Saturday, 2 July 2011

A Storm of Angels written by Marc Platt and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: 1480: Leonardo da Vinci visits the stars. 1508: Vasco da Gama sets foot on Mars. 1585: Francis Drake begins charting the Asteroid Belt. 1588: Earth is destroyed by a storm of angels. The Doctor was really enjoying his freedom. But now there’s a Temporal Agent on his tail. Gloriana and the President of Gallifrey are not amused. And Susan’s none too well either. Possibilities, like the Doctor, have a habit of running away with themselves. But who cares, when the jewels are so dazzling…

Alternative Hmm: How fantastic to finally see some of the potential of the Bayldon Doctor realised and he is every bit as impressive as I hoped. I love the fact that like Hartnell he is portrayed as intelligent and eager explorer but with a dangerous past and one that he is willing to go to any lengths to avoid. At last free in the universe and on the run from his people, the Doctor is being pursued by Agent Zeuro through all time and space. They consider his travels repeated interference in the established patterns of history. A glimpse at possible adventures for the Doctor see him genuinely helping out Hannibal, enjoying some time with Elvis and gaining the respect of the Daleks. He considers the Elizabethan Age the cultural flowering of England and does all but clap his hands in excitement at landing in a period he has never been to before. The Doctor always has a snooze after a good meal. So many things spring to mind when he is offered anything he ever wanted. He is interested in everything. When the Doctor recognises the coffin in space as emitting a Time Lord signature he orders Drake to destroy it – his fear of being reigned in by his own people will lead him to murder. It takes one pirate to know another and the Doctor has been bleeding the Hind of energy to power his TARDIS. The Doctor thinks he knows how to handle the paparazzi but they insult him by calling him Methuselah and almost lynch him! When he sees Walter Raleigh in the crowd he shouts out ‘I enjoyed your book!’ As a suitor the Doctor is like marrying a crab apple! He cannot stand back and do nothing when other people are making brave life or death decisions.

Alternative Susan: Is undergoing medication for some unknown ailment. Because Susan wasn’t the first out of the tomb the Aztecs mistook the Doctor for their reincarnated High Priest. She doesn’t like being thought of as a trophy to be taking home to Gloriana. Susan believes that they don’t meddle in established history but merely help people in trouble. It is a sweet but naïve viewpoint. In a lovely touch of Dalek Invasion of Earth Drake offers to take care of Susan down on Earth, to buy here a little cottage in Devon to recuperate from her ails. She objects of course thinking of her Grandfather but Drake insists he was never part of the equation. The real Susan has spent her entire Presidential term covering her Grandfathers tracks through time. The Susan the Doctor travels was created in the possibility chamber with all the memories he had of her. The Doctor once told Susan that they choose their future themselves and she thinks perhaps she should have listened. She never wanted to be a President and wishes she had left with her Grandfather when she had the chance.

Standout Performance: Carole Ann Ford gets to be wonderfully bossy as President Susan and her chemistry with Geoffrey Bayldon once again makes me wish for more adventures with them.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The Angels guide our course across the sky.’
‘His eyes…they’re hard like cut jewels.’
‘Your travelling days are over.’
‘Envy rolls around this court feeding on the vanity of the young. And the jaundice tongue of the ancient.’
‘You explained advanced technology to Leonardo! Rescued the Prince in the Tower! Warned the Aztecs that Cortez was coming! You even made Beethoven a hearing aid!’
‘She’s as mad as Quince Jelly!’
‘When you’re ankle deep in tears and blood you can’t let people suffer because its history.’

