Saturday, 9 March 2013

The Seeds of War written by Nicholas Briggs & Matt Fitton and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: Humanity is emerging from a long, exhausting war. Against an enemy so powerful, so implacable, it seemed unstoppable – right up until the moment it stopped. Now, despite its ‘victory’, the human race is on its knees. The Doctor and Mel join its struggle for survival to try to ensure it has a future. A race against time takes them from the Great Tower of Kalsos to the Reliquaries of Earth. In an epic journey across the ten systems, their fates are intertwined with one family. The Tevelers are to feel the effects of war more than most… The Doctor has a plan. Mel is sure he can save the day. But something is lurking. Watching. Waiting. A presence the Doctor knows of old. But just how far does its influence pervade? The Eminence awaits…

Softer Six: Why did he ever need so many jelly babies? The Doctor has a rainy day cupboard full of things he has picked up around the universe for entertainment purposes when they are at a loose end. He mentions everything from the Great Space Elevator (check out the second Doctor companion chronicle of the same name) to the Empire State (a fantastic Benny audio) in his whirlwind tour of the universes famous landmarks. The Doctor recognises the voice of the Eminence (even though the audience hasn’t met them before they are soon to appear in an adventure starring an earlier Doctor). The impossible is right up his street. The TARDIS has survived much worse than a Tower falling on its head. Mel has real faith in the Doctor and is willing to suggest he is capable of anything, even if he winces quietly in the background knowing that that isn’t the case. The Doctor scoffs the works of Professor Laskey which places this story in context of Terror of the Vervoids for those who obsess over such things. At one tense moment the Doctor insists that Mel stops making promises on his behalf, especially when it is at the moment when he cannot save a mans life. The suggestion that there is something wrong with the Doctor is made clear fairly early on and Colin Baker adjusts his performance so, offering a spikier than usual Sixie who fails to crack any jokes at the appropriate times (back in his early days he did it even when it was inappropriate). The Eminence left a taint in his mind from their previous encounter, something it could exploit. He’s in his sixth incarnation and thinks he is at his peak (Mel can’t disagree with him). The way the Doctor comforts Mel at the climax shows their relationship at its best.

Computer Programmer: There is something of that gorgeous tenth Doctor/Donna companionship between the Doctor and Mel at the beginning of this adventure. They are clearly the best of mates, knocking about the universe and looking up some of the most exciting spots in their time together. Like I said in Spaceport Fear it is a very easy friendship to relax into. She’s still counting his calories (this is the post Trial, post Evelyn’s chocolate cake chubster) but even she might consider taking the elevator if they are visiting a 200 storey tower! Mel certainly hasn’t lost her penchant for righteous indignation and when she thinks she is being kept from the Doctor she gives the Captain a good piece of her mind (so forcefully I wondered if the weary Captain wouldn’t just pull out a gun and shoot her). It must be something about redheads…Mel, like Donna, is perfectly willing to go along with the Doctor’s methods to a point but she has her own mind and if she can think of a more constructive way she will jump into action despite his protestations. There’s a gorgeous moment when Mel tells the Doctor if he ever needs to talk to her about how things are weighing him down she is always there for him. It’s pretty impossible not to like her, really. She wants more than anything to rest after their recent adventures and get her head back together but she wants to be there to help her friend who has lost her father and brother. It shows what a strong will Mel has and why she is a good person to have around when the chips are down. I hope it isn’t too long before Bonnie pops back to do more Big Finish stories, she’s been a delight in this latest batch.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Typical! He invites me out to dinner and we end up in a disaster movie!’
‘Looks like you keep your passengers well fed too!’ – who could he be referring to?
‘The seeds of hope for the human race will become seeds of war…’

