Friday, 12 August 2011

Time Reef written by Marc Platt and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: A curse on this damned reef - and curse the Doctor who brought us here! Drawn by the siren call of a distress beacon, the TARDIS crash-lands on an uncharted time reef. However, the Doctor, Nyssa and Brewster are not the only mariners marooned on this barren rock. Commander Gammades and his crew of returning war heroes have been similarly shipwrecked, as has the beautiful but mysterious Lady Vuyoki. But there's something else here, too. A thing of darkness which crawls blindly across the surface of the reef hunting for prey: the Ruhk.

An English Gentleman: This is one of Peter Davison’s most interesting portrayals on audio where he is constantly given far more than even this demanding script needs of him. Listen to how frightened he sounds when he realises his life has been saved or how quietly devastated he is when the TARDIS is finally taken from him for good. Davison is a superb actor and its very pleasing to se him being given such challenging material. He is trying to adjust to being back on the TARDIS again but the ship feels used and the engines sound different. Brewster has made his own revisions to the structure and the feel of the place. The Doctor sounds positively frightening when he talks about Thomas and it’s a side to the fifth Doctor that I wish would rear itself more often. He can sympathise with Brewster that launching out into time and space without any experience can be a downright terrifying experience. Hectoring Brewster doesn’t achieve anything but it does make him feel better.

Alien Orphan: Poor Nyssa is shoved into the role of diplomat between the Doctor (who is outraged at being abandoned) and Brewster (who brushes it off as if he has just been down the market for some milk).

Artless Dodger: Brewster tries to suggest he has only been away in a wink of the old peepers but the accumulation of evidence suggests otherwise (oh and The Three Companions). When it looks as though all is lost for the Doctor as he is sucked out of the TARDIS he refuses to let him die in such a violent fashion and risks his own life to save him. Pretending to be the Doctor comes with some drawbacks and one of them is returning to a previous location where you screwed things up. He’s the bad farthing that all turns up. Brewster is at that sort of age where you might want to impress women with gifts. He offers himself as a sacrifice to ensure that the Doctor gets his TARDIS back and the Ruhk save him at the last minute.

Standout Performance: When I asked which part she enjoyed playing most in her interview Beth Chalmers knew with some certainty it was the bossy, psychotic and emasculating Lady Vuyoki and I can see why. She gets to have such fun ordering people about, insulting everybody and generally behaving in an outrageous fashion. ‘Curse you, you worm!’

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘My TARDIS is dead.’
‘She dazzles the Reef like a comet with her beauty.’

Great Ideas: I love the idea of setting up the audience to think that the Doctor has been here before and somehow impacted on the lives of those trapped in the Time Reef and when he visits again we learn that it was Brewster disguised as the Doctor. Just how many places has he visited wearing the Doctor’s clothes and using the Doctor’s name and creating terrible calamity? Dead and dying over and over again…what a terrible curse that must be. The relative structure of the TARDIS is in flux and the interior collapses. The whole internal structure of the TARDIS implodes, it compacts down to a single knot – to nothing. A reef of space corral stuck in a bubble of existence where nothing can exist and the lights outside are the energetic patterns of the time vortex playing across the surface of the bubble. Marc Platt has always been poetic with his ideas but this one of his most elegant settings yet. Brewster sold the mislaid star mariners the fault locator and a beacon, looting the TARDIS for profit. Between the ridges dwells the Lady Vuyoki in the wreck of a spaceship, a lonely lady, cool as pearl and fiery as the sky. If you walk for an hour in around the circumference of the Reef you will end up where you started and if you touch the surface of the bubble you get pinned to the sky. The reality bubble that they are trapped in is generated by the conceptual geometer that Brewster sold them, time and space are churned up and it takes just one stray speck of corral on the TARDIS shell and you’ve soon got a whole Reef to wreck ships and strand innocent lives. Each year at the dead of harvest a tribute flies in thanks to Marabou, the Sun and the lady Vuyoki was his chosen bride. She was shoved in a jar and the ship blasted off to her marriage with the Sun.

Audio Landscape: There is a very early scene that sounds an awful lot like people are having sex en masse in the background…but at the same time there is a sound of cutlery on crockery so perhaps they were eating? I guess we’ll never know. The screeching cries of the Ruhk are enough to give anyone the willies! The sizzling vortex, knocking on Lady Vuyoki’s glass jar and removing the lid, the TARDIS literally sounds as though it is being torn apart, the soothing tide of the Time Reef, chanting monks, hundreds of Ruhk riding a storm as they approach, harpoons being shot, the Reef cracking open, thunder cracking open the sky.

