Sunday, 20 January 2013

Paradise Frost written by David Llewellyn and directed by Scott Handcock

What’s it about: Kaff Zarnak was once the holiday destination of choice for the rich and famous. At least, it was until the planet spun off its axis, and a deadly virus wiped out its population. Now it’s absolutely the last place anyone wants to visit: a barren, ice-encrusted wasteland, sitting amongst the stars. So when Bernice and her loud-mouthed cab driver Ray are drawn off course, it’s fair to say that they’ve both had better days. Taking refuge inside the Xanadu Tower resort, the trio encounter Kaff Zarnak’s only survivors… and maybe the only remaining clue to what took place there. But food supplies are low, Sandroaches are attacking on every side, and the only hope of their survival seems to be locked at the top of the Tower. Perhaps there’s a reason what happens on Kaff Zarnak stays on Kaff Zarnak…

Archeological Adventuress: With a mystery this complex, Bernice really gets to flex her intellect. In a sequence that blew my mind she figures the structure and purpose of the building by figuring that it is shaped like a strand of DNA. She’s been around enough self confessed great men to know that when they build an edifice that they like to leave a mark that is unique to their character. Dr Bauer might be a little ungracious when she suggests that Bernice cannot stay still and has to actively seek out danger to find a solution but she does have a point. It might be morally correct for the hero/heroine to forgive the antagonist of their misdeeds but Bernice doesn’t work that way. This is all down to the hubris and miscalculation of two dangerously intelligent scientists and she is perfectly prepared to throw the fact that their suffering was brought down by their mistakes.

Mysterious Girl: Ruth finds Ray unbearable and doesn’t have the strength to put on her usual mask of jollity and Zen calm when he is around (‘you really want me to highlight the single most gittish thing you’ve said today?’).

Standout Performance: I can remember I time when I was clamouring for India Fisher to be stripped from employment by Big Finish she had appeared in so many audios and monopolised the eighth Doctor. Oddly that was followed up by a time when I was begging for her to be kept on when they had paired her off with the sixth Doctor. It’s a genuine pleasure to hear her voice after so long (I have been stuck watching Masterchef just to get my fix of Fisher) and she embodies Doctor Bauer with a real sense of haughty impatience in a way that only an actress with this breeding can (the way she says ‘Ray…’ at the end of a sentence sounds like an insult). Its bizarre the amount of actors that have appeared in the Road Trip box set that have also appeared in NuWho; Ayesha Antoine (DeeDee, Midnight), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams), Anjili Mohindra (Rani Chandra, The Sarah Jane Adventures), Jacqueline King (Sylvia Noble) and David Ames (Planet of the Dead). The realist in me sees this as an attempt by Gary Russell to drum up as much interest as possible in the range that might otherwise not be there and the opportunist in me thinks it is astonishing that a spin off range could attract such an arsenal of acting talent. Its win/win from where I’m sitting. Arthur Darvill’s late appearance as the good Doctor Jones is a revelation, a world away from his normal pleasantries as Rory Williams and once again reminding us where the real acting talent lies in the Pond marriage.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘He was a robot. How do you even get into a fight with a robot?’
‘My life is one great walking uncertainty principle!’
‘Have you ever noticed how its never the down escalator out of order?’
‘I’m going forward…not back’ which just happens to be Benny’s and the series’ mission statement.
‘You don’t really think I’ve got space diarrhoea, do you?’ ‘That depends what space diarrhoea is’ ‘Its diarrhoea. In. Space.’ ‘Diarrhoea in space is just regular diarrhoea, Ray. Unless you’re in zero gravity and then its another matter altogether.’
‘As a living lesson of the folly of hubris you have to admit I’m second to none.’

Great Ideas: It would seem that taxi drivers are a terrible bore the universe over. Just this last week I was stuck in a car with someone very like Ray who proceeded to tell me that they don’t employ foreigners because they are work shy scum…needless to say he didn’t get a tip. Ray is such a vitriolic character that it is impossible not to have an opinion about him…or cheer when he finally bites the dust. Who doesn’t know somebody like this who is completely lacking in social graces and doesn’t realise that nobody gives a damn about their sordid opinions? Roaches can survive any environmental disasters the universe over and these are particularly vicious ones with a terrible secret at their core. Kaff Zarnak went from beach resort to ski resort in a month, Jared Jones invested a lot of money in the planet and wasn’t about to throw that investment away because of a change in the climate. I always find gleefully happy locations that have become obsolete and sour (Paradise Towers is another great example) are particularly evocative. Xanadu City is a paradise that has turned rotten; cheesy music is pumped through the sound system with no-one to listen to it, open air hot tubs have frozen over and creepy crawlies are running amok over the decaying opulence. Add to that the news of a virus running rampant and leaving only a few straggling survivors and you have a vivid no go zone for Bernice and Ruth to crash land in. A human/Killoran relationship is not unheard of and it’s a firm reminder of that the goal at the end of this Road Trip is to find Peter. There’s is something delightfully Avengers about a private train that runs around the building for the exclusive use of the chief scientist. Bauer calls Yukon ‘darling’ in their very first scene together but we don’t realise that it is a trigger word to control him until the end of the story, showing just how well this little subterfuge is set up and utilised throughout. There is something about the way Fisher says the word that is really incongruous but considering she is calling him it before any of the regulars set foot on the planet it just felt like she was one of those people that loves emphasising her love for her partner. Bauer’s concern when it appears her lover is dead is palpable…when she is merely concerned for having lost her bodyguard. Doors are kind of invisible…you can put one anywhere but there isn’t a door handle you wont see it. There’s something rather disturbing about a Killoran reciting TS Elliot in times of great stress, its hardly the fluffiest of poetry to calm somebody down. When people are desperate they do the most horrendous things and Bauer forcing Yukon to run through the most hazardous of situations carrying her to her only method off world is a memorable example. Its not that she is a bad person, per se, she’s just been trapped in a dangerous situation for so long that she will go to any lengths to get away.

