Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Kraken’s Lament written by Mark Wright and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: ‘Gather round, wretched peoples of Atlantis, for Acanthus the Talesmith has a story to tell! A story of adventure, of courage, of a Winged Goddess searching for truth and sanctuary in a friendless city… On the streets of this fair city, the Goddess searches for a path to the child of two worlds, but finds instead only questions and danger. Be astonished as she defies the rage of the dreaded Kraken! Wonder as she sups with the tragic Queen in her carved stone palace, high above the city! Marvel at her bravery as she gazes deep into the Further Beyond! Come one, come all and listen! Listen to Acanthus the Talesmith and let him amaze you with his story… the story of Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Kraken’s Lament!’

Archeological Adventuress: Benny is haunted by cries from her son which serves to remind us of her new mission in life to find him. Her memory appears to have been fiddled with because although she remembers her approach to Atlantis and the space port, she no longer remembers quite how she found herself outside Acanthus’ property or the way back. Benny is awed at the sight of the Acropolis, Greek civilisation brought to life before her very eyes. Given her not inconsiderable knowledge of classical mythology Benny quickly realises that the world she has found herself in is a hotchpotch of Greek history and fiction. In the face of a creature the size of Kroll and twice as ugly, Bernice refuses to run and cower but instead protects the children who are nearest to her. That’s why she’s a heroine, you know. Keeping her head down has never been Bernice Summerfield’s style and even if she says so herself, she is good. Patience is a virtue that has long passed her by. I love the sequences of her trying to mount the Pegasus because the director takes his time and ensures that it’s a warm and amusing as it can possibly be.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Pure blind luck’ ‘Or stupidity. It’s a fine line.’
‘Nicely evasive’ ‘Therein lies my talent.’
‘I can’t make you do anything Your Highness – you’re the bloody Queen!’
‘The creature gazed right back at her. There was no malice or anger in its eyes, just love. And with the gentleness of the gentlest lover, the creature reached out a single giant finger and caressed the Queen’s porcelain cheek’ – that’s rather lovely.

Great Ideas: At the heart of the Epoch box set there is a really great idea that has never really been tried on this scale before and that is having an entire planet to crack open and reveal its secrets. Its an ambitious idea because usually we only get a surface examination of these things but with Epoch there are four hours worth of material in this location so it can be investigated in much greater depth than usual. By the end of The Kraken’s Lament this planet already feels well explored which is a good thing because things are about to start shifting. The whole concept of a planet being constructed out of Greek mythology is inspired purely because for an archaeologist like Benny exploring the architecture and being able to come face to face with mythical creatures is a salivating prospect. The continuation of the ‘history is outlawed’ theme is great because it automatically puts Bernice on the defence and has her looking over he shoulder. Having Acanthus narrating this adventure helps to give it the classical feel that it is reaching for, especially effective during the Kraken attack because it allows for the scene to be narrated whilst not feeling like characters standing about describing events to the audience like the lesser audios have a penchant for doing. Dumping Benny on a planet with no technology to be able to escape gives her a fixed location to rediscover herself and her surroundings. Wright has some fun with his plundering of Greek myths, the Minotaur showing up as the equivalent of a gladiator in an amphitheatre. The Queen drops a Year Zero bomb which is a relief because I thought that the whole concept of the rebooted universe was going to be skipped over. Bernice’s assertion that Atlantis is a contradictory is beautifully written by Mark Wright, highlighting that it is a culture based on ages old tradition and myths but has only been around for half a century. There’s a certain poetic irony to the Queen refusing to love her King as a Kraken and ordering his destruction and in retaliation he destroys the Palace and they fall into the sea together, embraced by its murky depths. Acanthus and his house going missing is the first sign that things are amiss on Atlantis (beyond the general nuttiness of a planet built on Greek mythology in the first place) and Bernice has lost her only friend in the world.

