Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Temple of Questions written by Jacqueline Rayner and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: Life can be dangerous when a god’s got it in for you. Bernice and her Historian allies, Ruth and Leonidas, are trying to unearth the truth behind the mysterious world they’re living in. Poseidon, god of the seas, is apparently offering them answers – but only if they play his games. And he’s not playing fair… Bernice’s new family is in danger of being ripped apart by forces that are beyond their understanding. To keep her friends, she might have to lose the games... and her life with them.

Archeological Adventuress: Because she’s always got her nose poked into everything Bernice has already made a name for herself on Atlantis, despite only being around for a short period of time. She’s mistaken for a member of a secret Archeological society (the Sisterhood of the Trowel?). She broaches the subject of Jason after a long time trying to hide the pain of his passing and gets herself in a tangle trying to explain their relationship over the time they knew each other – almost as much as the audience used to experiencing it! The last time Bernice was chatted up (or rather mistaken for a sex robot programmed to perform her masters every whim) she had a terrible time trying to get past the void that Jason left in her life to let go (because she fancied the ass off the man who had hired her). Now it would seem that enough time has passed and her casual flirting with Leo is a promising sign that she is ready to put his memory to rest and move on with her life. Bernice became an archaeologist because she can’t live with all those answered questions – she’s been looking for answers for her entire life. Benny greets the news that she has walked into a trap with all the surprise that she would if somebody told her she likes drink a little too much. She’s been led up the garden path far too many times now to not see the signs. The point where she stumbles is in answering the question of which of her friends has betrayed her but she figures out what we suspected all along. That that question is just another trap. How can they betray her when they don’t even know themselves. Traps within traps… Its loss that Benny, Leo and Ruth share whether it’s a person or their own memory and it’s the answers they seek that means they belong together.

Friend or Foe: Introducing Ruth who doesn’t quite make the impact a new ‘companion’ should but shows a great deal of budding enthusiasm all the same. She’s a little too cute and naïve to be entirely practical to have around but there is the potential for her to grow and mature and certainly by the end of the box set she has come quite a distance from her humble beginnings here. What I really liked about the introduction of Ruth and Leonidas was how the story deliberately exploited the question of whether Bernice could trust either one of them because that is a problem that also comes into play at some point with Benny’s friends (Bev was an art thief out to make a profit, Adrian was a little too lusty for his own good, Jason played around as a matter of course and Braxiatel was in a league of his own…even Peter has proven to be quite untrustworthy when his temper flares). So its quite nice to get that barrier out of the way early so we can get on with telling stories and not constantly question their motives. Whatever timeline jiggery pokery is going on in Atlantis Ruth is right at the heart of it. She remembers a childhood where she grew up with Leo and his now altered wife (she has a new life now and one where she doesn’t remember Leo) and yet at the same time Leo knows that he has only known her a few weeks. How can this inconsistency be ratified so both parties are correct?  Memories are being altered on the spot…how can we trust Leo and Ruth when they cannot even trust themselves? Who are they really?

Standout Performance: There is something to Ayesha Antoine’s performance that is so innocent and childlike that I would have been disappointed had she turned out to be untrustworthy. Ruth reminds me of the somewhat useless child companions that the Doctor used to cart around the universe (Susan, Dodo, Victoria) who are capable of surprising moments of bravery and ingenuity. Antoine is a natural on audio so its nice to think that she will be hanging around for quite some time.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Every civilisation leaves evidence behind it. If you cut a deep enough trench you can see the different layers…’
‘Perhaps we historians are the only ones who see it because we are the only ones who can be bothered to look.’
‘It wouldn’t be the first time that you’ve fallen for the villain of the piece, would it?’
‘You can’t stop time by stopping a clock!’

Great Ideas: There is nothing very wrong with Atlantis. Bernice has found Acanthus but he isn’t the same man that she struck up a friendship with in The Kraken’s Lament. Now he’s a blind old beggar who tells stories to children for scraps. What exactly can completely rewrite the life of a man? Ruth and Leonidas dangle a carrot under Bernice’s nose with mention of the ‘under ground.’ I can’t imagine anything more enticing to our intrepid historian than a mystery that requires her to get digging. Suddenly the reason for the chanting in the scene where Bernice first meets Ruth at the temple becomes clear…now you hear them, now you don’t. Details are changing within the same story now so don’t trust everything that you hear. Poseidon’s game of questions is a marvellous idea; win and you get an answer to a question that he poses and lose and you are trapped underwater forever, slowly rotting away. The game of ‘choose the Bernice’ might be the most obvious route that Poseidon could have gone down but its still a great hoot, especially because it gives Lisa Bowerman the chance to bring to identical and yet distinct Bernice Summerfield’s to life to baffled her friends.

