Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Hourglass Killers written by Justin Richards and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: The sands of time are running… and they are in pursuit of Jago, Litefoot, Leela and Ellie. As the final battle gets underway, the infernal investigators make the decision of their lives…

Theatrical Fellow: Jago is appalled to get some of the sand that makes up the sandmen in his shoes! He’s a veritable oracle of august information and the director of diplomatic discretion although the Doctor wonders whether he should work on both before making such boasts. Litefoot proclaims him one of the mot theatrical men in all of London and with a cape and hat and a little exaggerated burlesque he attempts to convince their enemies that he is the Doctor whilst the Time Lord himself sets about bringing pursuing them. His overdone poetic references when pretending to be the most outrageously animated of Time Lords had me in stitches…and Ellie’s attempts at Leela were a hoot too (‘I’ll protect you!’). Jago never thought he would have to have a go at playing somebody even more over the top than himself! Jago is astute enough to realise that Abigail isn’t real and that she has been sent in at the eleventh hour to manipulate him and he feels quite embarrassed that he has been lead up the garden path so completely.

Posh Professor: Litefoot’s attitude towards Dark changes completely as soon as he realises that he is the Doctor. If we are including BBC Books (the eighth Doctor teamed up with him in Mark Morris’ The Bodysnatchers) this is the third incarnation that the good Professor has met and he has a long standing relationship with the man. When he thinks they are going to die it is Jago that the Professor turns to and says ‘Goodbye Henry, its been fun…’

Noble Savage: Leela delights by stating the obvious – the Doctor thinks that there is something sinister in the clay in Bedfordshire and Leela informs him that it is a ritual to burying the dead beneath the ground on the Earth. Its nice to see her teeth on show around the Doctor and she repeats that great Talons line of putting somebody to the torture! She thinks she is being kind by telling a man on the verge of death to pray to and make peace with his Gods but it really isn’t what you would want to hear at a moment like that! When things look grim Leela remains positive and declares that they will face their deaths together. What a shame that we should lose Leela from the series when she has fitted as snugly as a bug in a rug but there is such a thing as overkill with any character and I would hate to get to the point when I was fed up of a character this strong. Better to go out on a high.

Dark Doctor?: He is a Time Lord of considerable dexterity and class – hah! More like a bull in a china shop! This is a Doctor who is affluent in optimistic outbursts of Archimedean achievement! I was laughing my head off when the boisterous sixth Doctor started shouting his head off in the British Museum only to be assailed by a chorus of shushes! The Doctor mentions that the strangest things happen in Bedfordshire obviously reminiscing about the Dalek Invasion of Earth. His best attempt at hiding the TARDIS is by sinking it in the Thames on the Embankment at low tide but at least he has fulfilled his greatest desire and invented his own version of a Statenheim remote control to get the old girl back (The Mark of the Rani, The Two Doctors). He’s appalled to hear Litefoot describe the TARDIS as ‘just a box’ and Jago’s suggestion that it must be useful to store costumes in! He has no idea where he is going and that’s the exciting part of it. The Doctor makes the wonderful offer to Jago & Litefoot of the chance to travel through time and space and promises that the travelling part will be the dullest bit and the adventures they have will be extraordinary.

Standout Performance: How could I choose between the combined talent of Baker, Jameson, Bowerman, Baxter and Benjamin? Fabulous performances, all.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I think we’ll locate the necessary ning-nongs at the White Horse on Southwark Lane!’
‘You will soon drown in dusty death, old one!’
‘I only feel alive when I’m with you…’

Great Ideas: One of the wonderful things about the better Doctor Who spin offs (sorry Torchwood) is that whilst they are an entity in their own right with their own unique atmosphere and tone there is the added bonus of the delicious possibility of the Doctor turning up at some point to reunite with his old friends. It happened to remarkable effect in The Sarah Jane Adventures (The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, Death of the Doctor), Dalek Empire (Return of the Daleks) and now Jago & Litefoot. There is also the joy of having elements from Doctor Who turn up in these spin off series and giving them a whole new angle – televisions SJA and particularly the Big Finish Bernice Summerfield range are especially good at that. The thought of Sixie teaming up with Jago & Litefoot thrills me beyond words, primarily because Colin Baker is the best actor currently heading the main range and he is locked into this drama with what I consider to be four of the best of the rest (Louise Jameson, Trevor Baxter, Christopher Benjamin and Lisa Bowerman). Listening to all of these excellent characters working together is a joy and a clear highpoint of the range to this point.

