Thursday, 23 February 2012

Beyond the Ultimate Adventure written by Terrance Dicks and directed by Jason Haigh-Ellery

What’s it about: A thrilling adventure in Time and Space! The Doctor, Crystal and Jason have survived monsters, Madame Delilah and Mrs T, but then their former enemy Karl calls them back to the Bar Galactica. The mercenary has a cryptic message concerning Ultima Thule, where fabled treasure and a threat to the universe await... The journey requires entering another dimension, where old enemies – and a brand new adversary – lie in wait…

Softer Six: Should the Doctor be so prevalent in a companion chronicle? Some may say not but if having the Doctor around adds to a story then why shouldn’t that be the case? And I can hardly think of a single example when Colin Baker hasn’t brought something to a Big Finish audio. When he quotes Edgar Allen Poe the story enjoys its best moment – there is something ironic about the fact that the most haunting passage comes from Poe rather than Dicks. He refers to the Time Lords as a fussy bunch of old bureaucrats! The Doctor admits that it was his fault that the Daleks hit Bar Galactica and murdered Madame Delilah – not a smart move when you are surrounded by her closest associates at her funeral! When you are walking into a trap he feels that best thing to do is spring it and see what happens and hope that you live to learn from the experience. The Doctor is the only one who can fight off the fear generating device even though the presence can understand something of his memories. He understands that treasure comes at a price and you have to understand how to earn it before you help yourself.

Standout Performance: I’m not sure if I like the sharing of the narration in such a rapid succession of voices because I got really confused as to who was talking because everybody puts a different accent on the same character. Noel Sullivan’s dreadful French accent is ever present and he leaps into each scene narrating at warp factor ten and delivery some truly memorable (for all the wrong reasons) lines such as ‘foaming oooch that only a mercenary could swallow!’ Claire Huckle’s Karl impression has to be heard to be believed.

Uncle Terry’s Greatest Hits: I went into this story under the impression that it was going to be something like the audio version of his novels The Eight Doctors and Warmonger where he pillages his own stories and cobbles together something resembling a narrative out of them. Low and behold within a few seconds Jason is mentioning Metebelies 3 the famous blue planet of the Acteon Group! He even includes a summary of The Ultimate Adventure for any of you who might not have had the pleasure (and if not…shame on you! You have been denied the pleasures of ‘Follow You!’). Jason quotes the ‘Mrs T terrifies the Doctor’ line. If you have listened to The Ultimate Adventure you could happily skip the first five minutes of this story because it is nothing but an extended recap. Its not his work he’s plagiarising here but Uncle Terry has the barefaced cheek to verbally compared the Daleks to the Nazi’s as if nobody has made that parallel before. ‘Normally the TARDIS makes a sort of wheezing groaning sound…’ – how many times can you get away with that gag? ‘It makes you look like a Yeti!’ ‘It came in very handy in Tibet…’ Walking out of the TARDIS into the swirling mists of nothingness is ripped directly from The Mind Robber. Just when you think that something original might happen as they venture out of the TARDIS we get a replay of Crystal’s first night at Bar Galactica taken from The Ultimate Adventure! Plucking fears from peoples minds and using them as a weapon is the plot device that fuelled Frontier in Space. Vampires turn up again (Dicks wrote State of Decay that introduced them and then they made an appearance just like this Blood Harvest, The Eight Doctors and World Game) – yaaaawn. Any new tricks up your sleeves, Terry? Next to turn up is a Rutan who Terry introduced us to in Horror of Fang Rock and then had fun playing about with in Shakedown the New Adventure and the BBV film. ‘Another old enemy plucked from my mind!’ says the Doctor! Hah! The Raston Warrior Robot featured on The Five Doctors and then Terry dusted it down again for The Eight Doctors and World Game. Come on – this isn’t even trying to be original, is it? This is a copy of a copy! Even Edgar Allen Poe is pillaged by the end of the story with details of his poems brought to life. The ending where the Doctor basically leaves all the hard work to the Time Lords is a perfect representation of his bold decision at the end of The War Games except here it is lazy and trite. When Terrance recounts the story of Terry Nation writing his third Dalek script after Planet and Death and how he and Barry Letts amiably told him that it was a good piece of work except he had already sold to them twice already is very apt. Beyond the Ultimate Adventure has exactly the same problem – accept the ‘good piece of work’ bit.