Audio Landscape: Seagulls, chanting, a squeaky cart rattling along the road, snoring, the surf lapping at the shores, a water clock, sliding stone doors, a bell ringing, fizzing computer, bricks and rubble falling, the ocean pouring in, an explosion in the water.

Isn’t it Odd: Contradicting myself entirely, I found the scenes of Bernice exploring the ground under the ground to be quite talky and dull despite the fact that it is another example of just how far her knowledge stretches. And it engages completely with the notion of investigating the secrets on a planet wide scale that praised in the last story. For an example of how this sort of thing should be done check out Year Zero where Jonathan Clements had her discussing with such passion about her field and figuring out a complex puzzle with only the slightest of information to hand. In comparison this is drearily fact-based, as though we have stumbled in on an episode of ‘Archaeologists Weekly.’ The appearance of Hippocampi dragging a chariot that descends beneath the waves is a exquisite concept and the only reason I have dumped it in this section is that it comes only heartbeat away from Bernice’s ascension to the heavens on the back of a Pegasus. It feels like trying to repeat the success of the first wondrous set piece rather than something special in its own right. Benny even references her experience in the last story, asking for a comparison to be drawn. Such a shame. To be fair Poseidon admits that he is not going to give Bernice any answers halfway through the story…but I didn’t think it was genuinely going to be the case! Poseidon exhibits a great deal of personality but given his game of logic I don’t think (like the first story) it is any great stretch of the imagination to try and figure out his true nature. It feels like the questions that Bernice is asked which are complicated riddles (would you rather die a quick and painless death or a long a painful one?) should have satisfying answers waiting…but instead she simply refuses to give an answer. Its not very clever, is it? The ‘family hug’ scene is awful primarily because it takes place far too prematurely – Bernice hasn’t even figured out who these people are yet so its far too soon to be calling them family. It’s the only point during this adventure where it feels like the purpose of The Temple of Questions is being forced onto the audience. I physically winced. Perhaps we would have greeted the twist that Poseidon is a computer with some awe had it been channelled through Bernice but she shrugs her way through its reveal saying that she suspected as much all along. In what feels like it is heading to a big revelation we climax this adventure with Benny tossing water over the computer Poseidon and legging it with her friends. I was expecting something more supplementary to the running storyline.

Foreboding: Jack is back and he’s dropping nothing but clues and snippets of information. Its almost as if he wants to be annoying. How does this fella know so much about Bernice’s activities?

Result: Self consciously handing Benny a new family to hang with, The Temple of Questions works in that respect but is the narrative equivalent of running on the spot for an hour and refusing to develop the running story. After the cinematic ambition of The Kraken’s Lament, Jacqueline Rayner takes a very different approach (a breathless dip underwater in a chariot drawn by Hippocampi excepted) and stages the second half of the adventure like a piece of theatre. It is very brave to have a lengthy dialogue scene of this nature (its nearly half an hour long) and whilst the dialogue is snappy and keeps the momentum going it falls down at the climax where it doesn’t lead to anything even slightly revelatory. Payoff should have been a given after expecting the audience to pay attention to an exchange for this long. What we can take from this adventure is that Ruth and Leo can be trusted and Benny has her own pair of companions to rely on so I guess the journey is the important thing here rather than the destination. We’re fed a few scraps but considering most of that surrounds the name of the box set it doesn’t feel as though we are learning anything we didn’t already know. Jacqueline Rayner is too strong of a writer to produce anything truly duff but she really has been handed the hardest assignment of the Epoch story, capitalising on her talent for characterisation but giving her no space to innovate the plot (which is coming in the next installment). The chemistry between the three performers is apparent but The Temple of Questions treads water, proving that this set is perhaps one story too long: 6/10

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