Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Time Vampire written and directed by Nigel Fairs

What’s it about: Leela, in her last moments of life, recalls a long-forgotten memory: a time in the TARDIS. The Doctor is worried that K9's increasingly bizarre behaviour might become dangerous. He decides to make a new model, little knowing that the fate of all three time travellers has long since been decided. As Leela recalls the chilling connection between K9's ‘illness’, the Z-nai and the haunted sea fort in which the TARDIS lands, she prepares for her final journey: into the land of her ancestors; the Afterlife.

Noble Savage: For the first year of her imprisonment by the Z’nai she counted every hour, every minute of every day. Leela is haunted by dreams; faces and worlds that she does not recognise. Back in the day she thought of K.9 as more than just a machine and if the Doctor took him apart then like a person he would be killing him!

Teeth and Curls: A long time ago the Doctor saw a world go up in flames. Death on an almost inconceivable scale. Millions of people died and he was powerless to stop it – all he could was watch. When K.9 kills Vera to protect Leela the Doctor is so appalled he starts pulling out his circuitry and tells Leela to shut up when she objects.

Standout Performance: Louise Jameson is worth every penny that you pay for this release – such an incredible actress and even after all these years she understands Leela’s character with such accuracy. That is my little preamble to say that her turn as the Irish character is one of the most unintentionally awful moments of hilarity in any Big Finish adventure. I remember a Catherine Tate sketch in the opening episode of her third season where she played a cod Irish mother who finds out that her son is gay and thinks the whole affair is delightful (I don’t paint it very well but it is hilarious) and that is exactly who Jameson sounds like here. Somebody putting on a dreadful Irish accent and surrendering to all the clichés of the nation (‘Ut was all raaaaillll? That raaaaillyy happened?’).

Great Ideas: A newborn child can say nothing but know all there is to know about life and death because it has made the journey from one body to another. In one second The Great Hall which had been bright light was dark and empty with huge windows that are cracked and dirty. The towers they keep seeing in the future are Z’nai purification towers. The idea of a Z’nai floating City that moves from place to place to destroy planets is a gorgeous concept. A temporal suspension cage was stolen from the TARDIS, a device that was banned by the Time Lords but only after they had done their work and imprisoned all the Time Vampires.

Audio Landscape: As directed by Nigel Fairs an attack on the TARDIS sounds positively terrifying with the grinding engines going for a burton and K.9 spouting drivel as though he is still on the hospital where the Doctor first found him. A woman screaming melting into a baby gurgling, sonic screwdriver, people whooping and cheering in the distance, a sudden breath as Leela moves through time, a light searing across the sky, K.9’s nose blaster, thunder, rain, the Z’nai ship tearing overhead, water erupting upwards,

Musical Cues: Completing all the tasks for this story himself (I can only think of Nick Briggs taking on the writing, directing, music and sound effects before but correct me if I’m wrong), Fairs once again provides a memorable and dramatic score. However I do wonder if perhaps he should had shared the tasks out he might have had more time to focus on the writing of this piece which in all honesty is the only thing he has to get right. And it’s the only thing he doesn’t.

Isn’t it Odd:
· Nigel Fairs plotting leaves a lot to be desired and with each successive story seems to become more scattered and nonsensical. His handling of narrative in The Catalyst was beyond compare as he focused on the chilling idea of the Doctor going rogue and then Leela being imprisoned by The Z’nai. The story had a logical plot progression (and even better an atmosphere) that really made it stand out in the blink and you’ll miss it storytelling of the Companion Chronicles (which is mostly because of the running time). You felt like you were getting a whole story rather than a condensed part of one. Empathy Games rushed its story along a bit to get where it needed to be but then denied the audience a decent ending which left you wondering why you bothered. The opening fifteen minutes of The Time Vampire hops from one set piece to the next nonsensically and has Leela scratching her head as much as the audience. Can you unlearn how to tell a story the more you tell them?
· Metal faces with teeth tearing at the building – has Nigel Fairs been watching Stephen King’s The Gondoliers lately because it reminded me of the diabolically appalling ending to that film!
· I really like the idea of the Doctor being in two places at once in the same story – both on the spaceship trying to stop the ‘darkest day the universe has ever known’ and on the planet in his own personal future knowing the consequences of his failiure (and experiencing it). That is a strong enough premise to power an entire story – so why all the dull temporal jiggery pokey that makes no sense? And this sudden cliffhanger revelation comes from nowhere, it is never once hinted at in the entire first episode that the Doctor could be in two places within the same story because the Z’nai don’t make an appearance until the cliffhanger. The Time Vampire spends far too much time focusing on bollocks when it has some real meat to its story but that is treated as nothing more than a melodramatic moment of tension.
· By suggesting that this is the world that the Doctor is talking about in The Mind of Evil doesn’t that rather blunt the fact that he was talking about the parallel universe in Inferno? Which I thought was rather the point, connecting the two Houghton penned stories and showing that one adventure could have a profound effect on the Doctor. So much so that the mind parasite draws on these fears and uses them against him. This is one of those times when Big Finish’s continuity innovation feels really out of place.
· After all the fuss that is made for almost an hour about the fate of this planet we are denied the ending or the Doctor’s reaction to it as suddenly Fairs remembers that he needs to wrap up Leela’s plot in a hurry. Why does this tale constantly dodge the implications, the interesting stuff?

