-a-Boom but it works a treat in this story, especially as the character isn’t written as a meek green hand but a conniving professional trying to salvage her career.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Brother Myriad said that we’ve got the most luxurious rooms in the monastery!’ ‘True, but as he sleeps on a stone bed in a draughty cell he doesn’t aspire to the same level as luxury as I do.’
‘Why is there a giant rat in my room?’

Great Ideas: Parasiel wants to know about what happened with Braxiatel and Ms Jones after the Occupation of the Collection by the Fifth Axis and thinks that Bernice’s shyness to talk about it is covering something darker that she might be embarrassed to come to light. The Red Fountain of the monastery is caused by the internal atmosphere leaking through the malfunctioning protective electro magnetic barrier field and forms a shower of ice particles as it hits the sub zero temperatures of open space. It is red because Etheria sun is a red giant. After the war with the Festari the Holy Order of Etheria had almost been irradiated. There was only one survivor but God would not allow them to perish and delivered into the hands of Abbot Primus the means to rebuilt the Order through cloning. Contrary to popular opinion Aldèbrath is not a man – she was placed in cryogenic storage just prior to the last battle and her mind was deposited within the computer of the Fervent Hope. She was a vital part for the ultimate weapon that was responsible for the doom of the Festari. The Holy Order of Etheria was devised to spread the word to the rest of the universe, to dominate the beliefs of the free peoples of the galaxy, to prosecute the holy crusade on the entire universe. Anyone who does not accept the word of God will be cleansed from the universe. The Goddess is the embodiment of an ideology, she was a telepathic virus carrying a very special message – anyone coming in contact with Aldèbrath is encouraged to live a life of love and peace. The Festari weren’t wiped out, they just buggered off to live in harmony with the universe.

Audio Landscape: Lightning and heavy rain, warning klaxon, the monks chanting, the fizzing wreckage of the shuttle, the planetoid shaking,

Musical Cues: Simon Robinson’s score for this tale is much stronger than the last and he adds in some drums to bridge scenes to add some excitement.

Isn’t it Odd: How things change over time. I have suddenly realised why I am not getting as much from this series as the previous two and that is the lack of the unique regular characters that this series has taken pains to introduce and develop. As yet we haven’t had a sniff of Adrian, Bev, Brax or Joseph and as for the Collection – that hasn’t been heard since the middle of the last season! Its not anything for me to worry about because knowing the future of the series all of these elements will be back with a vengeance next year and dominate for quite a few seasons to come. Actually gets to the point where the audience starts to miss the jolly days of Bernice just adventuring again, like this season. As I said, how things change over time.

Standout Scene: The realisation that Keri has deliberately put Benny’s life in danger to get a good story out of this is a bit of a shocker, all told. You simply don’t expect a cute wickle mouse to behave in that fashion!

Result: I couldn’t quite get a handle on The Goddess Quandary because I found that the story unfolding just wasn’t interesting enough to justify keeping us away from the Collection again in a season that is starting to feel as though it is from a brand new spin off. We’ve seen no sight of Brax or Bev or Adrian and I really miss them – for some reason the anthologies focus squarely on the regulars and the audios are going in another direction. I know which I prefer. There has been some good writing this year but this is the fourth story of the same ilk now (Benny goes off to investigate/save/report on a lost civilisation) and it is getting a little wearying. Even Benny sighs wearily that this all turns out to be another ultimate weapon and it is little wonder that the universe has survived this long. I know plenty of religious people and I wonder if they get tired of fiction endlessly hashing up religious orders that want to cleanse people of their individuality – for a change I would love to see religion dealt with as a positive concept even if it is something I don’t subscribe to myself. Keri the Pakhar was the one shining beacon in this story, a genuinely fun and unpredictable character but when your favourite moment comes at the end of the tale with vague hints of answers to Braxiatel’s master plan in the next story you know there is a problem: 5/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

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