Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Resurrecting the Past written by Eddie Robson and directed by John Ainsworth

Dead and Buried: Walking across medias again with confidence strides Bernice makes her first appearance in a visual medium in the awesome ten minute CGI sequence Dead and Buried that serves as a prelude for this blockbusting two part wrap up of so many of the series’ storylines. If the idea was to create a massive buzz around the Bernice Summerfield range at the time then Eddie Robson certainly triumphed. The visuals are glossy and gorgeous and with the ever wonderful Lisa Bowerman voicing the piece it feels like an authentic little story in its own right. The fact that I can actually see Bernice in action is enough to get me in something of a tizzy but this is much more than just  some throwaway cartoon. I showed my husband (who has heard me rave on and off about Bernice Summerfield over the years but hasn’t seen anything of hers because there is nothing to see) and he saw the run time of nearly ten minutes and sighed loudly (most YouTube clips I show him are only a few minutes long).  Two minutes in he was on his knees, close to the screen, completely enraptured. Eyebrow cocked he walk away and said ‘very impressive, very Lara Croft’ and ‘I’d definitely watch more of those.’ You’ll get to see Benny kick over the surface of a dead world in a buggy, burst her way into a long lost tomb and tackle a truly menacing defensive drone that keeps on coming. It survives a cave-in, a blast from a military sonic weapon and an explosion. The shots of the mechanoid glowing with molten metal are truly stunning. Hearing Miles Richardson’s plummy tones at the end of the piece made my day, Braxiatel is such a suave and devious villain and if anybody deserved to be behind this attempt to kidnap Bernice it had to be him. What’s clever about this is that Eddie Robson doesn’t try and fill you in on ten seasons worth of development (that sort of thing has been tried and failed before in the TV Movie) but instead gives you enough information to build up a picture of the situation and then uses the opportunity to tell an entirely visual piece of storytelling. It’s the one time he has the opportunity to do this before we switch back to audio and at that point he can indulge in as much exposition as he likes! It’s a phenomenal action sequence that has clearly been made with real care by the best in the field and served its purpose absolutely by getting the existing audience excited for the new season and drawing in new punter to the range. How wonderful that Big Finish continue to exploit their best people for the range that made them what they are today.

What’s it about: When a group of Irving Braxiatel’s defence mechanoids embarks on a kidnapping spree, Braxiatel denies all knowledge – but his former associates Bev Tarrant and Adrian Wall suspect something else is going on. They’ve been waiting for Braxiatel to show his hand for months now and this looks like it. The only problem is Bernice Summerfield isn’t around to help. She’s vanished. Her son, Peter and Adrian search for her on a craggy, forgotten planet. Meanwhile Robyn, an android from the future is on a mission to find out why Braxiatel wants her creators wiped from the timelines for good.  She and Bev team up to investigate the kidnappings. What is Braxiatel doing with these people? And why has Bernice Summerfield been important to these plans for all these years? In a blurb which offers full disclosure inside this is potentially the most appetite whetting summary for a Bernice Summerfield adventure yet!

Archaeological Adventuress: Bernice knows something big is coming and that she is going to have to pool every resource she has to take on the might of Irving Braxiatel. How like Benny to try and save an artefact even if it means putting her life in danger. She proves an adept action heroine (well she has seen plenty of action in her time) and last longer than most would when trying to avoid being captured by the inescapable mechanoid. She hates using guns, she prefers has wit and cunning. Somebody has to step through the space/time fissure and prevent the Deindum from becoming the ultimate menace and I began to realise with crushing inevitability that that person was Bernice. That was what Braxiatel was saving her for all these years. That was why he was manipulating her life. He wanted her to become his ultimate tool for saving the universe from a scourge that could potentially rival the Daleks. Something in her keeps the Deindum as they are and prevents them from becoming more aggressive creatures.

Super Genius: Hass tries to explain why re-housing the people of Maximediras would be wrong but Braxiatel has come too far and made too many enemies to be stopped now. Besides he’s more interested in how his hair looks before he addresses them. Braxiatel has a tendency to get his way…and to getting things out of his way. He treats people as minor inconveniences rather than individuals with rights. Braxiatel does care very deeply about art but surely that cannot be his sole motive for causing such a stir on a nameless, forgotten and populated planet?

Curator-Ex: Braxiatel simply knows Bernice too well for her to surprise him and when she decides to go back to what she does best to put him off the scent he is one step ahead of her and waiting. He even goes as far as inventing an entire civilisation for her to unearth just so he can kidnap her and keep her out of the way. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – he’s a wily bastard and no mistake!

Shaggy Dog: Amazingly Adrian has been developed from a one dimensional builder to one of the most impressively heroic characters in the range. Always ready to step into danger to protect the ladies in his life (and his son) and never afraid to look death in the eye.

Angry Adolescent: Peter learnt a thing or two about survival in his time away from the Collection (certainly in last seasons Absence) and doesn’t appreciate Adrian taking his mothers stance of always trying to molly coddle him.

Food Stains: ‘Working like a Doggles so to speak!’ Doggles is actually the first person you would expect to find in a secret underground scientific facility run by Braxiatel and yet his sudden appearance is still a shock because it is never even hinted at. Considering the last time he saw Bernice he tried to rape her I was as taken aback at their reconciliation as she was. Doggles sounds shamefaced when he also admits that he has never forgotten what happened between them. Braxiatel wanted to drive a wedge between Benny and Jason and convinced him to make some amorous advances towards Bernice. Doggles owed Brax his life and felt that he couldn’t refuse. He’s been given access to the most advanced technologies even beyond his wildest dreams but he has been worked to the bone. He wants to stop thinking and have a rest, to think normal thoughts again rather than the computational meanderings of Braxiatel’s machinations.

Alien Gardener: Hass is clearly trying to make the best of a bad situation and continues to work for Braxiatel but without any degree of enthusiasm. He wont be used as an assassin but Brax states that he will have a use for him in the future. Hass’ people don’t like to advertise certain things about themselves because they aren’t aggressive…but they are dangerous. If he takes off his protective suit he emits a blast of deadly radiation. He waits patiently for his moment of revenge until everybody is off Maximediras and informs Braxiatel that the very poison he utilised in the past is going to be how he meets his end.

Smiley Ball: Joseph should not have been left behind on the Collection. There I’ve said it. Of all the characters that should have gone along with Bernice and Peter it should have been her faithful, luting-voiced drone. The gorgeous vocal talents of Steve Wickham are put to good use as ever and I have the same reaction to hearing his voice as I do to hearing John Leeson as K.9 nowadays, one of absolute, unexplainable love. He’s just lovely.

Standout Performance: A spectacular full cast drama featuring every character from the range that has managed to survive to this point. What impresses me most about this cast when they are all brought together is just how well oiled they are when you consider how they were cohered. This was never a Star Trek style casting process where the regular characters were scrutinised over months (probably years if I know Paramount) to see who would work out with who. Each new character that has been added to the ensemble was a serendipitous accident. Benny, Brax and Jason were created during the New Adventures period. Joseph was added to the mix in the first season when the range was re-creating some of the more popular NAs (Walking to Babylon). Adrian joined in series two, supposedly a one off performance in a lacklustre Mike Tucker script (The Stone’s Lament). Bev turned up in series four in another (slightly better) Mike Tucker script (The Bellotron Incident). Hass was the replacement gardener after Mr Crofton was killed in tragic circumstances in the outstanding collection Life During Wartime and underwent a transformation from a Martian to something altogether more alien in the reality shifting Something Changed. Doggles was the result of an appearance in the short story anthology Something Changed and just seem to stick when the next audio came out. Peter was a result of the events in the two books The Squire’s Crystal and The Glass Prison but only really made his presence felt amongst the cast in series eight when he killed Jason and headed off into the universe with his mother. And finally Robyn was added to the mix in the series ten climax (Secret Origins). What astounds me is how this cast has been nutted and bolted together over the years and yet at this stage feel as though this was how it was always intended. The efforts of Bowerman, Richardson, Myers, Faulkner, Wickham, Wolfe, Stevens, Grant and Berlyn should be applauded because together they make the most engaging of ensemble casts that Big Finish has to offer. Robyn is actually a lot more fun in this adventure, especially when she interacts with Bev and jokes that when you are in pieces you have to take compliments where you can get them. Its also worth noting that Berlyn has a much more relaxed chemistry with Faulkner than she did with Bowerman which is odd because she sounds an awful lot like Ayesha Antoine who plays Ruth in the current series and has quickly developed a sparkling rapport with Bowerman.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Is this Braxiatel finally showing his hand?’
‘The Earth’s moon?’ ‘I’ve never understood why it doesn’t have a proper name. It’s like calling Peter child.’
‘Its awfully quiet major unrest’ ‘The windows are soundproofed!’
‘Of course! Nobody does the things that I’ve done for kicks!’
‘I knew I’d find somewhere else eventually. The Collection is far to bijou.’

