Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Secret Origins written by Eddie Robson and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: Bernice Summerfield wakes up in hospital on Earth in the ruined Buenos Aires. She is relieved to find her son Peter by her side. Frost, the man who kidnapped Peter and has terrorised this city for centuries has long been thought immortal but now he’s dead and everything is fine. Or is it? Bernice tells Peter how she rescued him, she questions why Frost went to such lengths to kidnap Peter in the first place. Frost is one of two people she has met that claim to have known her for a long time and seemed to have a grudge against her. The other, a young woman named Robyn, claims to worked with her for many years. As Bernice recuperates, the memories of this time start to come back to her. She remembers new adventures stretching back many, many years. She and Robyn have defeated Frost many times before. How can this be right? Are these memories real? The answers lie in the origins of the feud between Bernice and Frost – but is Bernice paying too heavy a price for remembering?

Archeological Adventuress: ‘He said you shouldn’t do any sarcastic quips for at least a month!’ Chance would be a fine thing! What has happened to our happy go lucky adventuress who used to approach each problem with a smile on her face and a song in her heart? For much of this season Bernice has been depressed, angry, hurt, upset and all the rest of the words that describe the miserable end of the emotional spectrum. Whilst Lisa Bowerman is incapable of giving a bad performance the simple truth of the matter is that when she is in the slums of misery Bernice is no longer a great deal of fun to be around. With no friends to get her back and a son that drives her potty, Benny has become an Eastenders character and exudes about as much charisma. Somebody needs to take hold of this character and remind her (and us) why her life is worth living to the full again. Bowerman does her best but without any witty ripostes or funny characters for Bernice to mingle with she has lost her sparkle. UnthinkableIt would appear that somebody has been fiddling about Bernice’s memories which is exactly the sort of scrape that Robyn expects her to get into. The trouble is that Bernice doesn’t remember who Robyn is and certainly not that they used to work together in the ruins of Buenos Aires. Does everybody know about her time ring? When Bernice starts to accept that these adventures with Robyn were real it is Peter that starts to question when they could have happened. They have no place in her timeline as we know it so there has to be something suss about them. Braxiatel warns Frost about Bernice and tells him not to kill her because she is important. Bernice thinks it is time to go back to the Collection to sort this mess out…and I agree with her wholeheartedly!

Angry Adolescent: Other kids get through their entire childhoods without being kidnapped and Peter thinks they must live boring lives! He’s sick of sharing his mother with everybody else and wants her to be kept safe.

Standout Performance: Donna Berlin is trying her best to make it seem as if Robyn and Benny have been friends for years but you can’t manufacture chemistry that isn’t there…and it just isn’t there.

Great Ideas: The President of Earth (who happens to be carved in Bernice’s image) was murdered to send a message to Benny. If you want to hide something and you’ve got a time machine you can put it permanently, fractionally in the future. You have to programme your time machine to travel to the present plus one millisecond. You have to pay attention to this story carefully as from scene to scene we leap from Bernice in the present day to Bernice in a past that she cannot remember. The Amulet of Irony is an awesomely powerful device that inflicts whatever pain/pleasure you are trying to dish out back at you! If we all wore one of these it could end crime in the world! Santos is carrying a ghost that Bernice and Robyn disturbed on their dig. It needs bodies to exist within. Robyn isn’t from Chesterfield but an android from the future who experiences time backwards. She was sent to help Bernice to stop Buenos Aires from being destroyed. The Nazis were trying to obtain the secret from the mountain to create a race of super soldiers. It turns out that Braxiatel created Frost because he required an agent on Earth and to find somebody to destroy Buenos Aires. In the late 25th Century a fissure will open up in the city and it will remain open for over a century in which time dozens of people will disappear inside. They will have fallen through to a planet on the other side of the universe. Brax wants to make sure that that doesn’t happen. As such he wants to make sure that Buenos Aires is a no go area by the time the fissure opens and sets his plans in motion 500 years earlier during the Second World War. You can’t say that he doesn’t think ahead. Bernice has lived several lifetimes whilst she has been in her hospital bed, literally living out these memories in her head. That’s why she has been so tired. Robyn worked backwards getting the ending that she wanted by fixing the sequence of events in place. The people that were flung through the time fissure died on that unnamed planet but their but that little bit of organic matter is what triggered off life on that planet. Billions of years later life has evolved and they are the people who made Robyn. They saw it was coming and realised that their timeline was screwed and sent Robyn back to prevent that. She latched herself onto Benny at exactly the point where her people and their history vanished completely.

Audio Landscape: Heart monitor beeping, rain falling in noisy puddles, spacecraft descending, wildlife humming in the undergrowth, a chunk of masonry falling, growling monster, jumping into water, walls crumbling, train, motorcycle, Braxiatel’s TARDIS, explosion, flames crackling.

Isn’t it Odd: You don’t want to criticise something too much when it is trying something fresh rather than relying on how things have always been but I genuinely don’t think the Bernice Summerfield range has been as engaging since we have left the Collection. That’s not to say that there haven’t been some great stories (because four of the eight have received a score of either 9 or 10) because there have but the tone of the series is far more adult and less fun these days, the arc plotting that was so prevalent and appetite whetting in seasons seven and eight has all but vanished and there is a general feeling of aimlessness. When Adrian and Bev showed up in Glory Days it was a real highlight and when I first realised that the first two stories of season eleven would be a reunion of all the cast from the Collection I was overjoyed – which probably wouldn’t be my reaction if this new broom feel of the series was really working. I have a very strict idea of what the Bernice series should be; fun, imaginative, pacy and thoughtful – the last two seasons have touched on all of these but hasn’t consistently mixed all of them together like the series used to. Things did need to change and the massive reboot for the series that is just around the corner was much sought. The adventures that Bernice recalls having with Robyn might have made an impact if they had been injected with some laughter but its more deathly danger the sort of which we have been drowning in for the past two seasons. Frankly it doesn’t seem like a life that is worth trying to remember because its awfully similar to the one she’s currently experiencing. Why he is asked why he wants to change the destiny of the Earth Frost simply doesn’t have an answer. He just does. When did villainy become so vague? Sticking a Swastika on the cover feels like a cheap way of cashing in on the popularity of Just War when in fact the total amount of time spent in during the period is a handful of minutes in a memory that isn’t real. Rather wonderfully the Nazi that Bernice bumps heads with sounds just like Tryst from Nightmare of Eden (he even says ‘Oh…really?’ in exactly the same way!). This whole adventure is all about feeding us a few crumbs of Braxiatel’s plans. Enough with the teasing already – get on and let Bernice confront him! Wouldn’t it have made more sense to end a season on the big two part ‘all is revealed’ spectacular rather than starting a new season with it?

Standout Scene: Whatever I might have said about the cover the scenes set during the Second World War are the one point in this tale when Secret Origins feels like the Bernice Summerfield range of old, infused with energy and delight. Perhaps we should have ditched this adventure and just enjoyed a whole story set in that time period.

Result: Unnecessarily confusing, Secret Origins continues to unpleasantly remind the audience that things aren’t how they used to be in the Bernice Summerfield range. Once upon a time the range could climax a season with something as continuity encompassing as Death and the Daleks or as witty, warm and wonderful as The Masquerade of Death. Secret Origins in contrast is sophistic, dreary and lacking in much interest. The flashback structure is complex but that doesn’t have to be a problem (see The Rocket Men in the companion chronicles range) – what holds this back is the flashbacks Bernice is remembering are pretty mediocre tales featuring a new companion in Robyn with whom Bernice shares little chemistry. It all boils down to a terribly complicated way of explaining why Buenos Aires is in ruins in the first scene. When we were on the Collection I knew (roughly speaking) who to trust and who to care for but nowadays Bernice doesn’t have any of that support so each adventure has to stand up on its own merits. That might sound like a ridiculous thing to say but you would be surprised at how often a TV show will fall back on well liked elements when an episode falls below par – indeed some sitcoms rely on characters doing the same thing week in, week out to get their laughs. Bernice has headed out in the big scary universe without any of this support and whilst some of her adventures have been well done (with writers like Lawrence Miles and Daniel O’Mahony on board you can expect intelligent storytelling) the series has lost its joi de vivre! When the conclusion delivers its surprises they are pretty intriguing all told but that doesn’t excuse a generally humourless, unengaging previous 45 minutes. Benny needs a direction in life again and I think I hear the hissing servos of Braxiatel’s defensive Mechanoids just around the corner: 5/10

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