Sunday, 8 January 2012

The Wreck of the Titan written and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: 'It's the biggest ship the world has known – and in just twenty minutes' time it's going to hit an iceberg the size of Ben Nevis!' The North Atlantic is a treacherous place at the best of times. 14 April 1912 is the very worst of times. The Doctor and Jamie find themselves trapped aboard the RMS Titanic, 400 miles off Newfoundland and heading towards a conclusive appointment with destiny. But the iceberg isn't their only problem. Down in the inky depths, something is hunting: something huge, hostile and hungry. This should certainly be A Night To Remember

Softer Six: How sweet that when the Doctor takes Jamie for what appears to be his first proper trip in the TARDIS he wants to make an event out of it and blindfolds him. The Doctor declares that in this time America is quite civilised (and then I’m sure he thinks of Peri when he says ‘for the most part…’). He’s quick to realise that this Titanic is a fake and is quite acidic about assigning the blame. I love how much fastidious detail he can conjour up to blow the charade, he is clearly and extremely well read Time Lord. When his theme park ride theory goes out the window the Doctor admits he is out of ideas. Its rare to hear him say that and even rarer for the sixth Doctor to admit it! The Doctor is convinced that Jamie is resourceful enough to escape the sinking of the Titan but comes to realise that he must be dead. Its uncomfortable to see the sixth Doctor so distraught as he quietly admits that this was supposed to be a treat for him. His admittance that he wanted it to be like the good old days is heartbreaking and in a moment that mixes grief and beauty to profound effect he quotes Hie Away by Sir Walter Scott for his dead friend. Things look bleak as he is hunted by polar bears but the Doctor insists that where there is beauty (the stunning ice landscape) there is hope. His dialogue really is superb in this adventure; he thinks there is no point in being a homo sapient if you aren’t going to exercise the sapient bit! When facing two hungry polar bears the Doctor tries to confuse them with a blood soaked hanky and a jacket. There’s another touching reunion between the Doctor and Jamie where he laughs heartily at the sight of his friend – there is real dramatic mileage in this pairing and it’s a shame it will be over with in the next story. The Doctor claims that TARDIS is impervious to attack by giant squid and says he came close to proving it on one of the moons of Delta Magna. He starts reading some rather florid prose but has to stop before his stomach turned (‘When was this banausic drivel published?’).

Who’s the Yahoos: Jamie wont believe that the TARDIS can travel through time and space until he can see it with his own eyes. With no pretty wee lassie in the TARDIS for Jamie to protect it doesn’t take him five minutes to team up with the prettiest girl around. His Jamieisms are getting better – he mistakes a metaphor for a metal floor and calls the Nautilus a naughty lass! He’s clearly been taking notes from the Doctor in the circumstance of weak women refusing to push themselves hard enough to survive because he goads Myra saying she is a pathetic young girl in order to give her the anger and strength to survive the sinking ship. ‘Oh my goodness! A big sea beastie!’ he cries when he sees the Nautilus.

Standout Performance: I didn’t realise that Tess was being played by Miranda Raison until she transformed into Myra and adopted the same American accent as she used for Tallulah in Daleks in Manhattan! Fortunately I loved her in that story and she is similarly charming and funny in this. Its probably the only instance where I have enjoyed a fake accent more than a real one! I’m a massive fan of Star Trek Deep Space Nine so when I heard that Alexander Siddig was going to take part in this story it only whetted my appetite further. He's quietly menacing and I'm glad we get to hear more of him in the next story.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Jamie this is the Titanic. Forty six thousand tons of steel, wood and glass, nine storeys of art noveau splendour, nearly nine hundred feet long and ninety feet wide with a capacity for three and a half thousand passengers and crew! It’s the biggest ship the world has ever known and in just twenty minutes time its going to hit an iceberg the size of Ben Nevis and sink!’ – Colin Baker’s sixth Doctor is made for rousingly descriptive speeches like that.
‘I don’t know how Father Christmas manages it!’ says the Doctor as he shoves derriere up and out of an ice chimney!
‘This is rapidly turning into an episode of The Waltons!’

Great Ideas: The Doctor thinks he has landed on the Queen Mary in May 1946 (indeed he is delighted to inform Jamie of the fact) but his companion can see with his own eyes that it is April 1912 and they are on the Titanic. I’ve always fancied a Doctor Who version of the Titanic tale and this is the closest we are ever going to get. The Doctor thinks this must be some kind of tragedy tourists style of entertainment, re-enactments of famous disasters for paying customers to witness. The first episode works a treat because everything is a little bit askew – you aren’t sure what is going on, who is who or even where the Doctor and Jamie have arrived. Nothing is fixed and that is quite an exciting feeling to have. Barnaby Edwards cleverly shifts the cliffhanger to the first episode from the point of view of a completely different character at the beginning of the second – its so seamlessly done you might not even notice it but it is gorgeous little touch. The Doctor’s next big guess is that they are stuck in a time fissure where time divides into two distinct paths – that would explain the existence of the two ships and their similar fates. You’ve got to give the man a round of applause for trying to give this a plausible explanation – the real one is just out of his grasp and back in his long history. The beginning of episode three sees another neat narrative trick, popping back in time to show how we reach the end of episode two from Jamie’s point of view. That’s really neat. I would love to be able to look out of the observation bubble of the Nautilus and see the underwater world lit up in all its marine glory. The Doctor’s third attempt at a guess is that they are in some kind of mad computer game! Credit for persistent theories, Doc! But then considering the wealth of insane genres he has tiptoed through in his adventures anything is possible!

