Sunday, 30 December 2012

Gallifrey Annihilation written by Scott Handcock & Gary Russell and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: Gallifrey dies... Romana and her comrades find themselves in the dank and grubby wastelands of northern Gallifrey, trapped between two forces in a long and ancient war. One side bides their time within their nests, whilst the other draws up troops across the trenches. Both sides have their secrets, their means to win the war – and both want Romana fighting alongside them… After millennia of warfare, the final assault approaches. The Ancient Enemy and the True Lords want this world. And before this night is out, there will be bloodshed. Only the late Lord Rassilon holds the key...

Presidential Babe: ‘She may be the one bound through blood to the Destroyer of Worlds…’ It just occurs to me that this entire season is based around the premise of Romana, Leela, Brax and Narvin running away from a problem on their homeworld rather then staying and dealing with it against the odds. Try hard as I might I cannot imagine the four of them giving up on their version of Gallifrey for anything and certainly not with their tails tucked between their legs like this. Mythologising Romana as the ‘Destroyer of Worlds’ is certainly taking her in a new direction. Unfortunately it’s a bloody tedious one. What was wrong with her simply being a good person struggling in a tough universe? Why do all characters have to take on a legendary status? Romana as the Bride of Prydon – this passes the overly theatrical mark and keeps going. Leela can see that Romana punishes herself for no reason and calls her a fool for it. Romana’s lineage can be traced by a sip of her blood with the taste buds of the right connoisseur. The one good thing that comes out of all of this insane melodrama is that Lalla Ward once again gets to behave in a spectacularly bossy fashion. Which is always fun.

Noble Savage: Rejuvenating Leela by turning her into a vampire does have dramatic potential but it continues a disturbing growing trend in spin off material that the writers simply don’t want the characters to get old. The same thing happened with the Brigadier in the New Adventure Happy Endings. I would say there are more dramatic possibilities in Leela’s growing obsolescence than in turning her into a monster. One sees her weakening and the other sees her getting stronger. I hate the idea of returning her eyesight. It feels like a massive cop out after all the effort that went into making it happen and how beautifully the affliction works on audio. Rarely does Leela speak her mind because often she doesn’t understand what Romana, Brax and Narvin are talking about. Insulting Narvin is one of the few remaining pleasures Leela can enjoy. I simply don’t buy into Leela’s logic of wanting to be converted into a vampire…the only way it could make sense would be if she was unaware of what she was actually about to put herself through. Bizarrely once she has become a vampire there is no sign of the twisted inner core that the rest of them exhibit. She’s simply Leela, stronger and fitter again. All the pros and none of the cons. Where’s the drama in that?

Born Again Brax: Braxiatel the growling savage beast. Its novel, I suppose…

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘War should not be simple. War should be tactical and brave fought with guile and cunning. Otherwise it is just a game for cowards and politicians.’

Standout Performance: Katy Manning is absolutely superb in a deadly serious role. They talk in the special features about how Gary Russell encouraged Katy to play the role without any of the cute and eccentrics tics that she employs to portray Jo and Iris. This is where his strength really lies because he coaxes one of her most memorable performances from her. Its just a shame he couldn’t have given her the material to match. Geoffrey Beevers has evil coming out of his bottom when he takes his voice down to a sinister level and tries to make the role of Lord Prydon work but he’s fighting a losing battle trying to frighten when written with more theatrical extravagance than Henry Gordon Jago!

Great Ideas: I’ll take my pleasures where I can and listening out for Gary’s Hitchcockian cameo provided some entertainment. Its like Where’s Wally? on audio. Rassilon’s final gift to Gallifrey was to create a physical barrier between the planet and the rest of the universe and nobody has seen the stars since.

Audio Landscape: Rain falling inside and out, screaming, a charging battalion.

Musical Cues: There’s a massive hint to who the true masters of this Gallifrey are in the musical rip off from State of Decay. Its very atmospheric and fan pleasing and by far my favourite thing about this story.

