Monday, 25 February 2013

The Emerald Tiger written and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: Tiger, tiger, burning bright In the forests of the night
Calcutta, 1926. The Doctor and his companions join an expedition to locate the fabled emerald tiger – a legendary marvel shrouded in myth and mystery. They must journey to an unexplored lost world filled with wonder and wickedness. But at the centre of this terra incognita, something is stirring. Something with emerald eyes, diamond-sharp claws and a heart of darkness.

An English Gentleman: After being practically ignored for the past goodness knows how many releases with this team of regulars, Davison’s fifth Doctor is pushed centre stage once again and he delivers his most assured performance in an age. The Doctor throws open the doors of the TARDIS and talks effusively of Calcutta and is eager to reach the cricket of which it is justly famed. His companions are a delight here too, looking forward to a holiday and talking affectionately of each other. If only this was the template, rather than the exception. The chance to roar along the streets of Calcutta in the professors car (the Doctor coins the Silver Ghost a ‘work of art’) is a purely pleasurable experience for the Time Lord and he considers himself and excellent driver. Why break the habit of lifetime and refuse to take the dangerous path. We hear the Doctor desperately trying to scramble down the ravine after Nyssa, doing anything to try and save her. I’ve always said that there was more to these two than meets the eye and his vicious reaction to being unable to pull her up is another step in that direction. He’s similarly upset about Tegan’s death, perhaps with it being so close to the loss of Adric. He angrily spits that she didn’t perish saving a planet or a single life, that it was just a pointless passing.

Alien Orphan (the Older): The Doctor tries to take charge when they are attacked by Kimble but Nyssa is the actual Doctor and she stands firm that she is the one to help him. There is a real urgency in the early scenes to help save Nyssa who has been bitten and infected with rabies. Usually it takes months for the Tiger to form a connection with those that it comes into contact with through the bite but Nyssa has such control over her mind that it happens within an hour with her. There is an astonishing moment when Nyssa thinks Tegan has died and she breaks down and admits that she was her best friend. Under these circumstances the regulars really work because we can see what they mean to each other. Nyssa genuinely believes that the truth is always preferable to ignorance, even if it is hard to bear. She tries to resist the call of the Tiger but it overwhelms her, saved only by the Doctor’s intervention. Nyssa mourns the loss of the greatest healing power in the universe and the lives that she could have saved had she been able to take it back to Terminus.

Mouth on Legs: Its that delightful, charming, walking out of the TARDIS grinning Tegan again. I think she’s here to stay and its been long enough now that it is less jarring and such an improvement that you simply have to go with it and enjoy it. She loves cricket and shares the Doctor’s enthusiasm for a little R&R. Tegan is described as a screaming she-cat which kept me laughing for about ten minutes. When she needs Turlough’s advice, Tegan plans to section herself. Houdini eat your heart out, you’ve got nothing on a determined Australian! The scenes between Tegan and Djahn are fantastic because it shows off her natural humour and pleasantries – this really is the Tegan that we should have enjoyed on television because she is an utter delight to be around. Her mother was always a bit of a pussy cat and her Aunt made up for that.

Alien Orphan (the Younger): The Doctor wants to have a word with the Brigadier with regards to Turlough’s education because there seems to be little room for sport (particularly cricket) and too much prominence of sarcasm. This is a time when Turlough can be rude out of hand as he used to and gets a couple of decent slaps around the chops for his trouble. He tries to chicken out of the caves and the Doctor tells him firmly that if he doesn’t think looking for Tegan and Nyssa a worthwhile cause then this is where they part company.

Standout Performance: This is a fantastic opportunity to introduce a more multi-cultural pooling of talents to Big Finish’s oeuvre and Barnaby Edwards (famous for assembling a polished cast) grabs hold of the opportunity with both hands. Sam Dastor gives a wonderfully measured performance as Professor Narayan who has a vital role in the story and provides much of the exposition in a very gentle, easy to listen to, way. And Vineeta Rishi has one of the sexiest voices I have ever heard in a Big Finish story, sometimes purring into my ears as she speaks for the Tiger.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What does it look like stupid? A ruddy great tiger on a chain!’ Tegan gets all the best lines.
‘Like Pilgrims to the appointed place we tend,
The world’s a train and deaths the journey’s end…’ Edwards, always well read and literate misquotes Dryden to foreshadow his explosive cliffhanger to episode two.
‘Tegan Jovanka whichever circle of Hell you now infest it cannot possibly be as low as I would wish!’
‘Forgetting something doesn’t stop it hurting. It makes it worse.’
‘Me Tegan, you Djhan!’
‘I can’t tell you how dull the universe was without you!’ the Doctor tells Tegan and for once I really believe him.
‘Bagsie name that new species! The exploding Jovanka frog of India!’