Audio Landscape: We open with a trumpeting horn from a ship and a stirring score – a sure sign that this is going to be one of the most immersive Big Finish productions. Squeaky doors, the swaying ocean, the party atmosphere aboard the ship, polite clapping, screaming. The ship undergoing a metamorphosis sounds like panel breaking free, wood snapping, glass breaking…absolute chaos. Did they literally cause an iceberg to hit a ship because it sounds absolutely authentic – you can hear the hull of the ship scraping along the ice, windows smashing and huge chunks of ice breaking free and the mast hitting the deck. The ship groans terribly as it turns on its side, Jamie and Myra sliding down the deck, the portholes blowing up, the engine room exploding, the echoing emptiness of the hold, the freezing wind screaming, screaming polar bears, snowy footsteps, an echoing ice chimney. There’s a glorious moment that works so well on audio where John realises that there are two sets of footprints and they stop talking to hear the padding of polar bear footprints very close to them. The bears can be heard growling in your ears as their padded feet run at the travellers. A submarine breaks the water sounding its fog horn and you can hear the ship grinding under the water, causing showers of bubbles. Sonar, wading through water, a champagne cork popping from a bottle, water trickling from the ceiling, banging morse code, sparks spitting from metal as the wall is cut down, bubbling test tubes in the laboratory. You hear the Professor’s escape craft being crushed by the giant squid as he has made off with the ink. Pages flapping in the wind lead to the reveal of where the Doctor has always been. The final terrifying sound is the grinding of the White Robots coming out of the mist!

Musical Cues: Howard Carter is on fire with so many wonderful audio landscapes to score and it might just be the most epic, cinematic soundtrack yet. I love the crashing drama as the Doctor describes the beauty and the fate of the Titanic. As the Doctor scales a mountain of ice you could be forgiven for thinking you are listening to a biblical epic as the music suggests a sweeping ariel shot of his struggles. Nemo couldn’t have asked for a more dramatic entrance, playing some mad gothic theme on a church organ.

Standout Scene: I was riveted throughout the entire sequence with the attacking squid which was twice the size of the Nautilus. As the begin to surface one of squid tentacles can be heard penetrating the hull and flailing wildly in the submarine. Even worse you can hear its tentacles sliding and sucking against the glass in the viewing port before it cracks like an egg and worms its way into the ship. The last scene is fantastic too – it gave me goosebumps the first time I heard it and gave me goosebumps today.

Clues: For part two of this trilogy there are even more clues to lead up the final revelation that kick starts the concluding story. The story opens with a great deal of factual confusion – the Doctor believes they are on board the Queen Mary but they are in fact on the Titanic before a sudden shift in circumstances and then they are on the Titan! Clearly somebody in the Land of Fiction has got their maritime disaster stories jumbled up! Even small details such as the First Officer is wrong at least until the ships change. All the doors on the lower deck open on to nothing almost as if whoever imagined this world didn’t think they would need them. The music and the audience reactions to it plays over and over again as if one song would be enough to convince there were passengers on board. The Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea shows up to rescue the Doctor and that is another whopping great clue as to where they are. Nemo speaks to an unnamed person about ‘the target’ which we know to be the Doctor (as he was rescued by Nemo at the end of episode two) – he must be talking to Zoe, the Mistress of the Land of Fiction. He is intrigued to get a glimpse at the ‘great Doctor’ so Zoe must have spoken very fondly of him. It takes Jamie to ponder whether somebody has read some books and built their own copies of the things in them. That’s one up for the Highlander! Nemo doesn’t want the Doctor to get suspicious as his First Mate has spilt some black ink on his tunic – if the Doctor sees that he would be able to link together that the Highlands from City of Spires and everything that has occurred in this story are taking place in the same location. The Doctor learns that the black liquid is ink milked from the Architeuthidae squid. Come on Doc, put it all together…what could they possibly need all this ink for? The Professor chooses to betray Nemo and his mysterious masters for their enemies who have offered him his freedom – the Cybermen have offered him a way out of the Land of Fiction. Its very satisfying to see the Doctor put everything together – novels that mirror the events that have taken place, anachronistic characters from books…everything that has taken place has been fictional. The Doctor is considered their only hope for survival in this conflict and Jamie is expendable and that gives you a massive clue as to the reality of the Highlander that is revealed in the next story. Interlopers, outsiders who wish to control and own their world – that is how the enemies are described here. Books and ink…the Doctor declares with some horror that they are once again trapped in the Land of Fiction!

Result: Barnaby Edwards has always been an extremely intelligent writer and a cinematic director for Big Finish and here he combines the two to dazzling effect. There are set pieces in this story that are so convincing you don’t even have to shut your eyes to imagine you are there – ships are hitting icebergs and sinking beneath the waves, polar bears are attacking and giant squids are wrapping their oily tentacles around you. To call his direction polished is to do it a disservice, it is avant garde. The script is a powerhouse of literary and factual detail but it also plays some quirky narrative tricks to keep the audience alert and I really like how the story takes time to explore its nautical theme both through intelligent detail and via the senses. Looking at this story in hindsight it takes the hints and whispers from City of Spires and starts playing about with its own unique style of clues and guides you in the right direction ready for the knockout final ten minutes where their location is finally revealed. The Doctor is beautifully characterised throughout with some marvellous dialogue - I didn’t need to hear in the extras that Colin Baker enjoyed this loquacious script because it shines from every word he utters. The Doctor spouts so many theories you can tell he is a seasoned adventurer until the truth finally dawns on him. Its one of those stories I suggest you listen to cuddled up in bed with the lights out and let Edwards take you on a fully immersive adventure on dangerous seas. There are lots of questions to be answered but for now this is an exciting, unpredictable tale with an ending that will leave you desperate to hear the conclusion: 9/10

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