Thursday, 25 October 2012

Voyage to Venus written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: Professor Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago are accustomed to the murky fog of Victorian London and the palatable pints of half and half at the Red Tavern. They are not used to travelling through time and space with their old friend the Doctor. And now they fined themselves whisked off to the planet Venus in the distant future, at a time when warrior women rule from a floating city in the clouds. There’s a mystery here, one that the Grand Empress Vulpina intends to keep secret. Even if it means destroying these visitors from the long-dead planet Earth...

Softer Six: There is such a sense of joi de vivre about the sixth Doctor these days, a man free from the shackles of his television adventures and riding high on a giddy number of superlative adventures on audio. Teaming up this refurbished incarnation with the charming combination of Jago & Litefoot is magical, further adding to his repertoire of charming audio companions. Whilst visiting Venus is a marvellous opportunity to show off  the delights of time travel to his friends it is also a appreciative glimpse into one of the most enjoyable aspects of Doctor Who that rarely gets explored these days thanks to the advent of arcs and contemplative character drama – the simple thrill of exploring the extraordinary. Its an oft overlooked treat. He tries to act the moralistic adventurer by condemning a poacher but is soon put in his place and mentions visiting Venus before with Jamie and Victoria and studying their martial arts (all I could hear ringing in my ears was Pertwee going ‘Haaaaiiiii!’ at this point!). Telling the Doctor about a location known as ‘the forbidden caves’ is asking for trouble, you can practically hear him salivating at the chance to go pottering. Ultimately the Doctor gives two races a chance to work together, averts a slaughter, prevents a generation of children from being exploited and gives a world a second chance. Boy has the sixth Doctor come along way. He should have used this as his evidence during Trial of a Time Lord!

Theatrical Fellow: Every now and again we fans have a fun game of ‘who do you wish had hopped into the TARDIS for adventures with the Doctor?’ and somewhere at the top of my list (along with the 4th Doctor and Amelia Rumpford and/or Amelia Ducat) is the 6th Doctor and Henry Gordon Jago. I’m not certain if the time continuum can handle such an accentuated attack of  tongue-twisting terminology or a clash of such a colourful calibre of characters. If Big Finish can be exploited to make fan wish fulfilment come true I have to say I was delighted to see this most unlikely of combinations being brought to life. Henry thinks that the TARDIS is a trick done with mirrors and fears that the journey might be a little choppy. More than alien worlds and heterochthonous creatures, Jago is agog at the sight of intelligent women in the future! After exhibiting the most artistic entertainment that Victorian England has to offer, Henry Jago finds it a complete indignity to be put on display for the great unwashed! Even if he says so himself he is one of the finer specimens of manhood!

Posh Professor: As my long suffering husband always reminds me, behind every outwardly confident and successful man there is a partner crossing the is and dotting the ts and making sure their ego doesn’t fall out of orbit. Litefoot might seem to get the worse deal of the two characters because he is outwardly less colourful than Jago but their partnership wouldn’t be a success without him quietly admiring and chaperoning his more rambunctious friend. For a scientist like Litefoot, exploring another world is a dream he would never have thought possible which makes his reaction even more infectious than Jago’s. Because they are now in the distant future, Litefoot gets an uncomfortable portent of the Earth’s future and its not quite the teeming technological metropolis he imagined it to be. He’s still a gentleman through and through and decides to put himself in danger before the fairer sex…although on this planet they consider that the norm regardless because men are more disposable! Jago tries to apologise for dragging his dear friend the Professor on this little jaunt but he wouldn’t have had it any other way. Considering the runaway success of their own series, they more than deserve the moment of congratulatory back patting at the heart of this story. From any other characters it might feel remarkably self indulgent but we’ve been on some amazing adventures with this pair and with far more to come standing on an alien world surrounded by wonders feels like the perfect time to marvel at their success.

Standout Performance: Oh come on, this is an audio spearheaded by Colin Baker, Trevor Baxter and Christopher Benjamin. If that isn’t reason enough to pick it up then the fact that it only costs twenty shillings makes it compulsory. Where else can you be exposed to such acting talent for a pound?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘That infernal device! You’d have a more dignified restful excursion plunging over the Niagara Falls in a barrel!’ – Jago on the TARDIS!
‘A floating city in space! A mighty metropolis suspended in space by hot air balloons!’
‘Go out on a song? I say that’s in rather poor taste!’
‘How many songs do you know that are appropriate to soothe a rampaging horde of Shanghorn?’
‘Everyone’s a critic!’
‘You’re using God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen as the basis of a Venusian lullaby?’ – sometimes its glorious being a Doctor Who fan boy.
‘I can take you anywhere in time and space…and you want me to take you to a pub?

