Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The Doomsday Quatrain written by Emma Beeby & Gordon Rennie and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: "When the river is gone, ships shall sail in the sky, monsters bring fire from the heavens. All will fall into a grey and endless sea, and Doomsday has come." Florence, the sixteenth century. No one thought to pay much attention to the prophecies of the so-called seer Michel de Nostradame, otherwise known as Nostradamus. Until the canals of Venice dried. Until the soothsayer's sayings started coming true…Because Master Nostradamus is right, in all respects. The end of the world is nigh. The ships are coming. The monsters are coming. The fire is coming. There's only one thing he didn’t see coming, in fact: the sudden apparition of a certain strange Doctor, in his even stranger TARDIS. Today, the Earth dies screaming. And all the Doctor can do is watch.

The Real McCoy: I do feel sorry for Sylvester McCoy sometimes because more often than not he is stuck with the hardest material to pull off – not the actual dialogue but many writers seem to want to make him whine and scream which brings out the worst in McCoy’s performance. Witness the end of part one as he tries to cope with Nostradamus and screaming for help and then tries calming everybody down as a spaceship descends. The best of actors would have trouble with material like that. The Doctor sticks his nose out the door and gets the rising whiff of artistic and intellectual renaissance and recognises it immediately as Florence. He mentions that Nostradamus’ wife once knitted him a rather wonderful scarf. He has no use for a soothsayer because in general he likes to know as little as possible about his future. The Doctor refuses to leave until he has safeguarded every lifeform on the surface of this horror planet. Can’t be done is a phrase he has an issue with and when you have a TARDIS it becomes much less of an issue. The story tries to generate a little interest towards the end by suggesting that the Doctor will make the Crowe the most powerful beings in the universe but anybody who would fall for such an idea deserves what they get. The Doctor offers Nostradamus the chance to find out how the world really ends considering he isn’t the real thing after all.

Great Ideas: Thank goodness for the twist at the end of part two because I was ready to write this one off as entirely worthless. It manages to salvage something of this messy nonsense but still doesn’t excuse the sheer borderm levels of the first two episodes. The facility is inside the planet, an artifical world built to the average size of most life supporting planets. Its surface is composed of bio matter in its raw liquid state ready to be formed into whatever their clients desire. The can recreate any world of file and any moment in its history including 16th Century Earth.

Audio Landscape: Horse and cart trotting past, birdsong, chickens clucking, a thriving market, crackling fire, door banging, a spacecraft landing, blasting the crap out of the land, the hologuise being turned off/on, alarm, teleport facility. The ground breaking away, hand blasters, the destruction of the world in a bubbling mass.

Musical Cues: Andy Hardwick is trying desperately to give this vacuous material some meaning by trampling all over it with a bombastic score but in the face of such shoulder shrugging storytelling it just sounds like loud noise.

Isn’t it Odd:
· Do you know what I think my problem is? I have listened to far too many Doctor Who audio dramas and as such I have a good idea of what I like in that media and what I don’t. With increasing numbers of stories coming out every month (Big Finish has become a release juggernaut now and only the most affluent amongst us can keep up!) and the wealth of material available it has become all the more important to grab the listener from the very beginning. At least in my case. The early Big Finish’s were so fresh and new that we let nonsense like The Genocide Machine slide just because it was such a thrill to have Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred back playing against Daleks! But given the number of classics we have heard over the years the new writers have to try their damdest to make an impact. Steven Hall managed it in A Death in the Family but many of the new writers are delivering decent but not standout material. Nothing in the first 15 minutes of The Doomsday Quatrain interested me in the slightest – we are introduced to some vague characters, the Doctor visits a market and Nostradamus is in a hump. All very bland. I need to be grabbed by the shoulders in the first couple of scenes and propelled into a story, not to sit there thinking ‘when is this story going to begin?’ The Fires of Vulcan began with the TARDIS found in the remains of Pompeii. The Holy Terror began with religious fundamentalism being laughed at in a glorious Monty Pythonesque way. A message to all future Big Finish writers – grab hold of your audience quick and keep their attention.
· All of this second researcher/third researcher nonsense struck me as trying to mimic the bureaucratic comedy of Carnival of Monsters. And failing.
· As we head into episode two there is still no rhyme or reason for why this story is playing out. There is an invasion by a race who shouldn’t even be space worthy who lack any interest whatsoever. The researchers are squabbling amongst themselves but we still have no explanation for what they are about. And Nostradamus is a big girly wimp (okay he has just seen Florence attacked by aliens but even so get a backbone man!) whose inclusion is entirely superfluous! If there was ever a story where I would summarise it with ‘stuff happens’ this would be it. Not one second of this material is remotely original (the hologuise is lifted directly from The End of Time) and it doesn’t seem to be heading anywhere appealing.
· This months monsters are a bunch of growling, snarling reprobates who are absolutely hideous to listen to and not in a good way. What has happened to intelligent storytelling in this series? Is this really the best we can do?
· Hang on does this mean that the Doctor objects to the creation of artifical life forms and environments? He had better head over to Star Trek and destroy every single starship and space station then because they are all equipped with holodecks that exploit artifical people.
· Talking of holodecks this story takes a turn for the Star Trek when we start discussing the rights of artifical life forms that are made sentient. This is a rehash of old material that has been done over a prolonged period of time with Star Trek Voyager (with the Doctor), TNG (with Data) and with DS9 (to a lesser degree with Vic Fontaine). They don’t have the time and certainly the depth of characters to pull it off with anywhere near the same verve. The Doctor merely points out that the bio matter creations are capable of pre cognition and they are reclassified as sentient life forms. Case closed.
· How wet is Larrett? Every time he opened his mouth I wanted to shove a flopping wet trout inside!
· Another familiarity with Star Trek is the wealth of technobabble that is introduced in the third episode to explain the workings of the bio planet. ‘Because the programme is locked into the bio matter at the cellular level’ dont’cha know!
· What with the malleable planet (Heroes of Sontar), artifical constructs (A Most Excellent Match), grunting villains (Heroes of Sontar again), a secret area beneath a planet (Kiss of Death) and the Doctor threatening to turn on the heroes (The Crimes of Thomas Brewster) a lot of this material felt very familiar. I’m surprised the script editor didn’t spot these similarities. The last episode is channelling episode six of Inferno with a world on the brink of extinction, the populace panicking and the Doctor leaving them to their fate but since we don’t care about any of these people what is the point of it all?
· After listening to this story I have a headache. No seriously. I was fine earlier but after listening to the Crowe for a couple of episode my cranium is pounding. Nice one.

Notes: ‘Gallifrey’ ‘Oh charming place, south of France, yes?’ Isn’t this gag getting a little stale now?

Result: No wonder Big Finish released The House of Blue Fire on the same day – perhaps they were hoping that everybody would give The Doomsday Quatrain a miss. I’m fairly certain there is a gripping story to be told about the Doctor meeting Nostradamus but this most definitely is not it and given that this is the only attempt we are likely to get it is a massive missed opportunity. I have been feeling for a while now that there needs to be a shake up in the main range because there hasn’t been anything truly original or attention grabbing for some time and I am getting the same feeling I did when Gary Russell had been in control for a long time that perhaps the current line up have given everything they can creatively and bled all the interest that they will out of Doctor Who. I would love to be proven wrong but Robophobia excepted there hasn’t been anything to shout home about (Industrial Evolution, The Heroes of Sontar, Kiss of Death and Rat Trap were all deeply flawed in one way or another) all year. As for The Doomsday Quatrain; banal storytelling that unfolds in the pedestrian of ways, forgettable characterisation that gives the guest actors no chance to shine, a generic Doctor, boring villains and a morality angle that goes nowhere because there is too much running about and shouting to be done in place of intelligent discussion. Its not the worst Big Finish has been because it is competently made but this range needs to be aiming a little higher than mediocre if they are going to keep going for another 150 releases. For me all the quality is in the spin off material at the moment, especially the Companion Chronicles: 3/10


GungaDin said...

Just finished listening to it and I have to say I do agree.

Personally, I thought the main range was exceptionally strong last year and that's because everything felt so... fresh and new. You had a Klein Trilogy, a Jamie Trilogy, a Nyssa/Tegan/Turlough Trilogy (which was new for BF), and then the Ace/Hex trilogy, which was really firing on all cylinders (for the first two stories at least).

Now it's... not. It's like... Evelyn (which we've seen before and didn't really do that much for me) and more of the Nyssa/Tegan/Turlough and now more of the 7th Doctor alone... it just feels stagnant and uninteresting. I like it when Big Finish just TRIES things. It's one of the reasons I'm so looking forward to the 8th/Mary Shelley stuff because it's at least new.

This story, though. You're right. It's just dull. It's boring and doesn't justify its existence. It's every other Doctor Who story I've ever seen that isn't interesting in any way. There's a distinct lack of purpose to these. "Why does this story need telling?" should be their big question and while they are asking it ("Nostradamus. That's cool") often times, that justification isn't enough and we're left with something that's distinctly unmemorable.

Sorry for the ranting. Just wanted to say I echo your thoughts.

Keep up the lovely reviews. I get ever so excited every time you post a new one.

Doc Oho said...

Many thanks for your kind words, it always makes me smile to know that people are enjoying the blog.

Lets hope that the eighth Doctor trilogy helps to give the main range a kick up the khyber!

Helmstone said...

I actually liked this story due to the performances and the fact that it did have some change of scene from the Florence to the space station. Yes somewhat generic but I liked it and much more so than Blue Fire

Richard said...

"Hang on does this mean that the Doctor objects to the creation of artifical life forms and environments?" I think what the Doctor objects to is the destruction of sentient life of any kind. He tries to prevent the life forms' built-in self-destruct.

Otherwise, good points all round. I'm trying to write a review myself, but struggling to think of anything to say about this story!

Evan Dawson-Baglien said...

Like you I was massively uninterested in the first episode, I didn't see the appeal of the Doctor meeting Nostradamus.

But then the twist happened and I actually ended up enjoying it a lot. I get tired of historicals where the Doctor implausibly covers up a massive event that should have changed history and I was glad this wasn't the angle they took.

I like it when the doctor occasionally has to take on an entire society of greedy and incompetent people, rather than a powerful villain. It adds a bit of realism to the proceedings.

If the Crowe were the main architects of this plot I would have been annoyed at how stupid they were. But since they were basically idiots who paid someone else to cook up an evil plot for them I didn't mind.