Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Nights Black Agents written by Marty Ross and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: Jamie McCrimmon and his new friend the Sixth Doctor are lost on the moors of Scotland, where the legendary Kelpie roam... They are offered shelter by the Reverend Merodach, the minister of the parish of Lammermoor, and are welcomed to his castle. But strange forces are at work within its walls, and Merodach is not what he appears. Can the Doctor and Jamie prevent their powerful enemy from taking the TARDIS for himself?

Who’s the Yahoos: I was taken aback by the insightful characterisation of this older Jamie who has been battling his way through a life where he doesn’t remember the Doctor. It would have been enough just to include the character to keep me satisfied because it is so different from the younger, more comical Jamie we are used to but Marty Ross takes this opportunity to really put an aged battle scarred version of the man we know under the microscope and see how he copes when his actions are called into question. Whoever the Doctor was he made Jamie feel alive and young again. He’s old enough now to have experienced some shortness of memory. No matter how old Jamie is he will always have an eye for the ladies, especially those with a melancholic air that he can whisk in charm back some feeling into. Brilliantly Jamie threatens to skewer Merodach like the ‘tough old onion’ that he is! If Jamie hadn’t gotten used to dungeons since the battle of Culloden he had certainly gotten used to them since he had met the Doctor. Jamie is smart enough to kill an oversized rodent in his cell (charming!) and pretend it is attacking him (ugh!) and then lamp the guard when he comes to investigate (wey-hey!). Until the Doctor came along Jamie had been fighting a cause that he knew had been lost thirty years ago and making a mockery of his youthful passions by pantomiming them on and on into years where a man ought to have better things to live for like peace. When it is suggested that he should have had a life with love in it rather than the endless, pointless slaughtering other men’s sons for so many years he doesn’t have the heart to disagree because he knows deep down that Merodach is right. He thinks that his cause justifies his life but does it justify the deaths of the young men he has caused? As much as he tries to deny it those deaths haunt him in the small hours of the morning when he has no distractions from his actions taken. He feels that the warrior’s life has been chosen for him, that it wasn’t a conscious choice to battle all these years but doubt is thrown over what has been achieved in prolonging the battle and achieving nothing. Even when offered a better life than he could ever have hoped for fighting in the Highlands Jamie knows the Doctor trusts him too much to ever think about betraying him.

Softer Six: Well now this is something of a novelty for the Companion Chronicles and that is something I usually always admire (the return of Sara Kingdom, Jago & Litefoot and King Peladon were also pleasing departures from the norm). To have a sixth Doctor Chronicle is rare enough but with Jamie as a companion? Of course this makes total sense if listened to with his trilogy of adventures in the main range but I will be trying to see how this piece stands up in its own right. Needless to say the novelty of the unusual Doctor for this type of adventure and an strange choice of companion is a good, fresh start regardless. He is described as having garments of a carnival magician and doctorate to no discipline he admits in decent company! Hilariously even when the Doctor is hung in chains with his fancy clothes all torn at the seams he refuses to scream for mercy like anyone normal would he prepares his haughtiest look and quotes with his most theatrical tone from Macbeth! This alone makes torture for the torturer and he is released from his bonds to spare him from any more of the Doctor’s thespian tricks! If the Doctor is dishonest with Jamie with something as simple as not even trusting him with his actual name…what other lies might he have spun?