Because the sand and clay can be studied they can discover its source and hopefully the whereabouts of Hardwick and Kempston. Fortunately there is a whopping great clue when we realise that they have named themselves after a village in Bedfordshire! Lord Anthill trapped inside the biggest hourglass known to mankind with the sand gathering around his shoulders! What a great image. A Temparon craft dragged to Victorian London like the TARDIS by Payne’s experiments in Chronoclasm. The ship travels through the time vortex but the technology is pretty crude, warping time but only so journeys become shorter and more manageable. Justin Richards has a real talent for combining the antiquated and the sophisticated to mesmerising effect – in The Clockwise Men who gave much depth to the idea of a clockwork human and his novel The Ressurection Casket he managed to conjour up a whole world of evocative steampunk technology within the realms of NSA fantasy. His latest innovation is hourglass technology, not so much for measuring time but manipulating it. There is a theory that observing something changes it as does the very act of measuring it, if you do it the right way you can bend time to your will. Kempston and Hardwick are the ships pilots but in a sense they are part of the ship itself and they are after true time travel not the unsophisticated method they currently master. They exist in every grain of sand on the ship, every syllable of time. An hourglass within an hourglass, trapping the Doctor and his friends inside and slowly filling with sand. I love the feeling of a race against time and the Doctor and company rushing back to London definitely provokes that response. Kempston and Hardwick were waiting to use Abigail as a weapon against Jago again when the time was right, to distract him at the right point. What works so well about this development is that Abigail has her own mind and despite being brought to life by Kempston and Hardwick she knows she was loved by Henry Gordon Jago. Its her moment of defiance before she is killed that strikes the poignant chord.

Audio Landscape: Sand man fashioned from the elements coalescing, bubbling scientific equipment, whispers in the library, the lapping waters of the Thames, Big Ben ringing, rain falling, crows screaming, horse and cart, the hourglasses cracking and distorting, a honking boat on the Thames, heaving the bookcase, slapping wet footprints, rain battering and sweeping away Kempston and Hardwick, the triumphant sound of the TARDIS materialising.

Musical Cues: There’s a lovely use of the piano throughout especially during the Jago/Abigail sequences and to suggest the pitter patter of rain as the Doctor uses the elements against his enemies. Things certainly build to a dramatic crescendo in the climax.

Standout Scene: Pick a scene. It’s a delight all the way through.

Notes: Justin Richards has a penchant for using hourglasses in an imaginative fashion. His much undervalued eighth Doctor novel Sometime Never… (one of the best plotted books I have ever read – give it a try) also featured a similar concept using hourglasses as a metaphor for literally holding the life of someone in your hands. Crack, distorted and broken…and your life has taken a wrong turn. Like the great Terrance Dicks (regardless of what I might think about some of his recent works he is still my Uncle with the best stories up his sleeves) if you can’t plagiarise yourself then who can you do it to? And with an idea this strong it seems only fair.

Result: Its funny how certain things excite different people, isn’t it? For some going to see an important football match breaks them out in hives of enthusiasm, for others it is the latest novel from their favourite author. Nothing pleases me more (at least in fictional terms) than when a series that I enjoy comes together to produce something so utterly delightful you just want to shout out from the rooftops. Whilst I could level that praise at this series (not season, series) as a whole the mere thought of an adventure in Victorian London with the sixth Doctor, Jago, Litefoot and Leela makes me so giddily energised I can barely control myself! What’s more The Hourglass Killers has a superb script that is packed full of moments of Justin Richard’s at his inventive and evocative best. The imagery alone is worth buying this set for but when you add in the witty dialogue, the chemistry between the actors and the fact that this is satisfyingly climactic culmination of five stories worth of build up it is practically untouchable. Beyond everything else you can feel the love that has gone into making this series, it shines in every second of the material and makes the experience of listening to it all the more joyous. The ending takes the Jago & Litefoot in a fascinating and exciting new direction…talk about leaving me agog for the next season! Jago and Litefoot…travelling in the TARDIS! This series just gets better and better: 10/10

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