Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Beyond the Sea written by Eddie Robson and directed by Toby Longworth

What’s it about: A new phase in the never-dull life of Bernice Summerfield opens as she arrives on the human colony world of Maximediras, with her son Peter in tow, to begin work on a much-needed freelance assignment. Relics from a hitherto unknown civilisation have been discovered on the sea bed and Bernice has been hired by the planet's tourist board to travel out on one of their cruises and undertake a survey. Bernice is suspicious of her employer's motives from the start, but becomes more uneasy as time goes on. Is she being taken advantage of? Is her reputation starting to cause trouble for her? More seriously, she starts to realise that she's travelling on a cruise ship with an unusually high suicide rate. What is causing this? Or who...?

Archeological Adventuress: After two seasons of having her life systematically pulled apart by Irving Braxiatel and Simon Guerrier (what an infallible combination!) Benny has found herself in the precarious position of having to live her life on the run with her son in tow. It’s the most dramatic development for the character (not the series which thrived on them in last couple of years) in a while and it will be interesting to explore the character cut off from her friends (and her enemies). This could go one of two ways for Benny; she could either really enjoy the freedom of her newfound independence or she could moon over everything that she has lost. Benny is certainly captivating in her holorecording study of Mars but the male population watching wish she would reveal a bit of shoulder. She hates planets with short days and Maximediras has a 17 hour one. Bernice can make anywhere sound exciting…wars and ancient curses – actually that is a piece of hyperbole that I can definitely agree with! She’s unsure whether she should have taken this contract because she isn’t about sexing history up and her old tutors would weep if they knew she was doing a job like this. Benny has been hired because they think that she is some kind of Mickey Mouse academic who is happy to spin the facts. She cannot believe that they would think an archaeologist of her standing would credit their fake heritage world. The worse things are the more sarcastic Benny gets…so she warns Rock to brace himself because there is a lot more on the way! Bernice explains what happened on the Collection, about the fact that their old home was caught in the midst of several wars and her old boss is taking rather alarming steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again. She feels like she go back and do something. It is a loose end and she wont be satisfied until it is tied off. She generally found it smart not to underestimate alien lifeforms.

Angry Adolescent: Bernice is genuinely shocked when Rick describes Peter as ‘a nice kid.’ Given the fact that she saw him murder somebody as a fully grown Kiloran/human hybrid in The Grel Escape and he was manipulated into killing Jason in The Worst Thing in the World it is very possible that Benny is genuinely frightened of her son. Its an uncomfortable position for the good Professor to be in because she clearly loves him dearly but there is an emotion distance from him now since the loss of her ex husband by his hands. He gets angry when a kid calls him a half breed but proves that he is capable of making amends diplomatically and not just violently by making things up with the boy and chumming around with him. When things are bad Peter leaps in with his claws and kills three of the zombies on his own. How Benny is going to rein in these violent impulses is beyond me but how long is it going to be before he slaughters the wrong person and winds up being taken from her? They want to use Peter as a bodyguard, as a weapon and Bernice objects saying that he is a child and that she objects but he completely ignores her wishes. Benny doesn’t think that Peter is entirely to blame for Jason’s death, she knows he was strongly influenced by Braxiatel but she still finds it worrying that he had it in himself to do that. And she isn’t sure if he ever truly realised what he had done.

Standout Performance: Thomas Grant would go on to give some really nice performances in the next couple of seasons as Peter Summerfield but he clearly isn’t quite ready to bring the more complex aspects of his character to life. Peter has to tentatively talk about killing Jason in this story but it sounds like Grant just babbling dialogue out awkwardly.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘People who talk about silent majorities are usually on pretty shaky ground…’

Great Ideas: The Romans named Mars after their God of war which was about the biggest compliment they could have paid it. They are trying to push the historical sites of Earth to bring in more interest, especially promoting the mystery of the sea. I love the mention of IMC, a nice subtle use of continuity from Doctor Who to build a bigger picture of the future. Imagine a boat with a glass floor that churns up an alien sea as it passes over it and you can see the dazzling bioluminescence of the water. Maximediras is an obscure site which has been colonised for several decades. Ancient and alien tourist attractions were nowhere to be seen when the Company wanted to gut this planet out but suddenly appeared from nowhere when they wanted to turn it into a heritage resort. Tate smashing his visor and killing himself reminds Rick of a previous example of this happening when he worked for IMC. The government of Maximediras was trying to open a dialogue with them but a rogue faction took over to manipulate things to the advantage of their own agenda.

Audio Landscape: Whistle, wet footprints, seagulls screaming, glasses clinking, the sea rolling, pouring a drink, plopping in the sea, Bernice deep sea diving with bubbles exploding around her, the gargling voices.

Isn’t it Odd: The scene where Peter kills one of the zombies is so awkwardly realised I really don’t know why they bothered. Its basically Thomas Grant chatting away amiably and a gurgling scream with no real indication as to what has happened.

Notes: This world and its populace would prove to be extremely important with regards to Braxiatel’s plans in future seasons. It does well to remember that even when the Benny Summerfield range is taking a break from its arc goodness it can still be subtly setting up elements to use in later stories.

Result: Beyond the Sea feels an awful lot like the earlier seasons of the Bernice Summerfield range before the series became heavily serialised and Braxiatel obsessed. With an economic cast and a tight storyline (I still maintain the hour long Benny stories are the perfect length) it’s a fine listen and the biggest difference between this and a story that comes from season two is that the series is far more confident these days and its audio resources are much more atmospheric. However Toby Longworth’s direction isn’t quite as tight as the series has been of late and there are a few awkward moments where you will hear actors completely without direction…that reminds me of the early days of Benny Summerfield too. It’s a little too early to judge whether ditching the arc heavy storylines and larger cast for self contained stories again was a good idea but this new world weary Bernice struggles to make me smile in the same way that the more content one did. However struggling with a son who can turn to violence and forced to live on her wits again means that her personal situation is more interesting than it has been for a while. Its one of the few times when Benny’s lifestyle is actually more interesting than the story she is involved with and conversations regarding her life on the Collection and her fears about Peter are the highlight of the tale. Its going for A Waters of Mars style vibe with evil sentient booze infecting hosts but it is nowhere near as gripping as Tennant’s penultimate story because it lacks the urgency and depth of character. Its an odd one for sure with lots of good moments not amounting to a great production overall: 6/10

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