Great Ideas: Like getting a severe case of whiplash suddenly all the complaints that I had last year dissolve away as the Bernice Summerfield feels more epic and far reaching than ever before. We kick start on an action footing with Dead and Buried and suddenly with Bernice out of the action all of her friends come into play – Robyn, Bev, Adrian, Peter, Hass…and even a few of her enemies like Doggles start to make themselves feel present again. It looks like the whole cast has come together for one final, double length curtain call that promises to reveal all about Braxiatel. To say that I had high hopes for this ambitious adventure is rather an understatement! Bernice visits Jevada on a lead from a Bandril (Timelash) trader. People are being kidnapped by robots all over the galaxy and there doesn’t seem to be any pattern to it. Brax is claiming that the mechanoids that are doing the kidnapping are the ones that disappeared earlier in the year whilst defending the Collection from an attempted terrorist attack. In other words it had nothing to do with me. On a completely separate matter he has just purchased the colony world of Maximediras to put on major public art displays. Its well located with a surface of mostly water and for various reason its impossible to develop. On the whole the people who live there were happy to leave but it still leaves a few thousand who are clinging onto their lives in the City and don’t want anything to do with Braxiatel’s reforms to the planet. He knew this was going to happen and has a handy little law waiting that if more than 10% of the population is involved in civil unrest he can send his own private peacekeeping force to silence them. He thinks of everything. In Secret Origins it was made clear that Robyn experiences the future backwards and that is how Bev knows who are going to be the next victims of the BPM’s. Suddenly these little hints planted last year are starting to bear fruit. Once upon a time the capitol of the Moon Colony was the most exciting City in human space but now its half a historical theme park and half a grimy port. How wonderful to get a whirlwind tour of locations like this, filling us in on astronomical locations in the future. The Dark Side used to artificially lit and atmospherically supported but that was all turned off decades ago when the population dropped too low to keep it viable. Now it’s a huge pitch black ghost town. How awesome is that? A massive network of computers on the Dark Side of the Moon where the kidnapped people are beamed to – what is Braxiatel up to? All the people that are being kidnapped are having something taken from their minds. Robyn used her databank to show Bernice images of the people who made her. They are called the Deindum and they are creatures of blue-ish light and devoted to the spreading of peace. Robyn’s people were created when some biological material fell through a space/time fissure and came into contact with a primordial soup on that planet. The genetic material was human beings from Buenos Aires (see Secret Origins). The Deindum have reached back from the future and deflected all of Braxiatel’s attempts to destroy them. Plan B is to change them instead, to introduce new elements to their genetic structure from their conception. They are hoping to engineer a future where the Deindum don’t discover time travel. If nobody is sent through the fissure the Deindum will discover time travel and become aggressive, paranoid and suspicious. Dominate other species and enslave them to a harsh ideology. There’s a lovely Avon/Vila ‘Orbit’ moment where Robyn pursues Bernice through the corridors of the base where you didn’t quite know if she was enemy or friend. Peter thinks if he adds his genetic material to the Deindum they will be able to work out how to delay the end of the universe by millions of years. Millions more years of life for everybody in the universe. That’s what he saw in the machine. The Braxiatel Collection isn’t where it is by accident. He sited it there all those years ago because there’s a huge and extremely dense energy field in that part of space. Its generated by interdimensional leakage so it just keeps on growing. Nobody knows about it because nobody in this era knows that this kind of energy exists at all much less how to look for it but also because Braxiatel has been making sure that they don’t. He wants it for his people. They are doomed. But he wants to bring them back. He’s discovered another race from the future that could also make use of it and that’s why he wants to move it. He wants to move the energy leak from their grasp right next door to Maximediras. Hass pushes Robyn into the fissure instead of Bernice (to help create the race that wound up creating her…oh my word I’ve gone boss eyed!).

Audio Landscape: The winds of Jevada, blasting open the door, awesome mechanoid voices, Hass’ survival suit, a screaming crowd, stomping mechanoid, booing and jeering, whipping up a riot, lasers, klaxons, the terrifying brain munching machine.

Standout Scene: Braxiatel admitting that he has done all of these terrible things to save to save his people from an awful catastrophe that is to come. He knows about the Time War. He knows that Gallifrey is going to be destroyed and he wants to do everything in his power to bring them back. In a superb moment of character inversion Braxiatel goes from being the ultimate super villain to a much more sympathetic character and one who is trying his damdest to save his race from extinction. It ties this series in with the TV series and with the Gallifrey audio series and manages to give us a whoppingly satisfying reason for why Braxiatel has committed such appalling acts. In the wake of such news the death of Jason, the manipulation of the Cybermen, the Draconians and the Mim seem small scale and less important. It doesn’t excuse what he’s done but it does put everything in perspective.

Result: ‘We’re changing the future…’ Exciting, epic and bringing so much of the last ten years of adventures up to date and relevant again, Resurrecting the Past had a massive amount to achieve and it succeeds in pretty much all of its goals. You might think that this would wind up being a box ticking exercise but this is anything but. We’re planet hopping, privy to Braxiatel’s machinations, dodging BPM’s, reunited with this ranges brilliant cast and introduced to a spanking new menace. It has that wonderfully dizzying Army of Ghosts/The Stolen Earth/The Pandorica Opens feel of pulling together many narrative threads into a cohesive and fulfilling opening act of a finale without any of the messy business of having to tie it all up at the end. The pace is relentless and its such a joy to be in the midst of adventure with Adrian, Bev, Hass, Joseph and all the others. I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t missed them all. Robson very cleverly manuveres everybody into a position so the plot can finally be spelt out but via three different speakers so Brax, Doggles and Robyn it feels less like exposition and more like an exquisite masterplan that is reaching fruition. The story is also injected with real wit and creativity and the cliffhanger promises exciting things to come. On every level this is the Bernice Summerfield range firing on all cylinders, aiming high and shooting off into the stratosphere. I’m foaming at the mouth for the conclusion: 10/10

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