Great Ideas: The TARDIS has disguised itself as a barrel and the Doctor chuckles that it has always been a bit of an old tub. As an example of the Doctor’s meddling in time and space you couldn’t find a much more dazzling shift in history than mankind’s finest scientific minds like Leonardo da Vinci and Francis Drake reaching the stars before their time and attempting to conquer the heavens. A steam powered spaceship cruising the solar system is such a romantic notion it warms my heart. Rather than acknowledge his own corruption of the timelines the Doctor thinks they have slid into a parallel reality. They are navigating the stars via astrology in a mirror of polished obsidian. The Angels guide the universe as it turns. The Doctor is giddily smug to discover that Zeuro’s TARDIS is as crippled as his. It was President Susan who issued the Doctor’s order for arrest and sent Zeuro after him. Before the Doctor’s interference Earth’s Empire lasted thousands of years but now it is on course for imminent destruction. Fettiplace climbing over the hull of the Steamship with bloody jewels bursting from his face is a memorably grotesque image. The storm of Angels of the title scoop up the ship and cradle them in a tidal wave – it’s a beautiful moment. The ‘Gloriana’ cliffhanger is chillingly played by Ian Hallard. Not realising that they are dangerous alien intelligences the crew of the Hind attempt to line their pockets with some of the jewels before unloading the cargo but they move to attack. After introducing him to the concept of space travel Leonardo’s mind soaked up all the ideas and within a hundred made the dream a reality. The Queen descends on her crowd in a glass case from above. Francis Drake is a showman at heart and he delights in revealing the 300 cases of jewels he has brought back to deck Her Majesty on splendour. Each jewel contains a single thought like scattered brain cells. Mountains spinning in space, a colony on the move – an asteroid belt drawn to the Earth by the show stone.

Audio Landscape: I remember this story was delayed because of some last minute tweaks required to make this story as good as possible and it really shows. A Storm of Angels is still one of the most evocative audio experiences and ERS perform their most sublime job at creating enchanting locations through some gorgeously realised sound effects. The glorious build up of the TARDIS taking off, elephants trumpeting, helicopter taking off, the Doctor tearing a rift in time and space and forcing Zeuro’s TARDIS to be shredded in the vortex, a heaving deck of a sailing ship, a creaking rope hauling aboard the TARDIS, the TARDIS door openings with a squeak of wood, the Doctor cleaning a squeaky porthole, sonar, the tinkling, whispering jewels, clanking on the hull, birdsong, the jewels bubbling to attack, a squeaky pulley system winching the Queen down from the ceiling, a steam alarm (awesome!), scratchy gramophone, the scraping sound of the jewelled feet of Moses dancing, the batting of Angels wings, raining jewels, the Time Ring activating, the people made of jewels snapping in two, Gloriana shatters a jewelled man with her pistol, gorgeous steam powered technology.

Musical Cues: A beautiful score that stresses how unusually exotic this story is. The uplifting, triumphant music as the Hind returns to Earth is gorgeous. I love the colourful Sitar work when they land at the space station.

Standout Scene: The end of episode three is an excellent surprise and makes full use of the quality final scene of Auld Mortality. The beautiful notion of the Doctor’s fake Susan heading back to Gallifrey and the real President Susan taking her place pretending to be ‘his’ Susan is the perfect fairytale touch to end these two stories on. He isn’t fooled for a moment and is so proud that Susan in whatever guise managed to make her own decision and break free of Gallifrey.

Notes: Aside from a few misfires (for me The Skull of Sobek and Thin Ice), Marc Platt remains one of the most consistently excellent writers of Big Finish Productions and some examples of his work (Loups-Garoux, Spare Parts, Frostfire, Mother Russia and his two Unbound scripts) are about as good as Doctor Who comes on audio.

Result: Marc Platt has always enjoyed injecting a touch of poetry into Doctor Who but in A Storm of Angels he ups his game and conjures a story full of enchanting romantic imagery and ideas. A Steamship in space, cut treasures containing an alien intelligence, a tidal wave of flying Angels, an Elizabethan space station in orbit of the Earth, a man with a skin of jewels – yes its easy to fall under the spell of this dreamy brew of graceful creativity. Whilst the plot itself is quite thin there are simply a wealth of goodies to unearth; Geoffrey Bayldon’s masterful performance as the Doctor, Ian Hallard’s morally indignant Zeuro, gorgeous dialogue, stellar direction, an affecting musical score, dazzling imagery and set pieces and a hungry desire of what could have been. Every few minutes there is a moment that will take your breath away. It’s the rarest of things but A Storm of Angels is less of a story and more of an experience and it is best to switch off your critical faculties (because you wont find anything to feed on) and simply luxuriate into the beguiling atmosphere of the piece. Another favourite of mine: 10/10

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