Thursday, 20 December 2012

Judgement Day written by Scott Handcock and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: Atlantis has fallen. The Epoch are in command. And terrible decisions lie in wait for Bernice Summerfield. Bernice and her comrades will be put to the ultimate test – facing Neanderthals on prehistoric Earth; alien creatures on the streets of Victorian London; and the Epoch in the far, far future – but which world will they choose to make their home? Their journeys have been long and arduous. But soon, they will all end. Because Bernice Summerfield dies today… and, when she does, reality will fall apart around her.

Archeological Adventuress: Like some twisted version of the dream Tegan suffers in Kinda, Bernice has to decide which of the three realities that she is hopping between is real. She better get it right because by all accounts (or at least given past form) the Epoch have the ability to snuff the other two out with all the effort of blowing out a candle. Bernice knowing about the White Rabbit is a nice dovetailing of Doctor Who and this series, the Doctor passing down the knowledge of its existence to her after his adventures with Ace and Hex. She has learnt a great deal about time travel in her time with the Doctor and since, she knows that it is something you shouldn’t take for granted and you have to tread (in case there are any butterflies around that you might step on) very carefully. Benny talks passionately about the dinosaurs and finds it a sheer joy to be surrounded by them when all she normally gets to explore are dug up dusty old bones and now she can actually touch them. If she was really trapped in the 1800s she would be of to the Diogenes Club quick as a flash. Bernice describes herself as one tiny, insignificant person but let’s face it, that’s modesty for you because she’s never been that. There’s only one pod and Bernice gives that up for Ruth who is so much younger and hasn’t lived a fraction of the life that she has.

Priestess: ‘I’ll perish on a world that never should have been with memories of a life that never was…’ Ruth very quickly reminds Benny that she isn’t stupid when she answers her questions in a particularly condescending way. There’s definitely hope for her yet. Given Benny’s logic of interfering in the past she concludes that they should technically be standing still and saying absolutely nothing…although that would make for rather a dull audio. Ruth has latent memories buried in her subconscious and vicinity to the Epoch is freeing them. It takes Ruth to tell Benny that if she is so certain that theirs is the primary reality then she should switch the other two off without a moments hesitation, thus exposing her doubts. It seems that Bernice and Ruth are destined to split and live their lives apart which seems a shame since a lot of effort has gone into ensuring that their relationship clicked.

Standout Performance: ‘Belching flames, thank you. Nobody breathes flames. Do you have any idea how difficult that would be?’ Jack’s character is completely re-interpreted in the final story into something that suits David Ames’ performance. He was turning up in the first three adventures as a sinister reminder of what Bernice has lost but Ames’ fey, almost camp turn of phrase meant that these potentially striking scenes felt oddly discordant. He is revealed to be Springheel Jack, an eccentric, nimble, resourceful fellow with more knowledge of the situation than is healthy. He’s an electrifying presence now the pretence is dropped away and another intriguing ally for Bernice. Unbelievable that this is the same actor tucked away in the thankless role of Nathan in Planet of the Dead. Clearly he had much more to give as an actor than was exploited on screen. Jack wants to be creepy and live up to his reputation but hilariously can’t help mincing it up and looking the fool. He’s great fun to be around.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Destroy the human race now and there’s nobody around to say ‘I told you so…
‘We can still outrun them! Evolution’s on our side remember!’
‘What’s six inches between friends?’ – oo-er!
‘Barrier down. Year Zero officially scuppered!’
‘You’re the best might have been friend I could have never maybe hoped to have!’

