Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The Bloodchild Codex written by Colin Brake and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: After travelling through time and space with the Doctor, Henry Gordon Jago and Professor Litefoot are back in London starting brand new lives. Jago has become a huge celebrity and Litefoot the quiet owner of a bookshop, but in all other respects it is business as usual. As they investigate a wealth of new cases – including a restaurant where the food eats the people, and a book with dangerous powers – a long game is playing out. A figure from their past is back, and this time he means to destroy them…

Theatrical Fellow: Jago is the only character that is so full of bluster that he will cower and beg for his life when he thinks he is in danger and state that he is a dangerous man and shouldn’t be riled the second he thinks that he is safe. Christopher Benjamin was right that occasionally the writers will overdose on alliteration when it comes to writing his character and I noticed that Brake held back a little bit and allowed Jago some more naturalistic sounding exchanges. It was quite refreshing. Thank goodness the theatre saved him from a life of crime because he’s rather too good at getting in places where he isn’t welcome.

Posh Professor: For a bibliophile like myself the thought of purchasing an entire library and sifting through them all to eek out the gems is very exciting. Litefoot has clearly got far too much time on his hands if this is what he has found himself doing though. He is many decades out of date when it comes to medical practices of the time and he hasn’t been near a cadaver for months now. There is some thoughtful discussion of how paperbacks are flimsy, delicate and throwaway and books should be permanent, rock solid. Its interesting to note that, denied access to the mortuary, the investigations have to come to his bookshop instead with and Sacker turning up within minutes of each other with mysteries to solve. He abhors the idea of burning books but he’ll make an exception in the case of the Bloodchild Codex.

Standout Performance: Raquel Cassidy’s Guinivere Godiva is starting make her presence more keenly felt and it wasn’t until this story that I checked out the cast list to find out who played the character. She has a terribly naturalistic way with the microphone that makes you feel as though this scene is playing out just out of sight in the next room. She also happened to be (by a stretch of about a million miles) the best thing about the godawful Rebel Flesh two-parter from season six of the new series. As a subtle menace threading though this season, she has been quieter than others in the past (David Collings still gets the award for creepiest villain) but I am more intrigued by her every time she turns up. Not putting all your cards on the table at once does have its virtues. Is Guinivere Godiva in cahoots with the Brain Drain killer…or she the killer herself?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Paperbacks. They don’t seem like real books, do they?’
‘If you live a long time you lose so many people you care about…’
‘I think I inhaled the bounder!’

Great Ideas: Bloodchild was a theatrical illusionist, one who performed mostly in the street but occasionally in the homes of the rich. He was more than just a conjurer though, he used his fame and contact to investigate matters of the paranormal. Sounds like quite a good series in the making, don’t you think? There were only a dozen copies of Bloodchild’s Grimoire ever create and they were allegedly burned in the house fire at the end of his life. Disappearances and deaths of important men turning up at various places in London. Because they were both intelligent men and the top of their field Sacker immediately thought of Litefoot as the next potential victim. He claims to have found the cure for death, an elixir that can extend life forever. Summer is after that secret and it’s a rather clever use of Ellie given her undead status. It’s that old Five Doctors debate of whether immortality is a curse or a blessing with Ellie (having suffered the loss of everybody she cares for) pitching for the former and Summer (who longs for the ability for some nefarious purpose) going to any lengths to obtain the secret. Thomas Bloodchild escapes from the book when it is thrown on a grate, reborn as smoke. It’s a chilling idea and played out with appropriate drama.

Audio Landscape: Traffic, shop bell, restaurant crowd, cocking a gun, a man ageing to death once he touches the book, crackling fire, underground train pulling in to a station, kettle on the boil, the humming Time Cabinet, Mr Sin’s snivelling.

Musical Cues: Howard Carter is still having fun with his music but I thought this was one story that could done with toning it down a little. It’s the darkest story of the season (thus far) but you wouldn’t be able to tell that if you were just listening to the music.

Isn’t it Odd: It’s at this point that I start question the logic of shifting the series forward to the sixties. Not because I am not enjoying it (because I am, trust me) but because there doesn’t seem to be any reason to do so beyond ‘why the hell not?’ I do think it is good to shake things up every now and again and provide the audience with a fresh take on familiar character to stop things getting musty but saying that I did think there would be more of a narrative purpose to moving them forwards in time. It seems to be for the soul purpose of letting Howard Carter go nuts with his mock-sixties scores and to give Litefoot a real sense of displacement (its been wonderful to see this usually rock solid character at sea). I shouldn’t expect things but I thought there might be some clever idea behind this season long interlude into the future but what is playing out here is hugely enjoyable stories of exactly the same vein as those that would be told back in Jago & Litefoot’s proper time and place. The Bloodchild Codex story would not be at all out of place taking place in Victorian times.

Standout Scene: We discover the props that Guinivere Godiva has been concealing and it turns out to be a collection of monstrosities that belonged to the Celestial Chang! More importantly that sinister little Homunculus…Mr Sin! I’ve complained in the past about Big Finish bringing back so many past elements but considering these were the tools that constructed the story which first gave us Jago & Litefoot I really can’t complain too much. They are inextricably linked in a way that it feels perfectly natural to have the piggy little nasty return. Frankly it surprises me that it has taken this long.

Result: Is this really the same Colin Brake who wrote Three’s a Crowd? In the slot usually reversed for Matthew Sweet or John Dorney instead we have a writer who, at best, has produced pretty average stories in the past. More fool me for getting ahead of myself and assuming the worst. Not only is this the best standalone story of the season so far but it’s also the best plotted and contains some of the finest surprises. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Joseph! The way Ellie’s nature is weaved into the storyline adds depth to her character and both Jago and Litefoot are given plenty of consideration too, the former underwritten for a change to allow his gentler side to come out and the latter continuing the season five thread of the good Professor being a fish out of water in the sixties. The characterisation all round is nuanced and all three actors are responding well to shifts they have been asked to make. The two Doctor Who adventures that bridged seasons four and five are given some consideration too, with one McGuffin acquired by Jago starting to gain momentum as this series progresses. There hasn’t been a knockout adventure yet but season five is showing a run of form that easily matches previous years. Frankly this is infectious listening, and the cliffhanger is a doozy: 8/10

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