Standout Scene: Leela’s death as she walks back through her life, feeling her younger self’s blood flowing through her veins, is a more thoughtful ending for her character than the one we received in The Invasion of Time. But it does rather stress the point that the framing device was far more worthy of exploration than the main plot and it goes on and on, stressing the ambiguous nature of the story (Fairs likes the sort of dialogue that means nothing but sounds really thoughtful). Leela has been responsible for some of the oddities in this story but it’s too little, too late. She is the Time Vampire. And she is reborn again. Does that mean her entire life is stuck in a time loop? Its reaching for incredible meaning and doesn’t quite get there but its by far the best thing on offer in this story.

Result: I like a sci-fi puzzle. I enjoyed the complexities of Paul Leonard’s The Last Resort but to this day people still swear it doesn’t make any sense (it does, you just have to work at it) but I have to admit that The Time Vampire has me stumped. Its like trying to do a rubix cube where each surface changes colour every five minutes. Even if I wrote out each scene in this story sequentially I don’t think I could assemble into a narrative that was in any way coherent (even if I stared at it for a really long time) and that rather cheats the audience. If you are going to hop back and forth from various time zones and groups of characters you have to at least offer your audience some hope of putting this all together otherwise they feel cheated that you are just being weird for wierds sake. By the end of episode one I was happy to give up – the Doctor turns up and suggests dire consequences for all after half an hour of listening to a confused Leela pushed from one set piece to the next. None of it connects. And then the cliffhanger comes along out of no where and offers hope that the second part will play about with some juicy ideas (the third Doctor causing the devastation and the fourth Doctor experiencing its consequences is exceptionally clever – so much so I am really surprised that nobody has thought to do it before) which leads into more disappointing crazy paving plotting. Perhaps Fairs has been corrupted by his input into the Sapphire and Steel range which (pleasingly for that series) didn’t conform to the usual narrative rules but all I can say is that in The Catalyst he told a gripping story whereas come the conclusion of his trilogy he is throwing together random scenes that pretend to be gripping and that’s such a shame. Imagine this story had it been told on a double disc (ala The Suffering) and afforded both the third and fourth Doctor a narrative each as one tries to stop this atrocity and the other tries to help his earlier self out. That would have been much more interesting than the mess that we get which completely forgets that this trilogy is supposed to be about Leela until the boggling ending. Deeply unsatisfying as the end of a trilogy that showed much promise and a failiure as a story in its own right, The Time Vampire really rubbed me up the wrong way: 3/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://bigfinish.com/410-Doctor-Who-The-Companion-Chronicles-The-Time-Vampire

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

This story is wonderful in every way. I would rate what this story did (and it's place in the Leela trilogy) as one of the best things the Companion Chronicles ever did.

I found it solid, engaging, and the ending emotionally breath-taking. Well done Big Finish.

fd3400f8-37b2-11e4-82fb-7be2b8dadf9f said...

Easily, my favorite review that you've ever given and summing up everything that I felt about this story. Very well written summary and critique on the many flaws of this story. It's sad to have the trilogy end so poorly after the first two parts showed a good deal of promise.