Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Raincloud Man written by Eddie Robson and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: Having just defeated the Krotons, the Doctor is treating Charley to a hearty English breakfast, when an intriguing mystery suddenly presents itself. And to solve it, they must plunge back into the criminal underbelly of Manchester, where an old friend is up to her neck in alien trouble. But what seemed like a mere mystery ends up being a life or death struggle at the centre of an interplanetary war in which the stakes are so high, the Doctor or Charley must gamble and lose their identity. And throughout, the lone figure of the Raincloud Man may hold the key to success or failure.

Softer Six: I love the way that the sixth Doctor and Charley have their own separate plots in this tale, they get to be completely independent of each other and prove what they are made of but come together to pooling their information and push the plot forward. They are a superb team – its exactly the sort of thing the New Adventures were going for but they completely fudged the idea by having the Doctor treat his companions as employees rather than friends and sending them out on missions. With Sixie and Charley it is a perfectly natural arrangement and as a result they make a peerless pair. On top of that we have had the Doctor accumulating a wealth of inconsistent evidence regarding Charley whilst growing very fond of her at the same time. Now the buck stops and he wants answers. When the Doctor detects another emergency situation that needs fixing he declares that they have to go right away…once they’ve finished breakfast. He refuses to believe for one second that Charley might be a murderer and dismisses Menzies claims. Considering his garish clothes and theatrical nature it surprises me how well the sixth Doctor fits into this world of seedy gambling establishments and the criminal underworld. ‘I’ll see your genius and I’ll raise you a super genius…maybe we should have a genius-off!’ – by the end of this story Menzies has definitely gotten used to having the Doctor around and is even praising him to the high heavens. Only the Doctor would have the balls to admit that he could stop a centuries long war in an evening. When he learns that Charley is planning to give Carmen her time machine so she can go back in time and stop any of this from ever taking place he is appalled at her lack of subtlety and thought that she knew better. He can see that Charley is very well aware of the web of time and he knows for a fact that she isn’t stupid…and he doesn’t believe her objections. He wants to truth.

Edwardian Adventuress: ‘You don’t seem to realise how much the timeline hates you being here. If it was a cat it would be hissing at you right now’ I still find it astonishing how interesting Charley is now that she has been severed from the eighth Doctor and forced to fend for herself and literally lie her way through her relationship with the sixth Doctor. Certainly she never had this kind of edge to her character before and she hasn’t been had an arc this involving since her first two seasons. Had Nick Briggs and cohorts not decided to make the bold step of transferring her from one Doctor to another Charley Pollard would probably be remembered as the companion that jumped the shark early on and never went away. Because of this exceptionally strong final run of stories she not only goes out on high but leaves the audience desperately wanting more – an astonishing feat considering her longevity. Clearly the Doctor and Charley have been having some exciting adventures of late since she threatens to fall asleep in her full English (with extra black pudding – yum!). I love a girl with a hearty appetite! Kelsa finds it difficult to look at Charley, he is extremely sensitive about deviations in the time continuum and is shockingly specific in his assessment that Charley has met the Doctor in his future. There is a sense of desperation when her secret comes out that I love and suddenly Charley isn’t keeping this secret alone and she cannot control other peoples mouths. The idea that Miss Pollard could kill a man is preposterous but the fact that she is this anxious about the Doctor finding out the truth about her was enough to make me doubt her for a little while and that really surprised me. I genuinely thought for half an episode that Charley might kill in order to protect herself. What was it I said about her being more interesting than ever? When DI Menzies arrests her for his murder I wondered how on Earth she was going to talk her way out of this one. A handy car crash leaves Menzies unconscious and Charley in the impossible situation of choosing to help her and surrender to injustice or to dash off and live life on the run. Given that this story has a habit of taking the more interesting route she takes the latter option. The only thing I like even more than Charley the murderer is Charley the wanted criminal on the run! She fiendishly catches a lift on the boat by pretending that she knows Carmen. Frighteningly charley has to play for her memories with the Doctor in order to get his knowledge of the TARDIS back…and if she loses all of her wonderful times with him will be lost. And worse…the knowledge of temporal instability could be used as a weapon. Charley knows that the Doctor doesn’t lose his time travel knowledge because he has it when they meet in the future but she doesn’t realise that the Tabbalac tells the Doctor that he has sensed this empathically…

DI Awesome: It doesn’t come as an incredible surprise that DI Menzies was rushed back for another appearance since her character not only kicked some serious ass, shares some terrific chemistry with Sixie but she helped to kick off this resurgence in top quality Big Finish by pairing off Colin Baker with India Fisher. She told the Doctor to steer clear of Manchester and upon sighting the pair of them again she almost scuttles away in horror! After her experiences with the Doctor word got around on the streets that she was able to help out alien travellers and trapped visitors to the planet contact her and she did her part to keep her aid low key. You ask for men and they send you clots and numpties. She has quite a good grasp on the idea of temporal interference and wonders if the Doctor investigating the pound from the future might lead to a trail that the perpetrator is him! When the Doctor outright fails to prove that Carmen is from the future Menzies lets her go and piles on the sarcasm and accuses him of being a stalker! She refuses to apologise to Charley for suspecting her of murder because that is her job after all. She utters the words that I desperately wanted to hear and asks the Doctor if she can go with him. Her life is too complicated back home and she is hoping that travelling with him will be a better kind of complicated. Unfortunately his twisted relationship with Charley means this is the wrong time for now but they both look forward to a point in the future where they can enjoy some time together.