Great Ideas: Its shows the massive gulf between Terrance Dicks’ old school techniques and somebody like Simon Guerrier’s more sophisticated ones when the narration of this story is literally Jason and Crystal filing an audio report to the Time Lords! Its so blatant and crude in its openness from the start you almost have to admire its gall.

Audio Landscape: Birdsong, mercenaries shouting and screaming, lightning, applause, lasers firing, fighting a vampire, thrusting a stake into its heart, the Vampire and Rutan voices, the Raston Warrior Robot humming.

Musical Cues: What makes a good Doctor Who theme tune? Its strange how something with a matching set of notes can produce such an astonishing variety of different themes. From the mystery of the Hartnell tune to the screaming horror of the Tom Baker one, from the electric guitar of Davison’s and the spangly nightmare of McCoy’s, from the instrumental McGann movie theme to the marching band triumph of the Tennant one – it is a theme that has seen many musicians twist, distort and play about with. The Beyond the Ultimate Adventure one might just be the worst version we have ever heard…it fails to be catchy, enjoyable, provoking or tuneful. Its just sort of there. It’s the ‘putting up wallpaper’ of theme tunes. The music for this adventure is dark and mysterious and pretty atmospheric on the whole – it is doing the work entirely on its own and isn’t backed up at all by the functional, hotchpotch script.

Isn’t it Odd: Three servings of a ‘foaming hell brew’ – that’s the sort of subtlety you can come to expect from this tale! The first episode is unacceptably lacking in interest or incident and beyond a visit to the same locations in The Ultimate Adventure and meeting and discussing the same characters from the stage play nothing of any relevance happens. Being outside all of time and space might have been exciting if we didn’t do it every other week (The Mind Robber, Warriors’ Gate, Rise of the Cybermen…). The Doctor’s plan to ask the Idelon to release the TARDIS and allow him to work on the controls alone is so lacking in any ingenuity it baffles the mind that this scene could come to light. This is the only companion chronicle where I don’t include a section to say anything about the companions because there is nothing new to be said about such gormless unknowns.

Result: Whereas I went into The Fourth Wall with absolute confidence (John Dorney, Nicholas Briggs and Jamie Robertson) I approached Beyond the Ultimate Adventure with real caution because its contributors have hardly produced the finest works under the Big Finish banner (Terrance has been practically ignored by brought Sarah Jane back with the desperately slow Comeback and Jason Haigh-Ellery directed The Rapture with no restraint at all). Judging by this story it would appear that Terrance Dicks has nothing new to bring to Doctor Who and he is writing the equivalent of one of his appearances at a Doctor Who convention where the same old anecdotes spill out over half an hour. Once you have heard them once its funny (the original TV stories – The Five Doctors, The War Games), twice and you start to look at your watch (many of Terry’s books plunder his creative backlog of stories from Timewyrm Exodus to World Game) but when he keeps showing up in the schedules with the same old clichés it goes beyond a nostalgia trip into something almost insulting to the fans who are expected to buy something this vacuous and undemanding just because it has Dicks’ name slapped on it. Coming after such stories as The Rocket Men, The Memory Cheats and The First Wave which took at look back at their respective eras and found something dazzlingly inventive and dramatic to say beyond what was on the screen this sort of copy and paste job is found especially wanting. If you were thinking about skipping this one it is probably the best idea – there is nothing original, imaginative or worth listening to in Beyond the Ultimate Adventure and its perhaps time for Dicks to put down his pen if this is the best he can come up with. Switch off your ability to hear dialogue and just listen to the music, that’s my best advice: 1/10

No comments: