Monday, 9 January 2012

Legend of the Cybermen written by Mike Maddox and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: The Cybermen are on the march through the Hundred Realms, killing and converting as they go. Resistance is useless. Trapped on the outermost fringes of the battle, the Doctor and Jamie are astonished to encounter an old friend: astrophysicist Zoe Heriot. It's the happiest of reunions. But what hope is there of a happy ending against the unstoppable Cybermen?

Softer Six: He keeps forgetting that Jamie and he have technically just met and the Highlander doesn’t understand what he means when he says run… He’s not a what he’s a Who! He is a Time Lord and he doesn’t need to be lectured on temporal solecisms by some penny dreadful pedant! Zoe asks the Doctor how he came to look so different and the Doctor begins his explanation by saying it all happened the day they last saw him – if he’s going to tell the entire story of Doctor Who from 1969 through to 1985 I think there should be the audio equivalent of asterisks to show that some time has past! Or better still you can use this as a Wheel in Space style thought scanner excuse to watch all the stories between The War Games and The Twin Dilemma! Getting into the fictional spirit the Doctor says his life is an open book of the Prydonian Chapter. Because he is usually so charming it is easy to forget how one track minded the Doctor can be and he develops an instant dislike of Dracula based on no more than the words that Bram Stoker wrote. There is a history between the Time Lords and Vampires – bad blood you might say but you would think he might be able to put all that aside for what is essentially a fictional creation! Jamie calls the Doctor on how they got the original Master of the Land of Fiction home and he cannot give a satisfactory answer – I’m really glad they didn’t explain that because its ambiguity was what made that story such a fascinating tale. I cannot believe the story tries to sell that the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe had never escaped the Land of Fiction and that everything since has been a dream. Its such an alarming, absurd idea that had they tried to suggest it was real I wouldn’t have known what to think but as it is it is a one minute moment of glorious madness before an even bigger twist crowbars its way in. The Doctor admits that he is no longer running away from the Time Lords, these days it is borderm mostly. Jamie asks what Sarah asked in School Reunion and Jo asked in Death of the Doctor…why did the Doctor not return for him and Zoe? Jamie wonders if the Doctor moves on and forgets about those who have travelled with him but he denies that vehemently. He tries to say sorry but words aren’t appropriate for how the real Jamie McCrimmon was violated.

Who’s the Yahoos: The Doctor tells Jamie that this world is made out of the imagination but not their imaginations but that doesn’t stop Jamie trying to conjure up a bottle of whiskey and a lassie with a cheeky smile! Zoe tries to unlock his memories by given him a data retrieval node but he initially refuses saying that he has read the bible and knows all about young men being tempted by lassies with apples. This whole trilogy has been leading up to the point where Jamie gets his memories back and learns about his previous life with the Doctor and the sequence doesn’t disappoint. The listener is assaulted with a barrage of spine tingling sounds effects from Jamie’s adventures in the TARDIS – Quarks, White Robots firing, the Yeti activation noise… It’s a nostalgia fest! He remembers the horrors but also that he had good friends…Sailor Ben, bean poll Polly, Victoria who was precious like china and Zoe, the clever one. The Doctor was small and scruffy with a funny little gleam in his eye. Its only been a month for Zoe but he has lived a full and fruitful life since they last saw each other and it has been a good life. Making Jamie a fictional character was probably not an result that any of us wanted but its still a hell of a shock. All of a sudden you have to question everything that has happened since this trilogy began and of course Jamie first met the Doctor in Scotland which was part of the Land of Fiction so it all makes perfect sense. But I so wanted them to go off travelling together again at the end. Still even a fictional Jamie is still a great character and he has developed a fine chemistry with the Doctor in this run of stories and it has been great to catch up with Frazer Hines again who gives his all whether the character is real or not. Jamie is violently angry about this revelation because he is finding it hard to accept so many different version of his life – firstly his life with the Doctor and then the fact that he isn’t real. It is rather a lot to take in to be fair. Zoe created this version of Jamie and took away his memories so the Doctor had a mystery to solve so he would stick with him. All those pieces are coming together nicely. The Doctor offers him the post as the Laird of the Land of Fiction but Jamie knows that all he is good for is fighting. They embrace warmly and even though he knows he isn’t the Jamie he knew there is still a connection there.

Brainy Beauty: I got crazy excited when Zoe turned up to save Jamie – listening to this pair together again, one of my personal favourites of the classic series, is an absolute joy. I loved the reference that Jamie has gotten old when its clear that Wendy Padbury’s voice has…matured too. She’s appalled that Jamie thinks he has conjured her up out of his imagination and she certainly doesn’t have any Whiskey secreted about her person thank you very much! Zoe confuses the Doctor for the Artful Dodger and gives him a massive hug. The second big twist is the unshrouding of the Mistress – its Zoe, our Zoe and the one we have been travelling with is an avatar. She has been trying to hold the Cybermen off with stories from her childhood and waiting for the Doctor to find her. It was years later on the Wheel and Zoe was remembering how they had fought the Cybermen together and she went for a medical scan and learnt that she was a two years older than she was a few days ago. She worked it out for herself that she had travelled with the Doctor and had her memories wiped. The Cybermen captured her and decided she would make a good Cyberplanner and when they probed her mind something snapped the mental blocks the Time Lords imposed fell away. With her super brain Zoe conquered the Cybercomputer and brought them somewhere she knew they could do no harm – the Land of Fiction. She plugged her subconscious into the Master Brain and she has been fighting the Cybermen ever since. She gave the characters freewill, made them cunning and unpredictable. The Doctor knows that as soon as she leaves The Land of Fiction Zoe’s memories will shut down again and he lays her back on the Wheel.

