Sunday, 11 December 2011

Hexagora written by Paul Finch (from a story by Peter Ling & Hazel Adair) and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: When a newspaper reporter goes missing, the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa uncover a case of alien abduction. The trail leads them to the planet Luparis, and a city that appears to be a replica of Tudor London. What are the monsters that lurk in the shadows? And what is the terrible secret at the heart of Luparis? To save a world, the Doctor must try to defeat the evil plans of Queen Zafira. And one of her plans is to marry him…

An English Gentleman: The Empress suggests that the Doctor has the bearing of a warrior and he is certainly chivalrous enough to step and prevent Tegan from being accosted by horny peasants! There is a slight but mildly amusing subplot where the Doctor inadvertently gets engaged to the Queen at her bidding but its all a bit reminiscent of The Aztecs and Davison’s mild mannered reaction is nowhere near as funny as Hartnell’s spluttering. He seems unusually naïve too, being led into a trap like a mouse sniffing cheese on a trap. The marriage between the first Doctor and Cameca was an accident and he grew to have a deep affection for her so it was an easy relationship to invest in. The marriage between the fifth Doctor and Zathira is one of scientific necessity where neither party particularly wants to go through with the act and there is little chemistry between the characters. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to unfortunately so the climactic wedding feels like just another plot point rather than the dramatic highlight it should have been. And boy doesn’t Peter Davison sound embarrassed during the sequence where he objects to the wedding?

Alien Orphan: Nyssa is still dreaming about the Elite and while the Doctor wishes he could help her more she understands that they all have to find a way to deal with bad experiences and she has to handle it on her own. That’s one of the reasons I love Nyssa so much, she’s just so damn practical and refuses to assign blame. Traken is said to have been destroyed in a cosmic disaster. The gag about Tegan being deliberately ignored in favour of Nyssa is even funnier because it is usually the reverse – it is nice to see somebody with Nyssa’s noble bearing being given some attention. She fights for herself and her friends but Jezevar sees much more than a homeless traveller in her, someone who should be the ruler of a mighty monarchy. She doesn’t believe that any monarch should rule in complete isolation and one should always be open to advice. Oddly this subplot about Nyssa taking the throne completely disappears by the end of episode two and she’s…you’ve guessed it…a bloody bystander again! This time to make way for Tegan flirting with a bloody bug!

Mouth of Legs: There is a vein of good humour with regards to mocking Tegan in this story that I heartily approve of but what I don’t like is the sense of Janet Fielding phoning in her performance and reacting to everything with a shrill tone. After the business on Florana (are we ever going to get to visit that most elusive of planets?) the Doctor decided they all needed a rest and has brought Tegan back to her hometown of Brisbane to visit her family. Just when they all thought they were going to get a nice relaxing holiday Tegan comes panicking back to the villa afraid for her friend Mike who has gone missing. What with her aunt, cousin and grandfather making an appearance on screen and now her hometown and friends visited does this mean Tegan is the most fleshed out companion of the classic series? I love her assertion that she knew Mike must have been abducted by aliens! Just a year or so back the very idea would have made her boggle! ‘That’s all I get?’ Tegan cries when the Empress pays compliments to the Doctor and Nyssa and looks at her and says ‘no doubt you are hungry.’ Tegan asks why she is always wearing heels at the most inappropriate of times and you have to wonder if this was inserted at Janet Fielding’s request. Mike and Tegan were taught physics and chemistry by Miss Anderson and they both her inspirational. At fifteen she broke her toe during track and field and he carried her school bags home for her. Nyssa understands that Tegan often lets her emotions get the better of her and apologises for her when she is resting – I wonder if she does that wherever they visit? Can you honestly imagine Tegan saying the line ‘If you wont help me then just don’t hinder me!’ Turns out Mike was always in love with Tegan and he knows she always felt the same but it’s a shame they had to wait until he was a chittering insect to reveal these feelings! Their parting doesn’t have the ring of empathy it is hoping for because the two actors have no chemistry – in fact they sound a little bored at this point.

Standout Performance: Being a massive fan of The Two Doctors, of Servelan and of Jackie Pearce in general (‘daaaaah-ling!’) I was delighted to see she would be taking part in this story – rather wonderfully this would have been about the right time she would have taken part in a Davison story too with Blakes’ 7 just coming to an end a year or so earlier. Even her role isn’t particularly well written but she is pretty much acting royalty and can rise beyond a duff script to bring something to the story. She was given a much better role to play in The Fearmonger.

Great Ideas: Why does the planet Luparis resemble Tudor London complete with an iced over river Thames with people skating on it? And why does Tegan’s friend Mike think he is a member of the City Watch? Segara Nine was a Paradise, uninhabited and fruitful with warm winds rippling across endless fertile meadows. It flourished as an ideal environment for their next generation. There was an insectoid race, the Hexagora from the mountain ranges, that they had to conquer in order to colonise. Only fragments of their original technology remains. The Hexagora are itinerant, travelling the cosmos under the power of the Queen. When they visit other planets they have the power to move amongst the natives unnoticed and it was during the 16th Century when they moved amongst the human race on Earth. They had only been on Luparis a short time when the climate began to change and their natural instinct was to move on but it takes time for Hexagoran young to reach full maturity and they had several generations that could never survive another migration through space. Hexion is the raw stuff of their original world, it usually provides sustenance but in times of war, famine and plague they use it to drain the mind essences of Hexagoran husks into their genetic pool. The Hexagorans then kidnapped people from Earth and brought them to Luparis and siphoned off their memories into their genetic pool. Hybrids make better hosts for the Hexagora than humans and could stave of the cold of the coming Ice Age on Luparis.

Audio Landscape: Something tearing through the atmosphere, insectoid mandibles, horse clip clopping on the cobbles, a punch up, birdsong, bubbling vats, crackling fire, swords clashing.

Musical Cues: I’m not sure if I could call it stylish by any means but the electronic period music for the initial Luparis scenes is gloriously reminiscent of music during the Davison era, in particular the cod medieval score in The Kings’ Demons. It begs the question of how far you should go in order to make these Lost Stories authentic – do you deliberately write duff music because it fits in with the era? There’s an odd sting that sounds eerily like the opening bars to the Emmerdale theme tune.

Isn’t it Odd: You know when you try and convince people that televised Doctor Who is the most wonderful thing ever and they dismiss it as being an alien invasion every week and then when they get around to watching an episode it seems to confirmed their fears? Well this story opens in a fashion that I imagine people would groan when I tell them that audio Doctor Who is the best thing – I could imagine them thinking it would be people talking to themselves, not bothering to describe what is going on and a load of inexplicable sound effects. A lot like the first scene of this story, in fact. It was a space eddy, a diminishing ion stream like a vapour trail from a space craft is what the Doctor follows to try and find Tegan’s friend Mike – not the most interesting of storytelling devices to move the plot on I have to say. It does worry me that in the first episode there is nothing that feels particularly fresh or original (beyond the concept of a period atmosphere on an alien planet) – in particular the characterisation and the dialogue feel very passé and ‘that’ll do.’ Coming after The Elite with its razor sharp script and production this was always going to be a problem. I’m not sure why transferring this tale of courtly romances and overthrowing the monarchy was brought to an alien planet because it could happily have played out on Earth. It all gets a bit embarrassing when the Doctor has to cross swords over a woman he doesn’t even want to marry and fight Zellenger, a man of the most melodramatic declarations in Doctor Who history. ‘Tegan do you know this insect?’ might be a strong contender for the most unintentionally funny line ever. Info dumps are the worst kind of writing and there is a great splurge of exposition in episode three that feels like it is trying to explain everything without the audience having to work any of it out for themselves. Go and read the Great Ideas section of this review and see if you agree with me that the explanations offered justify the idea of Tudor England on an alien world and Tegan’s friend randomly turning up as an insect. I really don’t think it does, it’s a tale of hackneyed ideas and lame co-incidences and the ailing explanations only really serve to reveal that the writers thought it would be a neat idea and then had to try and work some reasoning around it. There’s nothing especially surprising going on – the Queen is a ruthless leader, one of her subjects is unsure of her plan and reveals all to the Doctor, he acts as though it is the most monstrous thing he has ever heard, Tegan gets in a tizzy and Nyssa tries to calm everyone down. I could write this story in my sleep. Say what you will about season 20 (and I have said much over the years) there was nothing this predictable about it. Only Doctor Who could try and get away with a buzzing with a cod Australian accent is in love with the companion – it’s so awkward to listen to I think I actually winced. The climax is oddly placed because the Doctor could have made his suggestion that the Hexagora stop breeding with humans at some point during episode three – it appears that he waited for the moment of the wedding just for dramatic effect and because the story length demanded it.

Result: A weak story with little to recommend it beyond the glorious Jacqueline Pearce returning for another appearance in Doctor Who. Beyond that Hexagora is dreadfully dull and fighting against the unconventional storytelling of season 20 manages to be one of the most predictable, archetypal Doctor Who audios complete with a colonised race under threat, human being kidnapped by aliens and Tegan’s personal life suffering another blow. Beyond the conventional storytelling and unconvincing dialogue there is a real issue with pacing too with the music trying to suggest (in a very cod synthesised way) moments of tranquillity with the odd meaningless flash of jeopardy thrown in to try and keep things interesting. The characters fail to come to life and speak the most godawful melodrama and the regulars fulfil their functions but never stretch beyond them (the Doctor is passive, Tegan gets grumpy and Nyssa is trying to keep the peace). Its not the worst Lost Story that has been released (nothing could quite sink lower than the McCoy tetrology) and there is a basic competence to everything that unfolds in this story but it never rises to a level that I would even call average. Its one of those Doctor Who stories that is just sort of there, doing what’s been done before but not as well and we should be thankful that the TV series dodged the bullet with this one: 4/10

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