Standout Performance: Proof conclusive that it was Deborah Watling that held him back in Emperor of Eternity, Frazer Hines is given free reign to tell this story and he reads it with real charm and ease. He has the sort of voice that is perfect for audio, comforting enough to want to slide between the sheets with and listen to (erm that sounds dodgy) but authorative enough to drive you to a cold sweat during the scary bits. Hines’ sixth Doctor isn’t quite as spot on as his second Doctor and why should it be? He understands Troughton’s Doctor after observing him play the part throughout the majority of his tenure whereas he only perform a handful of plays with Baker but he gets the tone and attitude right enough that I could easily imagine Baker saying the lines. His older, world-weary but still utterly charming Jamie is a revelation though – a thoroughly decent chap and still the most loyal of Scots. I cannot wait to reach the trilogy these two share because this sounds like it will be an interesting relationship to explore. A massive round of applause for Hugh Ross who makes a fine villain for Jamie to square up to – not just the sort who spits out threats and potential world devastation but a character who truly gets under Jamie’s skin. Ross and Hines work a little magic together, especially in their more thoughtful scenes.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What are you doing married to that shrivelled old holy Willie?’
‘Leaving old warriors like yourself comical relics like those parody Scotsmen chasing dropped ha’pennys round in circles on the London stage to general hilarity!’
‘I couldn’t betray the Doctor. Not in an instant anyway.’
‘When we Devils assume human form that of men of God is always a favourite.’

Great Ideas: Jamie is confused as the landscape of Scotland has shifted around like toys on a nursery floor being moved about. Bubbling black murk plays an important part in the trilogies story – it is in fact ink which takes on varying degrees of significance throughout the four stories as the life blood of the Land of Fiction where the Doctor and Jamie are (although they don’t realise it yet). A giant horse rearing up out of the black mud made out of the liquid and galloping after the Doctor and Jamie. Whilst they are accused of witchcraft and are driven to the gallows the TARDIS is attacked with an almighty battering ram that Jamie figures will break in its brittle looking doors. Merodach releases his little devils from his cloak and they are like gnarled old bats with grotesque features and they aren’t so much attacked as drowned in the deluge. With demonic flames raging around the TARDIS the Doctor has the wonderful plan of putting them out with the inky Kelpie that attacked them earlier and tempts it forward with camp cries of ‘Come and get us you waterlogged Nag!’

Audio Landscape: Wet footprints, searching rubble, the whinnying shriek of the Kelpie, leaping into quicksand, carving food, crackling fire, a thoroughly unpleasant sounding prison cell with trickling water and scurrying rats, Jamie’s dinner scraping across the floor, clashing steel as Jamie swordfights.

Musical Cues: There is a certain wistful melancholy to the music as Jamie tries to understand how the beautiful and precious can possibly be in love with her gnarled and ugly husband.

Standout Scene: The lengthly dialogue scene between Jamie and Merodach which is exactly what good audio drama should be; personal and enlightening. Rather wonderfully Jamie has been protecting what he thought was little more than a wooden box and as he steps through the doors at the end he sees the wonder of the TARDIS for a second time and you can feel his life spiralling out of control in a giddy and fantastic way.

Result: I went into this story not expecting a great deal because I thought that the idea of having a companion chronicle set during a self contained trilogy of stories really wouldn’t stand up under scrutiny as a story in its own right. Once again, more fool me. The very idea of a chilly character assassination set on the Scottish moorland is enough to get me a little excited and with the added impetus of the unusual pairing of the sixth Doctor and Jamie and the unfolding story between them you’ve got some nice elements to driving the story. What’s more Lisa Bowerman is back on incredible form and taking full advantage of brewing a sinister, exciting atmosphere and Marty Ross proves his worth by spinning lines that would otherwise be exposition into sunny, quotable dialogue. What starts as an atmospheric piece spins into a strong character examination in the second episode and I was drawn into the thoughtful way Jamie’s life was unravelled a thread at a time. What Night’s Black Agents reveals better than perhaps any other story I have experienced with him is that whatever guise Jamie McCrimmon takes he is a loyal, selfless, honourable man who wont shy away from the consequences of his actions and will do anything to protect a man that sees more in him than a fighter. For that alone this story is a beautiful thing: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

1 comment:

Anthony Pirtle said...

I couldn't get into a lot of this one. The overall plot didn't interest me, and it probably didn't help that I had no idea why Jamie was with 6 (haven't heard the aforementioned trilogy), though the Doctor was largely absent anyway. However, Hines' performance was terrific (as always) and the examination of his post-doctor years fighting a losing battle for pretender kings made for amazing listening.