Standout Performance: It’s the sort of story where you have to commend actors for throwing themselves wholeheartedly into something truly out of the ordinary and there is no better example than Ian Gelder’s superb Count Dracula. As well as making the speeches about his backstory sound like poetry he also manages to play the part with a great deal of pathos and by the end you are cheering his character on. Listen the way he says Cybermen – its delicious. His conversion is a tragic end for his character but his strength of will invades the Cyberplanners consciousness.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘How did you do that?’ ‘Magic, obviously.’
‘I’m sure its much easier to send your troops to their deaths when they look like toys!’
‘You’re standing in an enchanted forest looking through a magic window made of fairy dust and you’re telling me something’s odd!’
‘Remember when Grendel’s mother attacked the Cyber Controller…?’
‘None of this is real. It’s all a wonderful children’s adventure which adults adore.’
‘The Cybermen have converted mermaids!’ ‘Oh, that’s just wrong’ – thanks for saying it for me!
‘I think you’ve complicated your plot quite enough!’
‘You’ll never beat McCrimmon yet,
Jamie bellowed at the silver threat,
And once more with battle met,
And vigour undefeated his muscles stretched, his sinews keen,
He slew the half man-half machine!’
‘And I was lost to her again…’

Great Ideas: The White Robots are look a bit more sophisticated since the Doctor last met them and he suspects that the Master of the Land of Fiction has been upgraded too. Odd that because they are exactly the same as The Mind Robber on the inside sleeve! There are some kisses to The Mind Robber as you would expect such scenes of the Doctor and Jamie wandering around the void, lost, and screaming out each others names. It’s a chance for the writer to enjoy bringing to life some of the best fictional characters ever written and the first one the Doctor stumbles across is the Artful Dodger! The Doctor has read Oliver Twist half a dozen times but he doesn’t recall the Dodger saying ‘We may be following a by and large linear narrative but out here continuity is distinctly malleable!’ There’s a magic forest where the fairies live which they use a safe hiding place where you can find the land of Camelot. How awesome is it that the Cyberplanner is located at Dracula’s castle? Every time we cut back to him there is a gothic organ playing and lightning striking like he is some mad scientist plotting for the Cybermen! Apparently Sherlock Holmes was a General but he had his own demons to face. The Cybermen don’t want control of the Land of Fiction, they want the power of the Master Brain which can adjust the thoughts of all mankind and make them like them. At first I wondered how on Earth Mike Maddox was going to pull off such an insane concept as the Cybermen in this imaginative realm but that is actually a rock sold motive to back up all this madness. Bravo! They seek to destroy the human imagination because once that is destroyed humanity itself is destroyed. They would be robbing humanity of the ability to tell stories, to lie or even to exaggerate. The Cybermen had the fortune to convert werewolves…what a horrifying idea! This opened their minds to new kinds of Cyber conversion and they started with the fairies. Oh this is great stuff, absolutely barking.The catacombs have been turned into refinery to extract the blood of the land, ink. Just like the factories in the Scottish landscape and the hold of the Nautilus. The ink is being collected and used the way it would be on the page, to create more fictional characters – bloody genius! Cheekily the Doctor hums Ride of the Valkeries as spirit maidens but the Cybermen have converted their wings and turned them into jet engines. Giant behemoth Cybermen stomp forward to attack. Characters in the Land of Fiction literally bleed blood. It couldn’t have been long before the great white whale Moby Dick reared its head except it has been fitted with portholes and torpedo tubes by the Cybermen! The Nautilus makes a spectacular return with Nemo and Rob Roy on board tying the three stories together even tighter. Zoe describes the Doctor’s adventure to her as ‘psuedo historical to base under siege!’ Cyber fairies attack! The space leeches from City of Spires were the Karkus’ enemies from the Hourly Telepress brought to life. Zoe tried to bring the Doctor to life fictionally by novelising all of their adventures together and she shows the real Doctor her library featuring Doctor Who and the Dominators and Doctor Who and the Krotons. If this story parodies anything else I know to be true I’m going to start wondering if I am real. I love how Jamie and Rob Roy vanquishing the Cybermen is narrated in the form of a good old fashioned Scottish poem and joyfully reality shifts halfway through a stanza and Jamie is left without a rhyme to finish! All the fictional Cybermen are made to disappear when Dracula convinces the Cyberplanner that they never existed in the first place. With the stain of the Cybermen wiped from its pages the Land of Fiction began to grow again becoming something quite different – a wonderland with Alice as its mistress.

