Saturday, 9 March 2013

The Scorchies written by James Goss and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: The Doctor, his companion Jo Grant and the Brigadier face their strangest case yet – a Saturday night TV show that has been invaded by aliens that look like puppets! The Scorchies want to take over the world. They want to kill the Doctor. And they want to perform some outstanding show tunes. Though not necessarily in that order… With Jo caught inside The Scorchies Show, can she save the day before the planet Earth falls victim to the dark side of light entertainment?

Dippy Agent: Jo Grant is the Pertwee era. I know this period of the show is bookended by the brilliant Liz Shaw (but she always felt as though she should be helming her own show) and the even more brilliant Sarah Jane Smith (who really came into her own with Tom Baker’s Doctor and proved that she could helm her own show) but the heart of the third Doctor’s tenure is the three year period shared by Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning. They clearly adored each other (Katy clearly still adores Jon to this day, speaking about him with such affection in interviews) and the show and were surrounded by a happy company doing consistently good work. Between them they made stories like The Mutants and The Time Monster bearable whilst at the same time making shows like The Mind of Evil, The Daemons, Day of the Daleks, Carnival of Monsters and The Green Death even better than they are on their own merits. You’ll never find a Doctor Who perfomer more enthusiastically infectious than Katy – she beams her way through documentaries, waxes lyrical on the DVD commentaries and performs her Big Finish audio dramas with real gusto and affection for the show which turned her into an experienced television actress. I adore her (and I haven’t even mentioned her star turn as Iris Wildthyme) and when I head she was going to be starring in an all singing, all dancing companion chronicles that sent up the Pertwee era…well there may be been purring on my part. I’m really pleased there is still somebody left with us to champion the Pertwee era.

Jo gets into the spirit of the game, building an anti-Scorchie gun out of cardboard tubes and sticky backed plastic. She knows this bunch of evil puppets isn’t going to be defeated in the usual method, she is going to have to do it within the rules of a children’s light entertainment show. Righteous indignation is her middle name so its nice that Jo has the opportunity to prove that over and again thanks to their evil deeds. She cares about the Doctor so much she needs to know how the Scorchies have dispatched him and wont believe that it is the case until they tell her. 

Standout Performance: Katy Manning has always been a versatile performer (go and listen to her incredible one woman show Not a Well Woman if you want a more serious expression of her talent) but she outdoes herself here, not only providing a massive range of voices but embodying each character (and some pretty kooky ones at that) with a sense of realism that was needed to make this premise work. She can play a million and one quirky characters but she still manages to bring a great deal of pathos and sensitivity to her portrayal of Jo. Matching her beat for beat is British comedy/drama stalwart Melvyn Hayes who leaps into this crazy world feet first and embraces its madness. His baffled Professor is a work of genius, a full rounded character who really comes alive.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘No one ever notices the Scorchies until it’s too late!’ ‘We’re just so darn cute!’
‘I wasn’t stuffed yesterday!’ and ‘Once they were people but now they’re just toys – stuffed with evil!’
Some quality lyrics…
‘So now ring out the Klaxons!
We must be worse than Axons!
Because he’s returned to ruin our show!
We thought that we’d rehearsed it!
But now the Doc’s reversed it!
Like the polarity of the Neutron Flow!’
‘This is worse than when Angela Rip-pon tried to teach me the foxtrot!’
‘The reverse polarity polarity reverser was actually reversing the unreversed polarities!’ Doctor Who isn’t a slave to technobabble like Trek, it just takes the piss in style.
‘I always said television would be humanity’s undoing.’