Standout Performance: Both Aidan J David and Simon Sherlock gives wonderfully dry performances as creatures that inadvertently affect the world around them. The stars of this story are three main stars, Colin Baker, India Fisher and Martha Cope who dig deep and find some very interesting places for their characters to go. Independently they are great characters and beautifully performed but when you stick them together you have some of the best scenes Big Finish have provided.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I spent the last hour learning how to do Sudo-koos!’
‘You can’t just hope he gets a whack on the head and forgets all about you. This is too big for you to handle…’ – they are already throwing out ideas of how the Doctor could forget Charley so that he can meet her again for the first time in Storm Warning.
‘Brooks has plans for his Raincloud Man…’
‘I’ve seen City of God! They’ve got it tough enough without your Raincloud hanging over them!’
‘Because the alternative would be to stop fighting and then they would have to work out what they were going to do instead’ – I love that line because it could be applied to so many conflicts.
‘We have no history. We have no culture. We have no names.’
‘So…where do we go from here, Charley?’

Great Ideas: Eddie Robson seems to have been inspired by the Web of Time infringement of the Sixie/Charley relationship and writes his most imaginative script yet which is bursting at the seams with inspired ideas. A pound coin from the future – someone’s idea of a joke or evidence of time travellers in our midst? Not the sort of gossip rag news the Doctor would normally believe in but this time he is rattled because he recognises the coin as one minted for the Olympics. As it has come from ten years in the future he is a little bit concerned at what else they might have been up to, they might be there to weaken the Earth for attack. Kelsa who can sense disturbance in the space time continuum was woken up when the TARDIS arrived. The Tabbalac are an aggressive bunch of aliens, hard to deceive and very good at reading body language. The coin was left as a tip by a lady who had it in her possession when she arrived via a boat moored at Salford Quays. The Doctor thinks she is abusing time travel in order to defraud gambling establishments. When Robson reveals the luxury yacht to be a spacecraft warping off to Rio de Janeiro I could have kissed him – I simply had no idea where this story was going next and that is a great feeling.
It is a casino that hops from place to place, from planet to planet, instantaneously and whether it goes its always night which means its always full. On Lish’s planet difference people affect the world in different ways and he causes bad luck, that’s why they call him The Raincloud Man. All the weird murders that have taken place, people crashing into mirrors, that has all been his bad luck affecting them. This is an elegant explanation for the random events of the first two episodes. His condition is getting worse and worse and his and luck keeps spilling out and infecting people. The stakes on these gambling tables are abstract ones – your past or your future, your skills or your passion, your emotions or your life. If the house has something you want and you can’t get it any other way people are willing to gamble with their lives and that is a truly haunting idea. Some people gamble away their memories and live on the boat now because they’ve forgotten their old lives. Lish was brought in to influence the customers if they got too lucky but now Brooks is selling him and giving him to the Cyrox who want to put him down in the Tabbalac homeworld and let his condition run riot and destroy the place. The Cyrox were created by the rulers of the Tabbalac as a reaction to the their aggression – they were allowed to live in peace on their planet but if they set out to conquer another world they would be instantly confronted by the Cyrox. The chances of winning in a conflict between the two traces is always even but there are always more of the Cyrox than there are of the Tabbalac. When it comes to high stakes on the gaming tables the Doctor bets the TARDIS and his knowledge of how to operate it against the Tabbalac war itself – if he loses the war will get a million times worse and if he wins the war will be over. Brilliantly the final high stakes game isn’t roulette or poker…but Top Trumps! The one thing that the Tabbalac want even more than the TARDIS and its operating knowledge is Charley’s memories of travelling with the Doctor.

Audio Landscape: A bustling café, rustling a newspaper, rattling keys, phones ringing, bustle and chatter in the police station, ring tones, cars growling on streets, a car crashing, police siren, heavy rain, the warp engines on the boat warming up and engaging, the casino ambiance, the crabs table, roulette and the excited chatter around the tables, a fire fight in the casino, seagulls screaming in the air, containing an explosion and releasing it under controlled conditions, electric fires crackling.

Musical Cues: I love the comedy trumpet when the Doctor faces a Tabbalac at the end of episode one.

Isn’t it Odd: I really like how the people who have complained about the sixth Doctor being a little dense to not pick up the wealth of clues as to Charley’s true identity. Of course he has…and in this story he acts as if he believes her entirely and as soon as her back is turned he airs his real thoughts to us.

Standout Scene: So many to choose from but I love the final set piece of Charley and the Tabbalac playing Top Trumps for the outcome of the war and the Doctors knowledge of time travel. Its wonderfully silly and very tense at the same time. Oh and the final scene which we have been waiting for for a little while and tragically might spell the end of Charley’s travels with the sixth Doctor.

Result: A gorgeous Eddie Robson script that does some great things with the Sixie/Charley arc and tells a blissfully imaginative and exciting story at the same time. What I really love about The Raincloud Man is that it doesn’t try and overwhelm you with its production values (even though Nicholas Briggs’ direction is as faultless as ever) but instead impresses with its intelligent plotting (the way all the apparently random elements dovetail together is first-class), fun ideas and the extremely engaging three way relationship between Charley, Sixie and Menzies (all three parings are superbly handled). The idea of the Raincloud Man is inspired and it is dealt with in a number of engaging ways, exploiting greed, inciting war and causing inexplicable murders that get blamed on innocent Edwardian Adventuresses. Brilliant entertainment and packed full of memorable moments, The Raincloud Man proves (once again) how delightful this pairing of Doctor and companion is and their adventures continue to be the highlight of the main range. The Big Finish equivalent of having a night of fantastic sex and finishing it off with a fry up – pure pleasure with a rewarding finish: 9/10


GusF said...

This is one of the few Sixth Doctor audios that bored me senseless, to be perfectly honest. Not even DI Menzies could save it for me.

kurumais said...

i want a d i menzies boxset