Audio Landscape: Prepare yourselves for the audio experience of a lifetime as Nicholas Briggs and Jamie Robertson take you on a surreal adventure through The Land of Fiction! The mechanical grinding of the White Robots, that fantastic alien hum of the void, clockwork ticking, squeaky door, Jamie falling a great height lured on by Zoe’s voice, dripping tap, mechanical Cyber footsteps, the White Robot firing noise, thunder rumbling, the bubbling voice of the Cyber planner, birdsong, fairies tinkling around Jamie, dog barking, unicorn whinnying, trees swaying, bubbling ink making a person, siren, Dracula vanishing in a puff of smoke, bombing raids, spitting, crackling flames, Zoe trapped under rubble, bomb whistling to the ground, explosions, flintlock going off, a spindle radio dish, wolves baying in the distance, running water, crossing a rope bridge, a Cyberman falling down a chasm, ooh an old fashioned internet connection noise, storybook noise, biting wind, knocking on a glass booth, a sea shanty, Karkus teleportation noise, the gigglingly childish Cyber fairies, Cyber mermaids squeaking on the hull of the Nautilus.

Musical Cues: The clockwork soldiers are accompanied by a jaunty marching band tune this time around, a handy audio sign that they are close by. Once all the cards are on the table we are treated to some fantastic music in the second episode – exciting beats when the Cybermen attack, a rousingly heroic theme in Camelot and a dashing fun as Jamie heads on a horse!

Standout Scene: Only Doctor Who could get away with something as utterly bizarre and chilling as the end of episode one. Putting aside the fact that we are walking around in a world where fictional characters can come to life there is the additional threat of the Cybermen who are revealed here as Oliver Twist steps from the mist half converted asking in an electronic buzz ‘please sir, I want some more…’ Its funny, macabre and shocking. I love it.

The story takes a wonderful diversion into bedtime storytelling as each of the characters narrates a little piece of the action in a unique way. Dracula reads the spine chilling words of Bram Stoker’s classic, intersped with scenes of magic fantasy read by Alice – the two stories colliding with the young girl almost murdered when the white rabbit (the Doctor) pops up to tell them both that the Cybermen are playing with their perception of reality! Zoe reads The Secret Fairies, asking if you have a responsible adult to make you a nice glass of synthymilk and giving you the special noise to indicate when to turn the page. Jamie winds up in a audio recording booth at Big Finish Productions with director Nick Briggs giving him instructions on how to proceed with his reading. The Doctor starts talking from the very next booth and prevents Jamie from being taken over by Briggs/the Cyberman! All of this goes somewhere beyond epistemological post modernism and meta fiction into a spiralling descent of unreality but I love it. Its such an imaginative and clever way to tell the story, I was grinning gleefully throughout.

Result: Prepare yourself for the greatest mindfuck fan fiction experience of the century! Every time I thought Legend of the Cybermen couldn’t throw anything more insane at me it always managed to find some other little creative titbit in the darkest recesses of its twisted imagination. Where else will you find Dracula telling to Little Lord Fauntleroy to try and hold Atlantis back from Cyberman invasion? We’ve got gothic Cyberplanners, Moby Dick with torpedo tubes, bedtime storytelling, fictional characters bleeding ink, Cyber converted fairies, and even Nick Briggs making a cameo as himself! Underneath all the creative bluster there is a touching character tale taking place dealing with the aftermath of The War Games and the tragic circumstances surrounding Jamie and Zoe’s departure. We learn that Jamie isn’t real but that isn’t enough, Zoe is revealed as the Mistress of the Land of Fiction and that isn’t enough, characters from the first two stories of the trilogy join the fight and that still isn’t enough…this is a story that keeps giving, twisting, evolving, subverting until I was left tied up in fictional knots and laughing manically all the way. For the chance to hear Colin Baker, Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury working together it is a treasurable on its own but Legend of the Cybermen also features a cinematic array of audio landscapes, moments that will make you laugh and cry at the same time and a stirring musical score. Its everything this climatic final instalment needed to be and it answers the stack of mysteries very satisfactorily and has a tearjerking final scene. Its completely, mind bogglingly, escaped from an asylum madness and I loved every second of it: 10/10


Not That Matt Smith said...

One hundred thousand percent agreed. This is a hell of a story and further proof that 2011 was a phenomenal year for Big Finish. If you had told me that someone did a sequel to The (in my eyes perfect) Mind Robber I wouldn't believe you. And then to say it's a "worthy" sequel? Or that it's as good as the original? Madness.

And yet it is. I love every second of it as well. It's impossibly masterful and you're right about that last scene. It's arguably the best story of the year (although it has to compete with "Snake" "Klein", and "Death in the Family"), one of the best Big Finish stories ever, and one of the best Doctor Who stories ever.

If only Death in the Family weren't so damn good, I'd declare it best of 2011, but it isn't so I can't. It's a testament to it, though that I say it comes close. Damn.

Bobby Torres said...

I remember listening to this in conjunction with the other two stories of the trilogy and being blown away. This story gave so much and its the sort of Doctor Who style adventure that Colin Baker was often denied during his television run and the fact that he and the other actors involved are given such fantastic material to work with is definitely to be commended.