Audio Landscape: Bleeping consoles, fizzing electrics, the ship coming in to crash, the Sand Roaches make a terrifying chittering noise, the screaming winds of Kaff Zarnax, squeaky toy, blaster fire, the train.

Standout Scene: Much like Bad Habits, Paradise Frost depended on a decent wrap to score high marks (although it would have done pretty well on anyway on the strength of its other elements) and the twist that it was the Xanabix nutrition bars that turned the holiday makers and workers into the Roaches ties up every lingering mystery with real satisfaction. The idea of people transforming into chittering creatures is terrifying and the thought that they covered it up with an even worse lie (that they had been killed by a virus) left me with no doubt about the punishment that should befall these characters. The core ingredient of Xanabix was genetic material from the hardiest species on the planet…the genetic material of the Sand Roaches. Bleaugh.

Foreboding: Bernice is told that the people on Legion make what he and Carol have done on Keff Zarnax look like a childs birthday party, only serving to whet our appetites even further. I wasn’t expecting the extended coda, the re-introduction of Brax, Peter, Jack and the establishment of Legion at the climax and it came as a delightful surprise on my first listen. It really feels as though there has been a point to this box set and we have reached a satisfactory conclusion (although I don’t know how you can call this a road trip when we barely spend any time on the road and only have two pit stops). The future is looking bright indeed.

Result: ‘We had no business ever being here…’ After a satire and a comedy it is nice to get back to some serious storytelling and Paradise Frost has just about everything that I could possibly want from a Bernice Summerfield adventure. The location is evocative and has immediate narrative possibilities, the guest characters are all interesting and keeping dark secrets, the monsters are deadly and uncompromising, there’s plenty of mysteries to solve and Bernice gets another chance to show off her boundless intellect. The story is practically told in real time which really ups the danger levels and tension. Whilst I would never be too critical of Gary Russell’s direction (always competent, often exceptional) but Scott Handcock takes the reins here and there is a marked difference in the results. The set pieces feel more dangerous, the performances less heightened and more naturalistic and the piece gains real momentum as we race towards the climax. If this is where Handcock was flexing his muscles before getting to work on the Dorian Gray series it is clear that he already has an aptitude for bringing audio drama to life. I am very much looking forward to his work on the next three box sets. Paradise Frost reminded me of some of the earlier Bernice adventures told with an economic cast and a claustrophobic location with the only difference being the audio experience is so much more vivid these days. It’s a gripping end to a brawny box set that promises even better things for the future: 9/10


TF80 said...


I discovered your page searching for BF reviews and I just love it! Because I'm half way in my BF stuff, listening to them, and I just go to your blog when I'm finished with a story and usually I totally or almost totally agree with your review!

I'm non English speaker, I'm from Spain and it takes a bit of effort to whole understand some audios. Fortunately most of the actors are well understanable for non English-used ears like mine!!(Specially Sarah Sutton, she is delightful to listen because she is so comprehensible) But I enjoy the audios just I enjoy the whole Whoniverse.

I love your reviews, as I said, because I almost totally agree with them! Now I'm finishing the 8th doctor divergent arc and some stuff is really awful! and 8 doc is one of my favs,thanks to audios, among with 6!(yes, BF did a GREAT job with Six!). It's a pity all the nasty Zagreus stuff.

Sorry if I've gone off-topic in this comment, but I didn't find a "contact me" button to post my thoughts to you directly so I used this :) I also like your TV and books reviews, they are delightful!

Lately I'm becoming a bit idiotic and self-spoiling myself by reading your reviews BEFORE listening the audio or reading the book in question but I can't help...

keep with the good work!

regards from Barcelona (Spain)

Joe Ford said...

Thankyou so much for such a lovely comment. It's always great to hear that people are enjoying the stories and the reviews. It looks like we are of one mind! If got to say I had a wonderful holiday in Barcelona...the market at Las Ramblas was amazing. I hope you continue to enjoy the blog.

Daniel Leonard said...

Perhaps you can help me with something, because it's baffling me: what the hall happened to Yukon 9? I'm one scene Benny and Ruth persuade him to come with them, and he's in a bad way but not in any apparent immediate danger, but then I'm the very next scene he's gone and they don't even mention him. Where did he go? I really liked him as a character and thought he added something to the dynamic of our main duo. Certainly I think he is more engaging than any of the new regulars to be introduced post-Year-Zero, and I wish he'd stuck around.