Isn’t it Odd:
  • Unfortunately Annihilation hits the ground ambling at slothenly pace as we spend ten minutes trying to catch up with the regulars. It’s a worthy exercise considering everything that has been thrown at them already but as a result it takes forever to set up the standalone story. Which I guess would be funnier if this and the last story exchanged their titles. Fifteen minutes and I was waiting for something, anything, to happen.
  • At this stage the idea of another alternative Gallifrey does feel rather tiresome. Its not like Russell and Handcock are ever going to manage to top what took place in the last story. Gallifrey as a series has always felt really removed from reality (although the success of its first three series does make me question RTD’s assertion that all science fiction has to be grounded in reality to find an audience) but this season is starting to feel even further removed than that. There is so little to grasp hold of that I recognise that I am starting to feel alienated by events – like I’m not quite the right audience for this season (perhaps and alternative universe audience would be more suited?). This wouldn’t be a problem if this particular story wasn’t so talky but I feel so disassociated from the action for the most part that practically everything feels irrelevant.
  • Since Gary Russell had a larger hand in this story somebody had to quote that bloody Zagreus poem (like we needed to be reminded of that?).
  • Vampires don’t really excite me very much and this feels as though it has missed a trick by seeking to avoid the gothic angle. All you get here is the regular old stuffy Gallifrey with fangs. I would have pushed this right to the limit and piled on the Hammer atmosphere, anything to distract us from the paucity of interest in the script. Holding back from mentioning that this a vampire story is fun at first but is so protracted that it goes beyond a joke. These are the dullest block suckers known to man…failing to be funny or scary, contemporary or a homage to the vintage vamps from the past. Check out Jago & Litefoot to see how this sort of thing should be done. They manage to conjure up a more sinister vampire with David Collings’ Sanders in five minutes than the writers achieve in an hour + here. Considering the premise of this story is ‘Time Lords vs Vampires’ and this is their final battle the whole piece feels astonishingly anti-climactic.
  • It’s a case of how much continuity can the writers stuff into one story, this (and Forever) is the ultimate fanwank. You’ve got a female Borusa (played by Katy Manning) taking on a vampiric Lord Prydon (played by Geoffrey Beevers) in a world where Rassilon chose to ally himself with the bloodsuckers and bring a blanket of darkness down on the planet. There is so much that does not compute with that sentence imagine me shuffling around in circles as Twiki from Buck Rogers going ‘beedy beedy beedy!’ until my head phuts.
  • Halfway through the story and ‘our’ characters haven’t made the slightest impact on this reality. What is the point of them visiting? There’s so much exposition and theatrical pontificating that there isn’t any time for characters to interact and involve themselves in events.
  • Now I don’t have an issue with this personally but I have read a fair few complaints about the idea of casting recognisable actors in alternative roles that aren’t the roles they played in the classic series. There’s no problem with the performances themselves but going out of your way to advertise that Katy Manning, Geoffrey Beevers, Carole Ann Ford and the like are going to appear in this series and then having them appear as uninteresting non entities is bound to create a little bit of a stir. Sometimes I wonder if Russell enjoys winding up his audience a little bit…just for the craic.
  • These stories desperately need to be an hour long to keep them tight but the writers simply cannot help over indulging themselves. The last time he did that we ended up with the five hour long epic (I use the term in the loosest possible way) Zagreus and Big Finish lost about half its audience. He and Handcock pad out this story with so much unnecessary nonsense that it stretches out the thin plot far beyond its capacity to entertain. And it wasn’t that great a plot to start with.
  • Shoving in a little Greek mythology doesn’t automatically add depth. If I see one more Cassandra in fiction with portents of doom I might scream.
  • Talk, talk, talk…this might be the ‘season finale’ of a series we’ve never watched (the thrilling denouement when the vampires and the Time Lords meet for the battle that determines the fate of the planet) but its nothing but waffle for the most part. Had this been our Gallifrey all along and this was the season finale, I’d feel supremely cheated. With Romana being a clever dick and using Prydon’s hunger against him, the battle taking place off screen and the vampires defeated by merely opening the curtains (metaphorically speaking) this could be the epitome of the term anti-climax.
  • Why is this story 80 minutes long? There’s barely 20 minutes worth of plot!

Standout Scene: Leela and Narvin’s growing friendship is one of the few compensations this story offers. She enjoys learning new things about him because it makes him far less sinister and he has come accustomed to having her protect him. If at the end of this season we only take this burgeoning relationship with us at least it hasn’t been for naught. He doesn’t like her but he does respect her and as far she is concerned that is much better.

Result: Annihilation shows the massive gulf between Gary Russell’s talent ‘behind the microphone’ and his talent ‘behind the typewriter.’ With the former he is practically unbeatable; assembling an impressive cast and encouraging extraordinary performances, generating a potent audio atmosphere and working his ass off to make sure that the story is marketed to the hilt and the audience are there licking their lips with anticipation. With the latter he is flogging a dead horse; amassing a paceless bore, packed with uninteresting characters and tedious pontificating, injected with needless continuity and poisoned by a tired premise. I don’t know where Scott Handcock came into this but it is so packed full of Russell’s trademarks faults as a scriptwriter I can only imagine any creative worth he injected into the story was completely swamped. Gallifrey Annihilation feels like we are coming in at the end of the season of a show that we haven’t seen and missed all the best bits. The insidious vampiric conversion of Gallifrey (Spare Parts style) would have been a much more exciting prospect than its demise and since we are only dropping in to see this wrapped up it (once again) feels as if we haven’t been invited to the right party. I don’t really want to say anything more about this story because I feel as though I have twisted the knife in enough already but needless to say I had something of an allergic reaction to this story. Not since my days of reviewing Star Trek Voyager (check them out if you have the stomach for it) have I been so baffled that a story which has so much talent thrown at it (some lovely direction, an intimidatingly good cast) could be so unravelled by its defective script. My least favourite Big Finish story in some time: 2/10

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