Great Ideas: You’ve got what is by far the best cover in the box set with the surprisingly sinister and yet utterly camp looking Epoch robots staring out at you whilst Lisa Bowerman, Ayesha Antoine and David Ames all look equally radiant. If we’re not going to enjoy Ade Salmon’s gorgeous artwork anymore (and I am still a little bitter about that, although I understand the reasons for the rebrand entirely) then can we have more cover of this nature please (because some of the others have looked a little…photoshopped). Swapping between realities so readily makes for an intriguing opening gambit because there is absolutely no way of knowing which is the real Bernice Summerfield and Ruth or whether they both are. Or neither. You’re pretty much at sea. This is the adventure where Bernice gets up close and personal with dinosaurs and for that allow it is worth shouting home about. It all becomes very ipseitic when they start to wonder if it doesn’t matter which Bernice and Ruth lives or dies and consider which environment might be best to live in. Handcock makes the brilliant point that everything on Atlantis at the beginning of this box set was how the audience would imagine it being rather than how it actually was. It was such a picture postcard view of the mythical city I’m glad somebody pointed out that it was deliberate. Murder on the Omega Express? Jack got a little too close to Zordin when the Epoch where re-mapping the planet and has been trapped here ever since. This solar system represents a threat to the past, present and future of the Epoch and that is why all of the planets have been mapped a re-mapped. That’s why history and exploration could not be allowed. That is the scheme. Control the system and control their fate. One Epoch watches over each of the different worlds until it winks out of existence. There’s a forcefield around the planet that has been cutting off this system ever since Year Zero…the whole point of the meme in The Sky’s No Limit song is that it encourages people to think beyond that forcefield and out into the universe. Benny and Ruth need to lock themselves outside of time as the alternatives coalesce into one timeline, just as the Epoch did. Strangely enough the real triumph of this story is returning Benny to where she was when the story began – to the timeline where her son is waiting for her to find him.

Audio Landscape: Metal clanging, creatures purring in the night, carriage rattling along a path, Big Ben, footsteps, dinosaurs bellowing and screaming, running on a gantry, an Epoch winking out of existence, bio mechanical data glove.

Isn’t it Odd: The fabric of reality is shifting, the planet is closing in around Benny and the Ruth’s…this would make for a bittersweet, shocking conclusion to the Epoch story had this exact scenario not already played out at the end of Private Enemy No 1. Almost to highlight the fact the same music kicks in.

Standout Scene: It might be naughty of me to say but the scene where a caveman picks up his mobile phone and got an ear bashing from ‘her indoors’ because he had been out hunting too long had me in stitches. Even if he does sound scarily like Papa Lazarou from The League of Gentlemen! Some of their dialogue is overdone but the broad performances make for some pleasing comedy after the abstract horror of the last story. The appearance of Brax at the climax and the way he leaves a trail of breadcrumbs to the planet Legion is a real moment of triumph. Things are looking promising for the future.

Result: Massively entertaining, if a complete departure from what I was expecting. It’s the only Bernice Summerfield story where you will experience gay cavemen using GPS and mobiles, dinosaurs grazing in the background and verbal swordplay between our heroine and Springheel Jack. Answers do come but in the form of more questions (why is Benny the threat the Epoch are threatened by?) and the method of releasing them is to undo a conceptual puzzle concerning the identity of our heroes. Given the allergic reaction to the Epoch box set upon its release I wasn’t expecting a lot (you should never listen to reviews but it’s a curse) but I was quite surprised at the manifold of treats that were on offer. A massive planet wide mystery, big, bold concepts, a new family to help Benny acclimatise, an innovative menace with devastating powers and some fantastic imagery and set pieces. It might not always be the tightest of story arcs (Temple of Questions was largely irrelevant) but taken as a whole there is so much good material thrown in I found the overall story to be rather engaging. What I especially liked was how Bernice was dumped unceremoniously on this planet, friendless and depressed and over the course of the four stories we have seen the character be rebuilt from the ground up and reminded of everything about her that makes her special (her passion for life, her intelligence, her love of a good mystery and most of all her love for her son). The only disappointment in Judgement Day is that the ultimate showdown and solution consists of little more than Benny throwing a lever and bringing down a forcefield. Its hardly the climactic conclusion that has been promised after four hours worth of adventures. What does come out of this conclusion though is how well developed and established Ruth has been and her sacrifice to save Benny’s life gave me goosebumps all over. In plotting terms this isn’t a particularly clever ending (and its far from conclusive but I have a feeling that some of the hanging questions will be answered in the future) but switching the focus onto character and it is fantastic. I would suggest people give this entire story another listen without the caveat of this being a ‘bold new beginning’ for Bernice (because ultimately the purpose of the set is for her to re-discover her old life) and focus instead on the strength of epic storytelling, character and direction. Its not quite the best Benny has been but its very good all the same and much, much better than its reputation would suggest: 8/10

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