Great Ideas: Just look at that evocative cover…Jonathan Morris takes Jago & Litefoot to a world steeped in Victorian atmosphere, steampunk technology filling the sky and exotic creatures dogging their footsteps. It’s a vision o the future that feels perfectly suited to their characters, giving them the feeling of pioneers exploring an exotic plain for the benefit of humanity. Jago even mentions laying a claim to the land on behalf of Her Majesty and fancies mounting the head of the glamorous wildlife on the club wall!  Six years ago plant and animal life starting appearing across the surface of Venus, turning up as if from nowhere. After they had exhausted the Earth the human race had no choice but to find a new home and they settled on Venus but because the atmosphere was unsuitable they modified their bodies so they could survive on its surface. Deep down they were still human beings. The ancestors created the oxygen factories to try and make the atmosphere of the planet breathable. I might have objected to the momentary glance at a ‘Planet of the Women’ scenario if it wasn’t for Jago’s humble and seasoned reaction (‘when in Rome, etc, etc…’). Caves with specimens trapped in ice like flies caught in amber, how evocative.  The Sytherians were the original inhabitants of Venus who exhausted their fossil fuels and rendered the planet uninhabitable (where have I heard that before?). Greed turned Sytheria into a desert world ravaged by storms and acid rain. Much like the Silurians they put themselves into suspended animation until their world became habitable again, preserving specimens so one day a new world could be created from the seeds of the old. The creatures humanity have been using as slaves are Sytherian children. When it came time for them to abandon their world, the greatest minds of their society pulled their consciousnesses into a single being - the memorial o the Sytherians – acting as teacher and ambassador. This is the Doctor Who story where they manage to stop and alien invasion by soothing the monsters to sleep with music. Jago and Litefoot save the day by singing a Christmas carol! That alone is such a delightful concept, it would have sold me on that alone. Finally we get to make sense of the third Doctor’s immortal line ‘never trust a Venusian Shanghorn with a perigosto stick!’ and his mention of the Thraskins in The Time Monster. 

Audio Landscape: Henry and George’s first turbulent journey in the TARDIS, travelling through a time storm, the gorgeous soundscape of their first alien world, screaming indigenous lifeforms, the echoing caves, dripping, explosion, the cave roof collapsing, the raging Shanghorn.

Standout Scene: Because this TARDIS team is such a short term arrangement I rather love the fact that Jonny Morris crams in as many elements that we would recognise as a traditional Doctor adventure as possible. A dictator to be crushed, an exotic alien world, creatures in hibernation, a potential disaster story, glimpses into Earth’s future, a revenge story, monsters emerging from mythology…the fact that it doesn’t feel rushed is a testament to Morris’ skill as a writer. The cliffhanger into the next adventure promises great things.

Result: To stretch an analogy to its most vacuous and populist form, there is something of The X-Factor’s One Direction about Voyage to Venus. Take lots of fashionable elements (probably the most popular audio Doctor, probably the most popular Doctor Who spin off series and probably the most popular audio writer – certainly a strong contender in each of their categories) and shove them together and hope that it is a success story in the making. Fortunately Voyage to Venus turns out to be as much of a triumph as the pretty-boy teen band and then some. To say that this exceeded expectations is an understatement and to say that I wish this was the beginning of a longer run for this alluring ensemble echoes the success of the story. A Victorian vision of the future, an enticing mystery to solve, witty colourful characters, dialogue that embraces you like a lover on a winters evening and an immersive soundscape to get lost in…Voyage to Venus feels like Christmas come early. In the wake of the torturously complicated Hex arc, the epic generation-spanning Drashani trilogy and the drama of UNIT: Dominion, this is perhaps the ultimate refreshment; something that reminds us of the wonders of the universe and why the Doctor enjoys exploring. Its uncomplicated but intelligent and provides a intoxicating dose of adventure in a time when introspection and persecution seem to be the order of the day. A story with no baggage…just a thrilling exploit in time and space with Sixie and his friends Jago & Litefoot. Its just lovely: 8/10

1 comment:

Tony Jones said...

Yep - this was a wonderful piece of work. I wrote a shorter note on Red Rocket Rising