Great Ideas: Talk about opening with your feet running…a very creepy voice that declares that the Doctor is returning which immediately generates questions. As well as a miracle of construction, the Great Tower of Kalsos is also a marvel of computer technology. The Doctor thought that the Tower was still being constructed but he is at the wrong end of the scale, it is now past its prime and half the systems have been ripped out. The Earth Alliance are actually there to demolish the Tower! There’s something very scary about the idea of being atop a very tall Tower that is about to fall and discussing the options to survive. Parallels with 9/11 made my heart skip a beat. There is something very Gridlock/Sally Calypso about the news reader that encourages her audience to ‘hang on in there.’ It’s time for a fresh new monster in the Big Finish universe (it’s about damn time, they’ve been flirting with nostalgia for far too long now) and the Eminence look set to make quite an impact. It doesn’t need spies because it occupies the minds of those it choices. It is a gaseous intelligence capable of transporting itself across the galaxy housed inside teleportation caskets. The breath of forever is an orange mist and anyone who breathes it in is transformed into an Infinite Warrior, an invincible walking cadaver. A cross between the Family from Human Nature and the Flood creatures from Waters of Mars but melded together to make one seriously eerie threat to face. In war, whichever side may call themselves the victors there are no winners…because the Eminence will take over the survivors and prosper. There is no food or resources in the Earth colonies, just a new machine spreading propaganda. Fitton plants a family right at the core of this story to make sure that the events that take place are given a human face. It’s not a new trick (I can trace it back to Spare Parts with Big Finish, taking in Wirrn Isle and The Reaping along the way) but it does mean that the exposition scenes aren’t just faceless nobody’s going through the motions but living, breathing people who you want to see  through the rest of the story with. The Eminence are a clever bunch, deliberately exploding their ships in orbit to introduce a biological agent into the atmosphere, doing the same thing across dozens of worlds. Control their seeds, control their souls and every human will have ingested a trace of the Eminence and they can force the transformation. It’s a truly insidious method of attack, striking at them through the most basic of human needs. I liked the idea of war heroes returning home and telling the true story of how the war played out, turning the prosperous tone of the propaganda machine on its head. It’s precisely what the Doctor told the Thals to do in Planet of the Daleks. Is this the only Doctor Who adventure where the monsters are defeated by Super Carrots?

Audio Landscape: Barnaby Edwards really thinks about how these stories would sound naturally if they were taking place in the actual locations…if that seems like an obvious thing to say then take a listen to subtle change in the Doctor and Mel’s chatter as they leave the TARDIS and enter the echoey hold of the ship. Its effortlessly achieved and the transition is perfect. Climbing up a lift shaft, the lift making its presence felt destructively, a drill vibrating and bursting through a wall, breathing through an oxygen mask, falling rubble, riding the lift shaft down 200 floors, the building crashing around them, a crowd applause, the entire Tower collapsing, running, blasters, crowd scenes, gusty winds, a transporter descending and docking, the stomping drone, . The Eminence purring in the back of peoples minds as the gas fills the rooms of the ship is very effective…it’s just too easy to let go and let them consume your mind.

Isn’t it Odd: Whilst each story has been very strong in its own right there has been little variety in genre or tone over the latest sixth Doctor trilogy. I could have really done with a good juicy historical or something a little more light hearted at some point in this run. Three high concept science fiction tales in a row took the risk of feeling very samey and it is only down to the different styles of Matt Fitton, William Gallagher and Nicholas Briggs that have prevented that from being the case. That isn’t the most exciting cover in the world – all the constituent elements are fine but put together they don’t make anything memorable, especially compared to some of the latest companion chronicles. The ending of this story is massively problematic. It feels as though the narrative is going to burst into something truly epic in the last episode with the harvesting of all the humans by the Eminence but instead the story just comes to a sudden stop without any sense of fanfare. It feels like this story is going to picked up at a later date elsewhere which is fine for whoever does get to pick up all the threads but rather does The Seeds of War an injustice. Most of the satisfaction in the last episode comes from the character stuff which with Matt Fitton in the driving seat is great stuff but plot wise it is highly anti-climactic.