Audio Landscape: Steve Foxon’s soundscapes are extremely vivid throughout this adventure. The last few Bernice Summerfield adventures have been minimalist and it is wonderful to be able to get back to some ambitious audio landscapes. If you are cutting your teeth on audio then being able to bring to life a Kraken climbing a mountain and reducing a palace to rubble is a great place to stretch your talents. Foxon is a dab hand at Big Finish stories by now and his work has reached a zenith of professionalism here. If you shut your eyes and cut off your surroundings you will be whisked away to Atlantis in seconds. Footsteps, dogs barking, birdsong, snoring, market scenes, the sea lapping at the harbour, seagulls, applause, the sighing Kraken raising from the waters, screams, people flinging themselves into the water, spears and arrows flying through the air, Acanthus spitting out his wine, bees lazily carrying on the warm breeze, Pegusi braying and kicking at the mud, the wind rushing through the Queen’s bedroom, pouring wine, lashing rain, church bells sounding, the Kraken’s lashing tentacles impacting as it climbs the mountain, the creature sighing in pain, whinnying, the Palace being ripped to pieces by the angry Kraken.

Musical Cues: There’s a gorgeous theme for the Kraken that manages to be both exciting and surprisingly melancholic, the soundtrack giving some clue to the creatures distress. The piece of music when Bernice tries to mount the Pegasus and takes flight into the sky is beautiful.

Isn’t it Odd: Was this really the best place to kick start a new marketing campaign of interest in the Bernice Summerfield series? I remember before Epoch was released (along with the rather wonderful Dead and Buried animated adventure that was completely out of place, situated before Resurrecting the Past) there was something a buzz around the range. Gary Russell was back at the helm after his time with BBC Wales, the series was being rebranded with new cinematic covers, the stories were being released in box sets of three or four stories rather individual releases and there was a general feeling that things were looking very good indeed for our intrepid adventuress. And then everybody listened to the thing. That’s not fair because its nowhere near as bad as some people claimed it to be but its fair to say it wasn’t exactly what people were expecting. I just have to question the decision to push this series onto a new audience when the Epoch series is so far removed from what is recognisable as the Bernice Summerfield series – it takes place in one, undisclosed location, has disposed of the recurring cast and features Benny alone and afraid and trying to figure out a universe of her own making, How we meet Benny at the beginning of this story would elicit so many questions from a newcomer that I can imagine them running away in sheer frustration and never coming back. And that would be a shame because there is a great deal of worth within this box set. Given the creatures distressing cries, its attempts to reach the palace and Steve Foxon’s sad theme it becomes apparent very quickly it is trying to reach the summit of the mountain for a reason other than thoughtless destruction. As soon as the Queen discusses her missing husband it would take somebody very special indeed not to put two and two together.

Standout Scene: Almost justifying this approach in its entirety, the sequence of Bernice galloping towards the heavens on the back of a Pegasus is pure magic. Its unusual for this series derive its biggest thrills through cheerful events so this is doubly charming.

Foreboding: The first appearance of Jack who seems to know Benny’s name and exudes a certain camp menace. There’s clue as to his real identity at this point, he just makes his presence apparent.

Result: Paradoxically frustrating (because it is so far removed from anything that we might recognise as the Bernice Summerfield series) and innovative (what better way for a series to re-invent itself but to wipe away the old template and build itself up from scratch which is basically what this box set is setting out to achieve), The Kraken’s Lament is strong opening story for an arc that perhaps never should have happened. After two economical and dark plays set in this new universe it is a relief to take a breath and have something of a holiday experience and what better place to do that than an imaginatively conceived destination constructed out of vivid Greek mythology. Bernice gets a job, gets on the scent of a mystery, indulges in some light relief and solves a puzzle that has a profound effect on the planet. She might not be home but she is far more like her old self again, The Kraken’s Lament being extended therapy if you like. There is some dazzling imagery provoked (the palace standing proud atop a mountain, a Pegasus galloping into the sky, the Kraken attacking the harbour) which is refreshing in a series that often generates its imagination through a necessity of economy. Splitting four stories across a box set has afforded the director a chance to assemble an impressive cast and pour some real money into the post-production work. The mystery of the Kraken’s identity is predictable but the Queen’s story and her plight are only really a side issue. For now this is an effective re-branding of the series, giving Bernice a place in this universe and plenty to resolve and its a cinematic treat on the ears to boot: 8/10

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