Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Lost Museum written by Simon Guerrier and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: January 2606. TribCity is at war with itself. The old dictatorship has been crushed, but the population have turned on each other. The army cannot stop the fighting, nor the ever-mounting casualties. They can merely clean up the mess. In the midst of all this, Professor Bernice Summerfield and her ex-husband Jason Kane try to assess the damage done to the TribMuseum. The building has been used as a bulwark, and one of the most important collections in the galaxy lies strewn about the floor. Prized relics are missing, and even the kids on the street seem to know more about who took them than the museum's director. Benny and Jason struggle to find answers amid the farrago, but all they can unearth are more questions. In a city where no one speaks the same language, in a city with no shared identity but the horrors of its recent past, in a city where nothing can ever be simple, everyone has something to hide.

Archaeological Adventuress: Benny is shocked to hear that Bev and Adrian are at it like rabbits but then he did always like human females! As somebody who used to be in the military and somebody who now teaches archaeology she feels especially pained to learn that on Trib City one has adversely destroyed the other. Unfortunately she feels so passionately about it her desire to help recover the treasures spills over into outright anger when she sees the full effect of the devastation. Bernice can understand why the insurgents don’t want the new order taking over – they don’t seem them as a benevolent peace keeping power but just more bullies with guns. How many women do you know who would pursue a thief across rooftops in nothing more than a towel and their running shoes…of course that doesn’t stop our Benny but it does take her a while to realise why she is getting such a gleeful reaction from the public watching from below! When her arm is lost in the crossfire she doesn’t even notice at first, shock I suppose, until Jason points it out and I love that there are no easy fixes to have it re-grown until they escape this hellish situation. Benny tries to make Enil realise that by placing all the surviving aspects of the cultures that have been genocidally wiped away by the Over Lords in one museum was a form of propaganda, all those races united under one banner. She genuinely believes that they have responsibilities to the salvage treasures and to make them accessible to everybody but Enil calls her an imperialist and calls to question how the Braxiatel Collection doesn’t play by those rules. In a breathtaking moment Bernice tells Jason that she is glad that Bev and Adrian are a couple because Peter will need a Mummy. She really thinks she isn’t going to make it out of this one.

Benny’s Gang: Its nice to be reminded that Jason has a life away from Benny and has made a name for himself producing some useful (translators) and some lurid (alien pornography) consumables. Poor Jason is taken aback to discover children hurt during a terrorist attack and tries to comfort them until help has arrived. Jason thinks it is perfectly natural for one of the locals to peek into Benny’s bathroom to try and catch a glimpse of her naked until he half inches her museum notes and he (resignedly) has to play the hero again! Bernice is completely unaware that Jason is still in contact with his clones. Rather wonderfully it is Jason who manages to stop the fighting but getting all the translators to turn the racist slang into apologies!

Standout Performance: This is precisely the sort of meaty material that brings the best out in Lisa Bowerman and gives Benny a strong, moralistic tone and where she can truly embody the character. More material like this please.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Death to the bastard army!’ – nice to see that Jason’s translation software is working well enough for the insurgents to get their message across!
‘Why are you falling through my roof?’
‘They seem pretty united to me. Wanting us dead has brought them together.’
‘Jason…that was not entirely bollocks!’

Great Ideas: Insurgents (the indigenous people) are attacking in the suburbs and they are expecting a major attack on the city any day now. The military feel that the planet has been liberated but the people that live here think they are invaders. The insurgents were using the museum as a bolthole because it was the best defended building for miles. Benny is not only upset that the artefacts are in pieces but that the pieces have been all mixed up and she releases this is going to be a major archival headache. The old regime played factions off against each other, divide and conquer, but now that the Over Lords are out of the way its all against all and nobody wants it any other way. Benny is appalled to discover a torture chamber within the museum, at first she thinks it is medical equipment but soon realises she is in an abattoir. We hear of experiments with acid, feet being cut off and beatings…there is a sinister past beneath the bluster of warfare to be unearthed. They kept power by taking somebody from every town, every family and torturing them. Enil is exposed as working for the old murderous regime but is willing stand beside Benny to protect what she still considers to be her museum. Benny considers being director of the museum a political appointment and that Enil was right in there with the Over Lords but she argues she wasn’t complicit in what they stood for. Enil kept pieces from cultures they exterminated, there is nothing left of them than what she managed to salvage.

Audio Landscape: Cars honking, walking across cracked artefacts in the museum, eating in a restaurant, Benny having a bath, screaming fowls, shouldn’t explosions sound like explosions and not fireworks?, throwing the canister of anasethic gas and causing it to blow, lost of bullets bouncing by,

Isn’t it Odd: I’m not sure having a local populace whose dialogue consists of ‘ung ung ung!’ was a smart idea – there is a feeling this year that nobody is taking this range seriously. Fortunately we have Jason’s incredibly literal translation devices that can turn ‘Umgunagum’ into language Benny can understand…just. The falling through the roof gag is funny but it is framed by a painful joke about a local taking fowl for a sexual partner that falls way short of the mark.

Standout Scene: Its not so much a single scene but the various reports of the excruciating torture the populace suffered under the old regime. It’s a shocking overlapping of horrific stories that reminds that this series still has a heart beating strongly.

Result: I really appreciate the intelligent angle that Simon Guerrier has taken with this story in trying to mix themes of warfare with Benny’s passion for the past. It’s exactly the same union of themes that made season twos The Extinction Event and season fours Death to the Daleks so effective. It pains me to say it but again it is Gary Russell’s tired direction that lets the side down because for the most part it feels like a cheap and clumsy production with discordant sound effects working against the script and some dodgy moments of action (the opening scene is an assault of noise with little explanation and there are various moments of gunplay that fail to convince). It’s a story that isn’t afraid to expose the true horrors of how far a regime will go to keep people subjugated and even manages a great shock when Benny’s arm is blown clean off her shoulder. If the direction and the musical score had been stronger (it is the oddest, most jarring score you have ever heard) this probably would have been an out and out classic. As it is I found it really interesting to follow but annoyed by the execution but at least it shows some real hope for Simon Guerrier taking over the reigns next year. I really think the series desperately needs a new creative hand and Guerrier clearly understands Benny’s character and the tone of series very well: 6/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

No comments: