Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Paradise of Death written by Barry Letts and directed by Phil Clarke

What’s it about: Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart asks the Doctor to investigate a new theme park called Space World. Together with Sarah Jane Smith and Jeremy Fitzoliver, they take in the incongruous exhibits, including virtual reality and even live alien creatures.

The Mighty Nose: Forget Zagreus, it is The Paradise of Death and The Ghosts of N-Space which are the last hurrahs for Pertwee’s Doctor and it is a tragic shame that he passed away when he did because given his interest in audio drama he would have been the first to sign up for some top notch Big Finish adventures. Naturally he sounds older but this is still the third Doctor through and through, charmingly arrogant, brilliantly rude and a man of action in every way! Pertwee’s feels right at home on audio and after a touch of overdone melodrama (‘You mean to say you’re interviewing me!’) in the first scene he settles down and sounds very natural. He thinks back wistfully about the events of The Time Monster which shows how badly he needs a regeneration! He’s appalled to learn that Sarah Jane is interviewing him – he can’t possibly have his secrets splashed all over the tabloids! He appears to be as dead as a Sunday joint when he plummets from 200 feet but there isn’t a single bone broken in his body. He only just manages to wake up in time from his own autopsy! When he lost his old teacher he thought that his father had died. When confronted with a Gargon he swears he hasn’t seen teeth that size since the last Tyrannosaurus he met…at least he doesn’t have to wait long to meet another! The Doctor tries to subdue the terrifying beast with the old Venusian Lullaby (roughing translated ‘Close your eyes my darling…or three of them at least!’) but the Gargon isn’t as partial as Aggedor. The Doctor has to take on his challenger with nothing but a rolling pin (whereas his competitor has a broadsword!). He can see very little advantage in his opponent attempting to taunt him and if he dies he wants to die as himself!

Lovely Lis: As we know from experience the divine Elisabeth Sladen doesn’t sound as if she has aged a day since she left and slips back into her season eleven role with consummate ease. Sarah considers herself the best investigative journalist in the business and her editor pauses for comic effect. It says something about their short relationship that Sarah is as devastated as she is at the thought of the Doctor plunging to his death from a rooftop. Its great to visit Sarah’s place of work that we were denied in the series and her attempts to write up a tribute to the Doctor are a sweet but futile attempt to honour his name. The first rule of experienced journalism is to get your expenses sorted out first! Sarah gets her first trip into space and she is taunted by Tragan with sexual threats and torture, I’m surprised she took to this game so enthusiastically! Poor Sarah chooses a particularly violent VR to experience and recoils in horror as she executes a political criminal. She is furious with the Doctor that because of his instructions Waldo dies alone – she firmly believes that nobody should die alone.

Chap With Wings: You can count on Nicholas Courtney to bring a wonderful sense of continuity to any story in any era – he links together the different eras of Doctor Who with his consistently charming performance. Sometimes the Doctor thinks that the Brigadier has a very shaky grasp of the special theory of relativity! There’s a chance for the Brigadier to show off his military experience towards the end of the story (although he has to go into battle with drippy Jeremy!).

Geeky Photographer: When Sarah insists on a photographer Clarinda sends Jeremy with the message that she is not to laugh! Poor Richard Pearce has been saddled with the worst reputation since these audio plays came out for playing the wettest, geekiest most irritatingly earnest character we have ever seen or heard in Doctor Who. I can’t say they don’t have a point but I kind of like the guy anyway…unlike characters like Adric he knows he’s a bit rubbish and tries his best regardless. He’s the sort of person you want to punch on the conk to shut him up but then can’t help giving a hug once he has burst into tears. He’s the only person who can say ‘Yar! Absolutely whizzo wicked!’ without a hint of irony. Generally whenever he asks to do anything he gets the response ‘Oh Jeremy!’ He can’t go wandering around the universe like Diddle Diddle Dumpling, can he?

Standout Performance: The delicious voices of Harold Innocent and Peter Miles make for a wonderful pair of villains!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Could you perhaps tell us how you managed to persuade it to come to Hampstead Heath?’

Great Ideas: Lets not beat around the bush…Space World sounds great! I am 31 and I would love to visit a tourist attraction that offers monsters from outer space, gladiators and virtual reality! You can scoff but I think you would too. A man has been savaged by a six foot sabre toothed Rottweiler or at least that is what the evidence looks like! The virtual reality scenes are the perfect chance to show the possibilities of telling Doctor Who on audio; they are very sophisticatedly produced soundscapes. If the Parakon organisation really can beam experiences into people’s minds then they have the power to control the world. The idea that they can take control of your mind and force words out of your mind to make it look as if you are jumping off a roof of your own free will is positively terrifying. Nothing would be beyond their grasp. Parakon is offering proposal that will be of benefit to the Earth; a valuable new export market for a new product, cheap imports of every kind, the benefit of advanced technologies which can offer a life of luxury and ease to people. The murderous virtual reality experiences are the most popular in the catalogue. The horror of what has happened to the civilian refugees, being led into gas chamber and then ground up for fertiliser for the world along is horrible and there is some intelligent discussion about why such horrific records have been kept throughout history.

Audio Landscape: What an astonishing number of demands the script and the sound technicians do a fantastic job in bringing this story to life. Kicking over a trashcan, a UFO landing, alien monsters savagely attacking, a murmuring audience, a horrid sluggy creature burbling, camera clicking, I love the electronic crackle as the VR devices start working, people laughing and splashing in the sea, birdsong, the whistling wind of a vertiginous rooftop sequence, police sirens, the baying of the great British public bent on pleasuring themselves (oo-er!), kids screaming and whooping and enjoying themselves, typing, tannoy, pouring drinks, Bessie growling along the road, there is a fantastic new version of the TARDIS landing, opening the TARDIS doors, explosions and rubble falling, crackling fire, a girl giggling and playing with Jeremy, creatures screaming in a forest, shooting creatures in the jungle, flying through the air, water dripping, police car, the immense wings of the bats, the terrifying roar of the Gargon, crackling fire, a screaming crowd, a tribal war being fought, a growling truck, public speaker system, the jeering crowd, the burbling alien frog.

Isn’t it Odd: What a shame they went with the eighties title music rather than perfectly acceptable (and far more atmospheric) seventies score. This story seems to be set in between The Time Warrior and Invasion of the Dinosaurs which is impossible because there was no gap in those stories – they came back from the Middle Ages straight into the dinosaur terrorism. Its best we just tuck that continuity error the carpet and enjoy the story. Now I know where Nick Briggs gets his inspiration for the ominous ‘Coming soon from Big Finish…’ – just listen to the way the announcer says ‘The Paradise of Death!’ as though he is straining with fear! Barry Letts pretty much follows his template for Planet of the Spiders with an attention grabbing first episode followed by a rush of excitement and then quite a bit of talk on an alien planet.

Notes: Its lovely to see some old faces turning up to celebrate the Pertwee era. Peter Miles appeared in Dr Who and the Silurians, Invasion of the Dinosaurs and Genesis of the Daleks and Maurice Denham as the President (The Twin Dilemma).

Eleven Defence: The received wisdom of the Pertwee era will tell you that it got worse as it went along. Poppycock. I am a huge defender of season eleven and think that whilst the stories aren’t hugely original in themselves each one is an impressive yarn with plenty of excitement and colour. The only story that falls below par for me is The Monster of Peladon but that has its plus points and every season has a lesser story in it somewhere and that is the only story I wont add my little mini review of here…

The Time Warrior: How wonderful is it to see the 3rd Doctor enjoying a historical adventure? This is another sparkling story from the undervalued season eleven which flaunts an effervescent script with gorgeous lines for every character and a great cast brining them all to life. Its one of the most enjoyable Doctor Who stories thanks to Robert Holmes insistence on keeping everything so lively and bubbly and he writes Sarah into the Sarah with awesome proficiency giving her a feisty, independent attitude from the start. Have the Sontarans been more precisely written for since The Time Warrior? Definitely not, there have been the odd moments of glory but Holmes manages to paint a picture of an entire race with pin sharp accuracy and only one example. The Time Warrior destroys the lie that the Pertwee era got worse as it went along: 9/10

Invasion of the Dinosaurs: Another slated story that is shot down thanks to the strength of its special effects and its manifold of treats ignored. It is a ridiculously ambitious premise that is sold completely by the strength of the performances. I secretly worship the dinos and if they do ever release this on DVD (not last please) with enhanced CGI effects I hope we can still watch the magnificent originals! Lets see, five things to love about Invasion of the Dinosaurs; Elisabeth Sladen’s winning performance, the wealth of superb location work, the chance for UNIT to shine again, the Doctor on the run and some deeper than usual bad guys. Paddy Russell’s direction is pacy, visually appealing and kind to the actors and Pertwee gives his best performance of the last season under her guidance. Only episode four slows down the story and honestly, if you are going to criticise a show for its dodgy special effects why are you a fan of Doctor Who? Despite a few minor complaints I have always found this story extremely engaging and re-visiting today I haven’t changed my opinion at all: 9/10

Death to the Daleks: Another season eleven corker that comes in for a lot of criticism but I really enjoy it. At four parts this story has a fantastic pace and there’s always half a dozen things to overcome keeping it exciting. The new look Daleks are pretty snazzy, they look as though they have been assembled rather than plastic BBC props. Its nothing but a stack of really groovy set pieces but each of them work and Michael Briant keeps the story visually arresting throughout. Nowhere near as tired and worn out as people will lead you to believe, this is an inventive and snazzy little piece with plenty of atmosphere: 8/10

Planet of the Spiders: Often unfairly criticised for a couple of dodgy effects, Planet of the Spiders is a fine celebration of the Pertwee era and a memorable tale for the main man to go out on. Stacked up against some dodgy CSO you have a large and genuinely impressive cast, creepy twitching spiders, plenty of well-directed action, terrific development of the Doctor, Sarah and Mike, some touchingly played moments of philosophy and lots of memorable scares. The first episode is one of the strongest of the era and the last episode takes the Doctor on the most important journey of his life so far, climaxing on a final scene that will melt your heart as the Doctor tries to comfort Sarah as he dies before her. The Metebelies sequences are quite theatrical but nowhere near as bad as people pretend they are and the power games with the Spiders are great fun. There are so many lovely touches throughout (Mike’s redemption, Jo’s letter, the return of the Doctor’s mentor, Sarah’s grief smelling the Doctor’s coat) it generates more than enough impetus to make this a worthy swansong to a memorable Doctor. With three of its main cast and the director now no longer with us it stands a fine example of their incredible work: 8/10

And big raspberry to anyone who says otherwise!

Result: I was genuinely surprised at how immersive an audio experience this story was with some absolutely stunning sound design that really plants you into the action. The virtual reality device gives the characters a chance to describe what they are seeing without it feeling like clunky exposition (although there are couple of moments where it is slightly overdone) and the technical boys to really show what they are capable of. The story is great fun, nothing too deep but full of excitement and great lines (especially for the villains). Like most Pertwee stories it starts really well and runs on the spot in the middle before a triumphant hurrah at the end but I wouldn’t expect (or hope for) anything different. For a chance to listen to the work of three great Doctor Who stalwarts who have now sadly passed away and one man who guided the show to success throughout the Pertwee era this is like a Christmas present that I think I will listen to once a year around that time to remind me of their fantastic contributions. A shame this couldn’t have led to more than two stories but I cherish this little coda to the Pertwee era all the same: 8/10

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