Thursday, 28 February 2013

Vengeance of the Stones written by Andrew Smith and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: Two RAF fighter jets are on a training flight over North East Scotland when one of them is plucked from the air and promptly disappears. UNIT are called in, and the Doctor and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart are soon on the scene. They enlist the help of a local military officer - a young lieutenant by the name of Mike Yates. The Doctor discovers a link to the recumbent stone circles that are plentiful in this part of Scotland. The stones are thousands of years old, and are soon revealed to hold a terrible secret. Then Mike Yates disappears, abducted by an alien race that has a grievance with humanity. Their intention is to harness the power of the stones in order to take their revenge. For the Doctor and the Brigadier, the race is now on to save their new friend Mike and the entire planet Earth. 

Good Grief: I am so used to the image of the third Doctor chivalrously putting his arm or cloak around his female companions that it is easy to forget that there was a brief period between Liz departing for Cambridge and Jo Grant tripping into his laboratory where he lacked a companion. Vengeance of the Stones exploits that period, the Doctor unencumbered and able to throw himself into this investigation with objections and with gusto. Mike liked the Doctor immediately, there was something disarming and unofficial about him that appealed to him. The Doctor wants to fly a military aircraft on the same flight path as the one that crashed, something that Jon Pertwee would have leapt at in a second. Showing how much he has already become attached to the Earth since his exile the Doctor states that even if he could leave he wouldn’t whilst the planet was in danger, a far cry from his attempts to depart amidst invasion in Spearhead from Space.

Chap With Wings: The Brigadier follows the Doctor on his foolhardy mission because he needs looking after, he has a terrible habit of getting himself into trouble. As usual he's there to pick up the pieces when the Doctor's plans go awry. 

Camp Captain: Perhaps there was always more to mine from Mike Yates’ character than I originally thought or perhaps he has gained prominence as beloved performers from the same era have died. Either way Richard Franklin has been afforded more opportunities in the past five years than ever before in audio Who. The Nest Cottage audios gave him a chance to square off against Tom Baker’s fourth Doctor (something that never happened on TV and is exploited because of it) and he has featured in a number very strong companion chronicles from Big Finish too. Franklin is a thoughtful performer and imbues Mike with far more subtlety than he was afforded on TV in the 70s (the scripts were too busy offering us a rollicking good time to get too mired down in complex characterisation) and through these stories on audio there has been some proof that Mike Yates has a great deal more layers that previously thought. Originally conceived as a male love interest for Jo Grant and eventually written out as a traitor to his own friends (with one last story for him to seek redemption), there’s a great deal of mileage in that journey. Vengeance of the Stones offers something completely new, the first instance of Mike Yates discovering about the existence of UNIT and being seconded by the Brigadier during one of his adventures. He was rather foisted upon us in Terror of the Autons so its lovely to finally discover how Mike came to work for UNIT. There are very few gaps in continuity that have been left untold (thanks to the likes of Gary Russell, Craig Hinton, etc) and this one of the few that can be exploited. He’s been posted at Fort George in Inverness for the past two years and spent much of his childhood in Scotland. To have something from his childhood turn supernatural is his first exposure to the Doctor’s world and it pretty much sums up the effect he can have on your life, introducing to concepts that change your perception of how the universe at large works. Mike’s reaction to meeting aliens is not to panic but to ask sensible questions, negotiating rather than judging. Given his maturity in handling alien life you can see precisely why he would an ideal choice for UNIT. Even after his threats, the Doctor tries to save Galen. Its simply in his nature. Interestingly his secondment to UNIT comes with a promotion which must have sweetened the offer.

Great Ideas: The aliens are scientists from a planet called Faris and they came to the Earth as an exploratory research group. They are aren’t here to colonise but to look for resources, minerals mostly which the Earth has in abundance. They have a telepathic affinity with stone, manipulating the forces within rocks. They came four thousand years ago, a party of ten scientists and were set upon by tribal warrior types. In recent times road works have disturbed the ground they were buried in, re-activated their capsules. Faris was destroyed over three millennia ago in a conflict.

Audio Landscape: Hawkers screaming through the sky, intercoms static, Bessie honking and growling, groaning Officer Parry, muddy footsteps, the stones attacking, knocking UNIT soldiers to their deaths, a diving plane hitting the ocean and bursting beneath the waves, helicopter swooping over the ocean, water dripping, seagulls screaming, clashing steel, screams, UNIT soldiers charging in, gunfire.

Standout Scene: Every story in the series has seen the current Doctor (Matt Smith) make contact with his previous selves in some way and Vengeance of the Stones is no different. Franklin offers quite an accurate version of Smith, excitable and childlike and his recorded message comes at a point when the action wanes. He’s manipulating all of these adventures in some way and I hope that they are all going to be linked together in some fiendishly clever way come the 11th story in the series. The third Doctor considers that idea of sending a message back into his own time stream extremely reckless but then it really wasn’t done back then. He has no idea how reckless he will become or how loose he will play about with the laws of Time. 

Result: There’s something rather wonderful about how these Destiny of the Doctor stories are leaping from one era of Doctor Who to another and exposing just how much the show changed as it became the responsibilities of different central actors, producers and script editors. Hunters of the Earth offered a swinging sixties pre-Unearthly Child thriller, Shadow of Death focussed on the claustrophobic, base-under-siege atmosphere of the Troughton era and now Vengeance of the Stones capitalises on the rural horror and military action of Pertwee’s time on the show. All three have been very different in style, tone and pace and yet all three have been indefinably Doctor Who which reveals how malleable the show is. As the Doctor and the Brigadier enter his life, Mike Yates’ world is turned upside down and it is a delight to finally see how he was seconded to UNIT and ended up joining the show. After two stories with a reasonably economic sound effects, Stones allows director John Ainsworth to embrace the Earthbound setting and indulge in some recognisable soundscapes. Ultimately this story is made of up of some old ideas (a threat buried beneath the Earth, a planet long since destroyed) but I’m finding these Destiny of the Doctor tales less effective as standalone adventures and more enjoyable as snapshots of their respective period. As such a little cliché is understandable (and probably necessary) since it is the building blocks of those eras that defined them. Its also clear that given the new series intrusion into each of these adventures that this series is building up to something special. Its an innovative idea to seed a germ of the final story in the series into every other adventure and I can only hope this is heading somewhere truly pioneering. Vengeance of the Stones wont shake your world up but it’s a pleasant enough tale with some authentic characterisation and a decent introduction of Mike to the world of UNIT. I enjoyed it: 7/10

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

OK - I really enjoyed this.

It was very evocative of JP's time as the Doctor.

In my mind, I saw a small Scottish town, with stone circles and aliens and a silver haired chap driving around in a nifty yellow roadster... Classic stuff.

The Third Doctor still lives.