Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Longest Night written by Joseph Lidster and directed by Edward Salt

What’s it about: ‘We interrupt this broadcast…' Having survived a day at the seaside, Robert Dalton and Emily Chaudhry are enjoying a few pints… Having spent the day answering the phone and praying for some action, Will Hoffman is enjoying a night out… Having signed a controversial new European treaty, the Prime Minister is on his way back to Downing Street… Having survived yet another day, the people of Britain are settling down to eat dinner, stay in, go out, spend time with their friends… '… we're receiving reports that…' It's just another ordinary evening in the United Kingdom… '… a bomb has exploded in Central London…’

Colonel Chaudhry: I just don’t buy the relationship between Chaudhry and Dalton and I have been racking my brain for a reason why. It could be because I don’t believe in the characterisation of Chaudhry who is super spy UNIT operative one minute and one of the lads the next. It could be Siri O’Neal’s performance which errs on the side of naturalism but then loses it completely when she starts talking about aliens. Or it could be that their relationship simply hasn’t been convincingly written enough for me to care. All three are probably a little harsh but if you take a fraction from each and put them together and you have a dynamic that fails to come alive for me. The first time I felt something real for Chaudhry was when Hoffman called her up after being caught in the explosion and she tries desperately to keep him talk as he bleeds to death. Strangely she finds the idea of mind control via a help line ridiculous and paranoid and yet when it comes to vampires from Kosovo she was convinced all the way!

Great Ideas: An explosion rips through central London and proves to be the catalyst for all the events that take place in this tale. I really like the idea that this follows on directly from Snake Head showing that the lives of UNIT employees keep going even after you think you’ve completed your assignment. People dressed up as police officers on the scene of the explosion using that front to get people to trust them and then gunning them down when they make themselves apparent. That’s horrible. There is an exciting feeling that events are completely out of control with terror attacks happening in quick succession over London and as soon as they have made to one and start trying to limit the damage another takes place. You feel that UNIT is really out of its depth and that’s where this series should have been in the first story. They call situations with paranormal leanings ‘John Smith scenarios.’ Chaudhry does have a good point…if you want to manipulate the people then you have to show them something to make them angry. You don’t have to hurt them personally as long as you give them something they can see that they want to fight against.

Audio Landscape: The chimes of Big Ben, explosion, police sirens, train pulling into the station, reporters clicking their cameras, the burbling conversation of Downing Street.

Musical Cues: Given the melodramatic nature of the script David Darlington has loads to work with this week to make the score as grandiloquent as possible and he does a superb job.

Isn’t it Odd: Killing off Hoffman is a bold move because he has appeared in the first two stories…but that is part of my problem with his sudden (and dramatic dispatch). We haven’t had the chance to get to know him long enough to care. Its just another UNIT grunt who has fallen in action and that’s kind of sad. I probably would have saved his death for the finale and then at least UNIT could have gone out with a bang. The curse of the otherwise very good use of real time drama is that there is no time to deal with deaths during the course of the story. There is a general lack of subtlety to this story that has plagued the rest of this series – I was hoping the parallel with September 11th wouldn’t be made (it was) or that the religious extremist wouldn’t be calling it Judgement Day (they do). Gary Russell makes a less than convincing news reporter and one of the ‘this is for my people!’ suicide chants sounds like the woman is about to burst into laughter! ‘A female Indian Deputy Prime Minister…if only you were a lesbian in a wheelchair you’d fill all of Europe’s minority requirements!’ – dialogue like this pushes things too far. Who would say a line like that? When Mina takes a call it is obvious that she has been brainwashed before the script lets us know. The hypnotic phone line is another moment where I was shaking my head with the transparency of the writing (‘Its not racism. They’re different from us…’). Can you imagine who could possibly be responsible for all this race hate and disaster? Could it possibly be the left wing politician from a racist party? Father of the notorious Angela Winnington no less and when it comes down to he orders her shot because she failed him in her task! And naturally the whole thing has to end on an explosive cliffhanger and a scream. I don’t know if I have the will to listen to the last story after this nonsense.

Standout Scene: In a story full of bombast it was the scene with no overblown dialogue that impressed me the most…I was all ready to start complaining that Dalton was singing in his car in the face of all this devastation, panic and murder but it turns out that that was a clue that I missed out on completely. So whilst I was drowning in despair at the melodrama of the piece Lidster managed to slip one twist by me.

Notes: Wood gets a mention in this story (his kidnap was completely forgotten in Snake Head) and we learn that Hoffman practically idolises him.

Result: Its all a bit much which is shame because the premise of having UNIT deal with a real time emergency has some terrific potential. I’ve always enjoyed Joe Lidster’s willingness to push things in the Doctor Who universe to extremes and he seems to enjoy mixing emotional drama and horrific incidents to stirring effect. Here he is let off the Doctor Who leash and unfortunately his script sinks under the melodrama of too much controversy. There’s several terrorist attacks, racial scapegoats and slurs, sexism, hypnotic smoking help lines, religious Armageddon, kidnapping the Indian Deputy Prime Minister’s children and forcing her to commit suicide on the steps of Downing Street (‘She was making the place dirty!’), prisoners on the loose, riots (‘This one’s a sympathiser! Get him!’), soldiers on the streets firing into the crowds...someone even says ‘Think about the children! Do you want your children slaughtered by them just for being British!’ I desperately wanted to like this story because it least grabs hold of an idea and goes for it full throttle but unfortunately where most other dramas would put on the breaks at some point The Longest Night just keeps on going and by the end I was laughing at the absurdity of it all. Rather wonderfully one of the tracks on my MP3 Player is called ‘You bitch!’ which was exactly the sort of melodrama this story revels in. If you want to see this story played out much more effectively go and listen to LIVE 34. I can’t buy into a world quite this ridiculous which is a shame because this story features some of Ed Salt’s best ever direction: 4/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/13-UNIT-The-Longest-Night

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