Standout Scene: The first cliffhanger is extremely dramatic. I know that the Doctor and Mel have to survive this cataclysm but it still gave me pause for thought it was so destructively realised. The second cliffhanger sends the story in an entirely new, as yet unsuspected, but very exciting direction.

Foreboding: The Doctor mentions a previous experience where he was possessed by the Eminence but doesn’t want to go into any detail. But we wont have long to wait to find out what happened…

Result: With its insidious nasties, space opera storytelling a multitude of locations and a sense of humanity attempting to survive against the odds, this had a feeling of a number of previous sixth Doctor tales of late about it (Wirrn Isle and especially The Acheron Pulse where this is similarly set up to be the middle part of a serial with a tale featuring a former Doctor and a tale featuring a later one still to come). However it sports a decent storyline of its own, strong guest characters, eerie monsters and the added bonus of bubbly Bonnie. It’s quite a novelty to meet an alien race that the Doctor has experienced before but the audience hasn’t (more often than not we are introduced to fresh nasties at the same to strengthen the impact) and whilst they certainly have a creepy presence the Eminence don’t really jump out as a world-ending threat on the evidence of this story. The story continues to develop well and as a result I really couldn’t tell where this one was going to end up and it doesn’t always take the easy option, bumping off characters that don’t deserve it. It’s a story that isn’t afraid to treat the Doctor roughly either which makes a nice change from the constant hero worship, here he is put through a mental nightmare that tests him to his limits and Colin Baker is more than ready to add some real bite to his usual portrayal. The Seeds of War is an engaging science fiction tale that only suffers because it comes off the back of two other engaging science fiction tales in a trilogy that hasn’t offered much in the way of variety. On it’s own merits this is well written, well directed and well acted but next year I am hoping to see a historical or something more light hearted to break away from the spate of high concept SF tales for Sixie. My biggest problem with this escapade was that the best moments seem to come in the early episodes leaving the final installment (as is so often the way) lacking in incident or any sense of climax. The story promises a more cinematic conclusion, using the seeds as part of an menacing invasion plan but it never comes anywhere near fruition. Bizarrely the story ends without any sense of occasion. On those grounds, it was the least satisfying of this trilogy but it was still crafted with enough skill to provide two hours of decent entertainment. I’m eager to see the Eminence again, though, because I didn’t feel they were exploited to the full here: 7/10

1 comment:

rumblebars said...

No comments on this one?!

I just listened to this yesterday... once I heard about the Trial of the Valeyard being a subscriber-only release, I decided it was time to subscribe. (Up until now, I'd picked and chose episodes, waiting for special deals and also because I'm not a huge fan of the 7th doctor) And I started my subscription with Spaceport Fear, which I listened to 2 days ago.

Anyhow, about Seeds of War - the first 3 episodes were very good. I had no idea how this could possibly finish with just one more episode to go! It felt like it was the middle of an old 6-parter to me.

But then to jump ahead a couple of months to the very end, skipping over a lot of stuff happening was, well, maybe a bit to pat for me. For Old Sixy to suddenly be back to normal... after being taken over at the end of of episode 3, just seemed to... easy. I would have preferred another episode between 3 and 4 here.

My other complaint here was the Eminence itself - what was its plan? Just to activate the "taint" inside the Doctor and see where it he would wander? It just seemed, again, too "easy" for the infected Doctor to meet the people he did in fairly short order that led him to all the knowledge and incentive to get into the seed facility on Earth, which would have allowed the Eminence total victory.

(There is, by the way, such a facility - I lived for many years in Fort Collins, CO, where the USDA National Seed Storage Laboratory is located.)

Leaving aside the nit-picks, Colin and Bonnie were wonderful here. And the sound design very good. I do some sound design work myself and know how difficult it can be sometimes - and Big Finish makes it look effortless.

I agree with a 7/10 rating.
-Andy T.