Thursday, 10 January 2013

Road Trip: Brand Management written by Christopher Cooper and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: “You’re listening to Live Audio Stream G371, the only official source of government approved easy listening entertainment, as sponsored by the Dominicci Corporation. It’s the thirteenth day of the thirteenth month, and that means just one thing, people - it’s time to PARTAYYY...!” Bernice Summerfield needs a job. Professor Harry Burtenshaw thinks she’s just the ticket. But with the people of Lyndyaz celebrating their most important festival, and the ruling Dominicci Corporation maintaining control with draconian glee, has Bernice turned up in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Archeological Adventuress: Finally Bernice is back to the future (although technically she has never been away) and rather wonderfully has managed to cause mischief whilst she has been sleeping in suspended animation! Her name has been abused and exploited by the Dominicci family who have turned her into some kind of artifical deity to further their power games. It would appear that Bernice doesn’t even have to be around these days to make a significant impact on the universe. You can almost rely on the fact that the first person that she hooks up with will be a nuisance and in this case it turns out to be a criminal. Trouble is a habit she just can’t seem to break. I can’t believe that Benny tries the ‘this conversation has been taped’ trick but then I guess the old ones are the best. She’s not above using her married name when she feels it is necessary to keep her identity hidden. Sometimes she wishes her life was more glamorous than spending it knee deep in mud with only a trowel for company (she does herself a disservice there). It took time for Lisa Bowerman to generate some real chemistry with Lisa Faulkner (Bev Tarrant) and Harry Myers (Adrian) but her connection with Ayesha Antoine has been instant and electrifying. When they meet up again in the least plausible of circumstances (they had been separated by time and space) there is an instant spark between the actresses and characters. She heard about the dig but if she had known it was her she was looking to dig up she would have headed in the other direction!

Mysterious Girl: I’m really pleased that Ruth managed to survive as she was the best innovation to leap from the Epoch box set. Its so embarrassing but I didn’t realise that Ayesha Antoine was the actress who played DeeDee in Midnight and I was watching the episode last week on my Kindle and kept shutting my eyes because I knew I knew her voice. I was just reaching for Wikipedia when it came to me (I literally shouted ‘Ruth!’) and the connection instantly made me grin. That was entirely down to the impact that she has made on me on these audios…when I was listening to Gallifrey IV the other day I had no idea that Conrad Westmaas was playing a part until somebody pointed it out in the extras! It just goes to show that the better actors/actresses really do stand out and make an impression. Ruth is alienated in a strange universe that she doesn’t understand but is trying to fit in, having lost her real identity to the Epoch. Its something that is highlighted here so I’m guessing that we are leading up to some kind of almighty revelation about who she used to be. Her method of finding Benny is to turn her into a minor celebrity and it’s a stroke of genius on her part. Although she has only had limited exposure to Bernice she knows that she cannot resist and advert as obvious as that. She still hasn’t forgiven Bernice for thinking that she wouldn’t sacrifice herself for her but couldn’t resist trying to find her anyway. The way that both Benny and Ruth refuse to believe that the other is dead despite all evidence to the contrary when they have only just found each other again is very touching, suggesting the great feeling they have for each other.

Standout Performance: I could never mistake Anjili Mohindra’s voice having fallen so desperately in love with her in The Sarah Jane Adventures. Her accent is accentuated far more on audio and there are a few times where her inexperience before the microphone show but on the whole she is a terrific fit for the role and she throws herself into it with real aplomb.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Last year they even used military lasers to burn an image of your face into the third moon’ ‘And what did they burn onto the other two?’ ‘Oh you don’t want to know…’
‘Fascinating that history should ignore one and deify the other…’ – the Professor is talking about Ruth and Bernice here but I think this is a salient point that is worth remembering. I think its very possible that in the life that Ruth lost the reverse might very well be true.
‘And let me guess…before long every day was a bank holiday with the likes of me being paraded about like a pantheon of DIY deities and making them a packet! As plans for galactic domination go they really were playing the long game…’
‘We’re archaeologists, Professor! We immerse ourselves in history! Yes we live in the past but sometimes, sometimes you have to remember history is happening all around you right here, right now!’
‘Just one voice and the flame of rebellion will be well and truly lit.’

Great Ideas: Why can’t every job interview start out this amiably, with the interviewer assuring the interviewee that it is less of a grilling and more of a meeting of minds! Commercialism is something that is crying out to be parodied and Chris Cooper goes for the jugular by creating a society that worships a different deity each week, whichever one is being marketed most skilfully and remains in fashion! I love the idea of brand management writ large like this, a planet wide epidemic that has turned religion into something to be promoted, flogged and bought by the masses. Although some part of me really hopes that ‘Benny-ficiary’ wasn’t the starting point for this audio! The mention of Rogue Traders made me chuckle…I guess Cooper has been watching one too many episodes of Watchdog! The Dominicci family collect other peoples icons and absorb them, re-brand them and export them across the galaxy. It has proven to be an extremely lucrative business that has kept them at the top of their game. Profit and power is in the blood of all villains and the Dominicci’s are no different. Bernice understands that if they are going to make an impact and bring down the family they are going to have to get down and dirty…sex sells, even in the 27th Century! On the one hand the people don’t want their fake deities to be proven as such but on the other once you have started a rumour it soon spreads like a rampant virus of misinformation. We are fed more information about Legion which is a relief because this set feels as if it is taking us on a journey and leading somewhere special. Bernice’s pod was found on Mars, a planet otherwise believed to be populated only be bacteria. She was the product of a new religion, worshipping her as a deity but they soon sold her own when they hit penurious times. Benny has spent a great amount of time studying Mars and thinks she would have remembered a religion based around her own visage. Apparently there is a chain of Bernice Summerfield theme worlds out there!  Gabriella is so good at marketing she can murder her own brother and turn the whole bloody affair to her own advantage.

Audio Landscape: Opening with immediate impact on a shuttle careering towards the listener and cutting to an advert, Benny is at the top of the audio game as usual. Robotic immigration control, market crowd scenes, a glass smashing assassination attempt, bubbling fountain, a screaming crowd.

Musical Cues: I nearly spat out my coffee when I heard the ‘Adventure is my Game’ theme song from Benny’s early seasons. An aural tragedy, its still an affront to the ears to this day. So kudos to whoever it was that decided to rip the piss out of it so spectacularly and turn it into one of the most famous songs in the galaxy! ‘What is that?’ screams Bernice as though she has never heard anything so ghastly.

Result: ‘This is going to be one hell of a road trip!’ Strong ideas are tethered to a lacklustre plot, Brand Management is very entertaining for the most part without ever threatening to top any polls. My biggest problem was how much the plot floundered and took forever to explain what was going on but once it did the results were actually quite rewarding. The dialogue is top notch throughout with some very clever spoofing of the dangers of over commercialisation and the reunion of Benny and Ruth makes this more than worth listening to. There is so much to keep you distracted during this audio that its only as you reach the conclusion that you realise that not a great deal has actually happened. The way Bernice so casually brings down a powerful family that has kept a galaxy in check for so long is more than a little glib. If it was that easy then somebody would have done it years ago. It was during Brand Management, however, that I realised that the team of Gary Russell, Scott Handcock, Lisa Bowerman and Ayesha Antoine have successfully managed to reboot the Bernice Summerfield universe, to jettison the old order and replace it with something equally as engaging. This is frivolous first pit stop on the road trip to Legion (albeit with something serious to say at the heart of its humour) but the best is yet to come: 7/10


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