Great Ideas: I love all the talk of how the expedition will be received when they take their evidence back home – will it become as legendary as the voyage of the Beagle or be written up by cynical newspapers as ‘Forster’s Folly: Lost World or Lost Marbles?’ It’s a great way to kick start the story, on the verge of a biological revolution abroad. The allusions to the Jungle Book are made immediately so you cannot complain about the comparison that is made in final episode. It’s a gripping, fully realised teaser with the attack proving particularly disturbing. Lord Edgar was an ardent naturalist and he his wife went on an expedition to the Cerebra caves to collective specimens to take back to the zoological society in London. Edgar always wanted a species named after himself. They discovered a jungle that had remained isolated for thousands of years and whatever lived down there was unknown to science. A Darwinian paradise. After the Tigers, after Edgar and Jonathan were lost to her Lady Adela used dynamite to secure the caves and cut off the entrance to the New World forever. Dawon and her brothers would swim in the river, playing with the crystal fish and one day they discovered the island of the Emerald Tiger and inside they made contact with it. Major Haggard stole rather a large sum of money from the Governor General, he is keen to get it back and the authorities know that he boarded this train. Narayan turns out to be one of Dawon’s brothers, his soul stained with the blood of innocents. He is the Destroyer and together with his brother and sister he ruled over the forgotten valley for tens of thousands of years. Lady Adela’s explosion 18 years ago created fissures between the lake and the tunnel and the second explosion pulled the plug out…the Doctor realise with some horror that the underground lake is tearing towards them at an alarming rate! I love how the story waits to tell Tegan’s story after the end of episode two until episode four, saving the surprise of her return for as long as possible. The twist that Djahn turns out to be Jonathan, lost at the beginning of the adventure, is guessable but satisfying because of its literary connections to The Jungle Book and because of Lady Adela’s reaction to being reunited to her son. After all the drama, this is a heart-warming turn of events. An impact crater caused by a body falling to Earth carrying the intelligence of the Emerald Tiger with it and ruling the land for thousands of years before Dawon and her siblings stumbled across it. The Emerald Tiger is homogenate, a single crystal formed in the heart of a supernova and ejected just before the star collapses. Most of them find them spending their existence drifting through the void but this one happened to collide with Earth. It breaks down an re-combines molecules into viable combinations, its curious predilection for life makes it the ultimate biological repair kit. It can cure any disease or wound by dividing and reassembling a patients atoms into new, healthier atoms. Calcutta is well known for precious stones and this explains where they come from, formed by the meteorite and generated by its impact.

Audio Landscape: This is a story that needed a talented sound designer to really take the audience on a whirlwind tour of the exotic delights of Calcutta and Howard Carter is more than up to the task, he embraces it. Growling tiger, insects humming in the night, running water, birds cawing, the attack of the tiger, clawing at flesh and tearing at clothes, gunshots, a baby crying, screaming, whistle, train announcements, steam train hissing, a busy Indian atmosphere of ringing bells, lots of people talking and swathes of movement, bestial rage, a dramatic rifle shot, Tegan, Turlough and the Doctor jumping onto the moving train containing the TARDIS, smashing a window, the White Ghost hurtling along the streets, the growling, purring tiger, rattling chains, a dramatic cliffhanging car crash, a bucket of ice cold water in the face, the train chugging along the track, the whistling wind as the train races along the tracks, the incredible silence before the train explodes, crashing through the foliage, the awesome moment when Nyssa realises that a branch is a snake and it snaps at them, fizzing dynamite, the torrent of lake rushing towards them, there’s a terrific movement of Turlough sinking beneath water into its bubbling depths and surfacing as it rushes around them, coughing, baying wolves, throwing sand, a hooting elephant, Tegan screaming as she falls through the sky, smothering Djahn in kisses, screaming, flying toads, crocodiles swimming in the water. Just an amazingly brought to life story and a real sensory experience through sound.

Musical Cues: A phenomenal Howard Carter score which marks itself out as being something very different from the off. Rather than sounding like it is the work of an synthesiser like so many (extremely good I might add) Big Finish productions, Carter sounds like he has assembled an entire orchestra and you can clearly define every beautiful instrument from the relaxing atmosphere of the sitar to the dramatic under currents of the drum and tambourine.

Isn’t it Odd: The rejuvenation of Nyssa is beautifully executed within the story and Nyssa’s reaction is especially fun but I have to wonder about the logic of it beyond being able to slap a younger Sarah Sutton onto the covers once again. Is there a reason for this development coming up? Or is this another example of writers of Doctor simply not wanting the characters to grow up?

Standout Scene: The atmosphere that is built up towards the end of episode two is incredible. Answers are spilling out, the action is furious, the Doctor is risking his life and a train is threatening to tip off the rails into a ravine packed with high explosives. It really doesn’t get any better than this. Edwards achieves the impossible with me and forces me to mourn Tegan’s apparent passing (the reactions of her friends is staggering) and makes her unexpected return to the story (turning up on the back of an elephant) a gloriously triumphant moment. How did he manage to achieve that?

Result: Beautifully written and realised, The Emerald Tiger is an incredible piece of work and the first adventure for this TARDIS team that I can fully support. There are so many things to praise its hard to know where to begin. Firstly as a purely auditory experience this is a thing of beauty with a lush, contemplative and exciting score, an impressively exotic soundscape that plants you in historical Calcutta and some exciting and imaginative set pieces that somehow come alive through sound even more effectively than they would if you could see them. Next up is the treatment of the regulars which is exceptional and fully endorses the idea of continuing to use this foursome. Everyone gets something to do, Edwards highlights their strengths (the Doctor’s curiosity and closeness to Nyssa, Tegan’s temper and amiability, Nyssa’s empathy and Turlough’s resourcefulness) and they all take a share of the memorable dialogue. The script can also take a bow for it is packed full of incident and substance, planting me in Indian culture in an understandable way so that I took a great deal from the experience and telling a gripping narrative that utilises all of its characters well. The casting is inspired and nobody gives anything less than 100% and I was particularly refreshed by the multicultural nature of the cast. Lastly I have to mention the handling of Tegan which is something I have been particularly critical of of late. Edwards nails her character here in a way that few writers ever have and this is precisely how she should have been portrayed on television; good humoured, resourceful, funny but still with that acerbic bite. Her characterisation in The Emerald Tiger is masterful and I never thought I would say that. The last ‘written and directed by Barnaby Edwards’ I listened to was The Wreck of the Titan and I thought that was a near-perfect cinematic treat. The Emerald Tiger is even better, a clear highlight of 2012’s main range output and one of the best ever fifth Doctor stories in any medium: 10/10


ali said...
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David Pirtle said...

If only the 5th Doctor had gotten such adventures on TV! Great release.