Result: I have just finished listening to Time Reef and I have no idea what to think about it. Usually I get on very well with Marc Platt’s output (I can only think of one novel and two audios that I haven’t liked) but this time I was left wanting because the creativity on display is a little too weird even for my tastes. He has created an imaginative setting and a prominent villain in Lady Vuyoki but as a result the regulars are pushed very much to the sidelines and there are times when I wondered if even Platt himself knew where this was going. There’s a little too much technobabble involved in the conclusion and I’m not sure how these characters could survive in any other setting – you either buy into this madcap concept totally or you will be totally lost. Considering this is the last full cast story for the Fifth Doctor and Brewster I think I would have preferred a character drama that dealt with their feelings for each other but instead they are kept apart for most of the story and it fails to capitalise on the drama of Brewster’s exploits in the TARDIS. I wanted to like this more than I did but I think it needed a little more character and little less concept: 5/10

A Perfect World written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: Who wouldn't want a perfect world? Thomas Brewster for one.

An English Gentleman: The Doctor’s house on Baker Street has laid dormant for 140 years.

Artless Dodger: He can’t believe how beautiful London is in the future, the air so clean and the town lit up by so many lights. Say you were someone from 100 years ago you would think that you were in paradise in the new millennium. Everybody is healthy, so much food you don’t know what to eat first and machines that take you anywhere you want to go. He calls the TARDIS his machine for travelling through time to impress Connie. He’s never found anywhere he’s wanted to belong before but now he has met Connie he thinks settling down isn’t such a bad idea. After meeting the perfect Connie and the real one it is the latter that he wants to spend his life with. The house on Baker Street is bequeathed to Brewster and the money from its sale should see him and Connie settled for some time.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Its as if the whole world has been…improved.’
‘Its not every day the world turns into a Richard Curtis movie!’
‘To some people small pointless blunders are what life is all about!’
‘Let’s go back and make some mistakes.’

Great Ideas: Occasionally a Big Finish story will contain something that is so uncannily like me it gives me the shivers and when Taz says that she is going to watch a diet programme just in case she ever fancies going on a diet (whilst munching on crisps!) I can’t count the amount of times I’ve done that! Suddenly Tasmin goes from being an obese dole scum slob to a motivating worker who pushed herself through university and kept herself slim. Who has created this perfect world? Suddenly the news is reporting the pleasant things that are going on in the world and everybody is healthy – somebody has changed the fate of humanity for the better. Imagine waking up one morning and everybody in the world is absolutely perfect except you…and there is even a perfect version of you to remind you of that. There are existential plumbers who repair reality (‘No job too large!’). It would be nice if things were better but how boring would a perfect world be?

Audio Landscape: Big Ben, a time machine going nuts, London traffic, alarm clock, elevator bell, typing.

Notes: Lets use this space to decide how well Thomas Brewster has worked out. The idea was a sound one having an Adric style artful dodger that actually did live up to the name and John Pickard has a real roguish charm that he brings to the part. Without trying to sound like a Jonny Morris apologist I thought that it was his material that serviced the character really well and showed his potential. The Haunting of Thomas Brewster was a blissfully written puzzle story that pushed Brewster to the fore throughout and let us see how much he suffered before jumping into the TARDIS and stealing it. He was almost written out entirely of Paul Magrs’ The Boy That Time Forgot which is an entire third of his time wasted but at least that story did bring Adric back so we could make the comparison between the two characters. Brewster got lost in all the conceptual madness of Time Reef and whilst it threatened to touch on the idea of him returning to the scene of one of his crimes posing as the Doctor it never really went anywhere. Then we have A Perfect World which is once again penned by the characters creator and he once again comes alive with some thoughtful dialogue and characterisation but it is only for a single episode. It feels rather like too little too late. The potential is there for a really strong companion but I don’t think we have tapped into it yet. I for one am glad that he got a second crack at the whip in a later sixth Doctor trilogy. Again that might not have been an absolutely perfect use of the character he at least gets a strong part in all three stories.

Result: There is something so simple about Thomas Brewster having a relationship with somebody from his own future and comparing their two lifestyles it gives his character a brand new dimension. A Perfect World is the last one part story for some time (unless you count Forty-Five) and I for one am glad. With each 3/1 release bar one I have been thoroughly disappointed with the main release and much more enamoured with the single episode coda. This is no different and I feel there is much more potential in the ‘perfect world’ scenario than is tapped into in this one episode. With Brewster to write out and a story of his own to develop the whole episode feels thoroughly rushed and yet is loaded with good humour and great lines – this should have been the main release and Time Reef should have been relegated to the one parter. I’m glad Brewster had a happy ending (for the time being at least) and I can’t wait until he teams up with Sixie and Evelyn: 8/10

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