Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Venus Mantrap written by Mark Clapham & Lance Parkin and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: Eros, the artificial moon of Venus, has a reputation for romance, but Professor Bernice Summerfield is just visiting for the money – specifically the royalties of her recently deceased partner, the famous ‘novelist’ Jason Kane. Jason entrusted control of the inheritance to Bernice’s rival in love and academia, acerbic alien and rodent Professor Scoblow, and Bernice is prepared to fight: Unfortunately for Bernice, the path for finance rarely runs smoothly and disgruntled hamsters are the least of her problems. Eros’ twin moon, the warlike Thanatos, is moving into alignment, Erosian society is in turmoil, war rockets are due for launch and worst of all the banks are closed until further notice. To get her hands on Jason’s money, Bernice must ally herself with Scoblow to bring peace to Eros and Thanatos through a dangerous combination of espionage and dating, at a terrible risk to both life and dignity. And if that wasn’t bad enough, a force as evitable as death is waiting to strike…

Archeological Adventuress: Bernice is entirely flattered when asked if she is the Bernice Summerfield until she realises they are talking about the President of Earth and not noted scholar and archaeologist. Professor Scoblow has booked some pretty bad academics in her time but Benny is the only one to have almost started (and entirely averted) a nuclear and delivered a sloppy paper! By a matter of complete co-incidence as soon as she turns up on Eros a marauding bunch of space Nazis from the neighbouring world are about to attack! She’s been at this lark for so long now that the news doesn’t even break her out in a sweat. Since Jason died Bernice hasn’t had the time to even consider the fact that she has lost the love of her life and the idea of being sent on a date fills her with dread. How could she betray the memory of the man she once loved so much? However once she spots the Ambassador and sees how ruggedly handsome he is she wonders if actually this is exactly what she needed. To her chargin he declares her not a particularly decent replica of a human being and the President of Earth is much more convincing! She has to endure some serious scrutiny on her date including the fact that she is looking a little older than her Presidential counterpart. Its too soon for Benny to pursue anything sexual at the moment but at least she has been reminded of what is out there.

Angry Adolescent: Peter is in the safe hands of Adrian whilst Bernice is off trying to squirrel away with Jason’s fortune. Benny thinks this is a good opportunity for her son to spend some time with his dad but he seems more interested in the logic programme that was embedded in Braxiatel’s hard drive. Peter exhibits no surprise when he turns on the news to discover the moon where his mother is located has broken out with riots.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Its an emotional whore house for anti-social ego maniacs!’
‘We must stand up to the Thanatossers!’

Great Ideas: Calling the moon Eros is inevitable when you are right next to Venus, but Benny thinks its trite. Scoblow has a number of love drones of Quinn on staff; they use state of the art cerebral profological mapping techniques to match up all your needs and desires. They literally tell you what you want to hear.  Its easy to have an assignation with a love drone because they never have an agenda, only to please you.  The most exciting idea that this story flaunts is Peter being abducted and that is revealed in the very last scene.

Isn’t it Odd: After their initial bout of lust Bernice is trying desperately to not fall into bed with the Ambassador and in some painful sequences she tries every method to prevent that from happening. Its not farce because Benny is hurting like hell and its not drama because of the smut (‘I plugged a socket or two whilst I was at college!’). It falls between the two stools and is really uncomfortable to listen to. I find the Pakhar’s to be a bit tiresome if I’m honest. I don’t think they were the most imaginatively conjured up race and they are usually played for (not terribly funny) laughs. They often prove to be the thing that tips a story that is already pretty lousy over the precipice (Bang-Bang-a-Boom!) and in their hurried, helium inspired delivery are quite ridiculous to listen to. Scoblow is such a bitchy character there is no chance that there was ever going to be a spark of sympathy for her. When Safton started making his indecipherable speech to the riotous crowd I had completely lost the plot and was losing the will to live. It goes on forever. Jason has died and the range has barely had time to explore what that means to its characters and this is the best epilogue they could think up? How his xeno-pornagraphy featured sentient hamsters and his voracious sexual appetite is how he is remembered? I was hoping for something a little more subtle than that. By having the Outland Revenue representative turn up at the climax and take the loins share of the cash means that this whole adventure was ultimately pointless too. And the trip to Absence to get here.

Standout Scene: I always find love making scenes a little uncomfortable on audio and find myself stifling giggles! With lots of heavy breathing, kissy kissy and groaning noises Bernice and the Ambassador let us very up close and personal in a lift! I was hoping they would avoid the ‘Ambassador you are spoiling me!’ gag but like day follows night it inevitably turns up.

Result: Do you know I am not at all sure what Venus Mantrap was all about? Its one of those stories where the scenario and the tone of the piece are so at odds with each other that neither the drama nor the comedy works especially well. On the one hand you have a great big war looming on the horizon and on the other you have Bernice pretending (for the second time this season no less) to be an artificial version of herself and providing a pleasurable evening to the man who could stop it. It’s a massive leap forward for Bernice who hasn’t been with a man since Jason died but the deluge of smutty jokes robs these scenes of any emotional worth. After Glory Days and Absence I would have thought that anything that John Ainsworth touches in this range would turn to gold but the direction falters too with the tone far too quiet and the pace languid. For once it does feel like a minimalist cast in a studio rather than a fully immersive world on the brink of war. In its best stories this range can conjure up some epic storytelling very economically but there’s something about the small scale of Venus Mantrap that makes it feel like a Doctor Who story that is trying to convince that something ambitious is happening with a few sets and actors. There’s no reason why that should be the case on audio. Lisa Bowerman makes this as listenable as ever but this is probably the weakest story in the range for quite some time and one that tarnishes Jason’s (admittedly not very flattering) memory in a particularly sordid way: 4/10

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