Great Ideas: Whoever came up with the idea of a TV programme that goes from planet to planet hypnotising its audience and taking over is a genius. You only have to watch a two year old watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (a more catatonic state I have never seen) to see that this is not only plausible but probably a vision of the future. I’m not sure what is more sinister, the desperately cute sounding mice that interrogate, the purring growl of the cat or the innocent bumbling of the Professor. All could be seemingly innocuous given a different emphasis but considering their focus is taking over the Earth, torturing the populace (and not just with their sugar-sweet TV show) and killing the Doctor you really have to keep your guard up not to be taking in by their tickly exterior. The Doctor recognises The Scorchies Show fro other planets it has claimed, the populace entranced by it’s bright colours and seductive entertainment. There is something to be said about exploiting the medium of television and getting into kids minds by presenting them with something apparently harmless and cute with a darker message. I have recently been studying psychology and one thing that struck me when I was reading up about gender dysphoria was that on average children spend more hours until the age of eighteen in front of the TV than they do in the classroom which means that the media can technically have a greater hold over your child’s education than…well their education. Which is why you have to be fairly selective about what you dump you children in front of because they are picking up messages and views of the world at a very young age and it does inform them. At least The Scorchies doesn’t pretend it is anything other than a television show that wants to take over the world! Once the Scorchies finish with a world they burn it and that is how they got their name. They really like the Earth because it is rather a cruel planet but that wont stop them from turning it into a lump of clinker. The Scorchies come from a planet that was enslaved by television, so much so it destroyed them. A clever scientist thought up a plan to use television for the survivors to escape that world and find another one. All the television characters could remember was that they once had a planet and bodies and both had been taken from them and now they hate people that have either. They seek out worlds that have television and treat them in exactly the same way that they have been treated. The Baffled Professor is the man who turned them into toys in the first place, the man who tried to save them and they have made him watch as they have scorched so many worlds. One day he joined in and became another Scorchie. I know the Brigadier would have plenty of bizarre things to shoot at in his time (everything from living statues to giant maggots) but he has never had to face anything quite like the magic mice screaming ‘KILL KILL KILL!’ Oh how I wish I could have seen this on television (but then I might have had my brain washed and my planet scorched…so maybe not).

Postmodernism: ‘If you’re watching at home and have enough free will to be concerned…then don’t panic!’ The Scorchies is full of lovely post-modern touches where the fourth wall (of the sound booth, naturally) is broken over and over. The title music is introduced, the mice have to wobbled their harps to commence a flashback, the Scorchies acknowledge to their viewing population that the Doctor is not wrong that they totally evil, the mice cry ‘DUM DUM DUMMMM!’ to build to a dramatic revelation, continuity leaks into the songs with cheeky delight (Ogrons are too stupid to win, Daemons want to kill the Doctor and destroy his helicopter, Ice Lord tried to make it colder but just made the Doctor bolder, the Daleks couldn’t, the Master wouldn’t kill the Doctor dead, they melt like Auton plastic and they might as well move to Solos), tonight is their end of season finale and they’ve got something really special planned, ‘it’s the end of the show!’

Audio Landscape: Squeaky mouth voices, the purring cat, canned applause, the ray gun shooting the dolly, looking through the Scorchie scanner, explosions, a beam weapon, the Doctor’s beam, the puppets falling dead.

Musical Cues: A massive round of applause for two of my favourite sound engineers/musicians who are absolutely essential in making this sweet’n’sour delight come to life. Happy go lucky music is splayed over the release, narrative cues are essential and the songs that are included had me beaming my head off. We can go from the tinsel decorated theme music of the Scorchies Show to a sinister underscore in a second with only the sound of a scratched record to bridge the two. It's Fox and Yason's greatest achievement yet and their work to date has already been pretty damn flawless. How wonderful to jettison the usual style of interviewing the author and actors at the end and to record an interview with Fox and Yason who provide some invaluable insight into the making of this story. I found this far more interesting than the usual love-in. 

Standout Scene: Unlike the musical horror (and yet still utterly fabulous) of The Ultimate Adventure, the songs that feature in The Scorchies are actually terrific tunes in their own right whilst never forgetting that they are part and parcel of a light entertainment show. Much like Dr Who & the Pirates the lyrics are extremely knowing and you may just roar with laughter at the continuity and how it is inserted. It’s two songs which are tweaked depending on where they are taking place in the story and both prove extremely catchy. I wont lie…I was waltzing through my flat at one point dancing away with a cup of coffee in my hand. But then I am a massive fan of Disney too and these songs capture that sense of childish delight. ‘Jo is making a thing’ and ‘We killed the Doctor dead’ deserve their place as two of the most frighteningly entertaining moments in Doctor Who history (I especially love the whistling in the last song…I’ll be doing that for weeks). Also for purely for purely selfish reasons Jo and I share the same name (although greedily I’ve got an extra vowel) and I delight in the fact that the campest song in Doctor Who sounds like it could be about me!

Result: ‘It’s time for death all over the world!’ Absolute madness and a complete joy to listen to, The Scorchies sees the companion chronicles letting their hair down, camping it up and heading out for a rave on the town. James Goss is starting to make a name for himself, having penned two of the best third Doctor adventures for this range and two of my favourite adventures in the last year. Whilst this is a joyously anarchic adventure that doesn’t just not play by the rules but also makes a mockery of them, there is something truly sinister about a TV programme that is apparently so light and fluffy that is inherently evil and sadistic. I think this is the sort of tone that The Celestial Toymaker was aiming for but was too stuffy to truly aspire to whereas The Scorchies pushes that sinister playfulness right in your face until you are gagging on its gooey goodness…of Death! Rather gloriously we take part in the action, playing the part of a catatonic television audience slaved to entertainment shows (shouldn’t be too much of a stretch then) and watching the events unfold on screen. The story is beautifully plotted so that as Jo attempts to use their own rules against them to break free and save the day in the present, we experience flashbacks from her point of view showing how she became embroiled with them in the first place and further flashbacks from the Scorchies point of view explaining why they do the things they do. By the end of the tale the seemingly inexplicable opening scene that introduced us to this world feels like it has been placed entirely in context. The script is hilariously funny, imaginative, post-modern, energetic and full of great characters. Katy Manning and Melvyn Hayes deserve kudos for their efforts and for making the story come alive so effervescently and Ken Bentley once again proves why he is one of company’s most prolific of directors…because he is just so damn adaptable to whatever genre or tone they throw at him. The Scorchies might not be your cup of tea if you like the Pertwee era po-faced and militaristic (say, The Mind of Evil…mind you I love that one too) but if you’re in the mood for a Paul Magrs’ style of post modern insanity then snap this one up. I promise you’ll have great fun with it: 10/10


The Leviathan Vampire Girl said...

Looking forward to this one.

Anything even approaching 'experiMENTAL' is right up my alley, and James Goss' name on the cover is always a sign of high quality. He'll definitely be missed from the 'Dark Shadows' range, that's for sure.

Joe Ford said...

I really hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. I have had the songs going around in my head for 24 hours now! (btw what is your name? I can't address you as lesbian vampire girl!).

The Leviathan Vampire Girl said...

I'm also known as Audrey. ;)

Matthew Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew Smith said...

I loved it but I swear the songs alone took up half the running time; not leaving much of a story to play with. Although the songs were ridiculously catchy.

Excellent review as ever.

Joe Ford said...

But boy those songs were catchy, huh? They killed him dead, they killed him dead, yes they killed that wretched Doctor d-e-e-ead! Hahaha! I thought it was quite a tight script overall but tbh I was so wrapped up in the atmosphere of it all I would have given it top marks even if it wasn't!

Anonymous said...

Could you please suggest between which TV or audio stories this play takes place?

Joe Ford said...

I can't say for sure but it definitely takes place after The Three Doctors because the Gell Guards are mentioned in one of ths songs.

Anonymous said...

Gotta agree with you, this was BF's biggest delight in a while (may help that I adored The Pirates and always appreciate a bit of leftfield thinking).

PS: just to say, love the reviews in general. I disagree very strongly with a lot of them (especially the negative ones - I'm just one of those helplessly uncritical people), but it's good to see someone whose criticisms are thought out and explained so clearly, as opposed to so much of the negative thought out there, which is so much vitriol. Carry on with the good work, fandom needs more of you.

Still (respectfully) think you're wrong on Post Modern Prometheus and Nightmare in Silver though. Sorry

Joe Ford said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and I am pleased that even if you disagree with the reviews that you think they are at least well argued. You'd be amazed at how many times I have been struck with 'YOU'RE WRONG SO THERE!' as if there is only one opinion on every story. That's the joy of fandom, so many diverse opinions. I bet somebody out there adores Timelash with every fibre of their being!

Ooh...offer me an opposing argument about Nightmare in Silver! Come on, I dare you... :-)

Really nice to read your comment and thanks for taking the time to read through the site.

Bobby Torres said...

Makes you wonder if Beep the Meep from The Ratungs War was once a Scorchie gone rogue.