Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Enemy Aliens written by Alan Barnes and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: 1935: a message from a Time Lord in trouble sends the Eighth Doctor and Charlotte ‘Charley’ Pollard to the streets of London’s West End, in search of a mysterious alien adversary – unaware that something monstrous is already on their trail. They soon discover that an insidious conspiracy is indeed at work, its tentacles extending the length of the British Isles. Proving its existence won’t be easy, however, after a confrontation in a music hall ends up with the Doctor under arrest and Charley on the run, suspected of murder. All their hopes rest in a musical clue and a man named Hilary – neither of which are much consolation, with the two time travellers the object of a nationwide manhunt. And all the while, the enemy aliens are drawing closer and closer still...

Breathless Romantic: All this chatter about Rossini recalls the Madame Butterfly motif that was used in The TV Movie, delicately reminding fandom of the eighth Doctor’s one appearance on television. This is the early eighth Doctor, you know the one who was great fun to be around before he went pissing and moaning off into a Divergent Universe and forgot everything that was nice about himself. He dances around the TARDIS controls like an over excited puppy, desperate to get off to the next hair raising adventure with his best friend. It is a period when the Doctor’s mood was extremely infectious when you were around him. He’s the most tactile of Doctors and can often be found making empty romantic gestures like trying to kiss Charley when she makes a useful suggestion. Which is a shame because she wishes they were rather more meaningful than that and thus tries to avoid them. Barnes uses the term ‘helpless to resist’ when describing Charley’s reaction to the Doctor’s fervour but this could easily apply to the listener too. The Doctor always did have something of a bon vivant in him and he can’t resist publicly remonstrating with William Tell and enquiring about the Enemy Aliens as though it is all part of the showman’s act.

Edwardian Adventuress: …and this is Charley before she turned into a lovesick sourpuss trailing after the eighth Doctor trying to get his attention as much as she possibly can before disappearing in a huff when that doesn’t work out. She’s a delight too, they are like a pair of overgrown school kids that have been given an all access pass to a sweet shop. Add the excitable eleventh Doctor to the mix and you reach an apotheosis of enthusiasm that is hard to defy! Charley isn’t sure about the afterlife but she is certain that something goes on after death. She has her own special kind of technobabble that helped her get through her adventures with the Doctor: bleeping wotsits, thingummy too and doodahs that you hit people with. You can combine the three in any way you like and almost always explain what is going on at any given time. Oojamaflip is rather common and therefore cannot break into the system, her upper class sensibilities will not allow it. The Doctor only ever calls Charley ‘Miss Pollard’ when she has poured water on his fire. She hates to sound like a frightful snob but she just can’t help herself! When asked what it is that she does she answers chasing and being chased by aliens mostly. Charley should get used to being a fugitive, she would get to embrace the role again many years in The Raincloud Man under much less agreeable circumstances. He always takes her to the best places and they often share delightful prison cells with slimy, wet ceilings. Ultimately Charley is responsible for activating the slavering alien…by her incessant humming of Rossini! Charley always did have a bit of a devil in her and was willing to dish out the appropriate justice to wrong doers (seriously, check out her second season – the Doctor was always holding her back!) and so the climactic sequence where she calls down the Rossini-attracted monster to dispatch Hilary felt very authentic. Does she want to keep him hanging, let him go or bring him back up? Do you know if she was making that decision for me I might just be a tad worried.

Standout Performance: Wow, I could really hear Paul McGann’s eighth Doctor in this story. A stirring mixture of Alan Barnes’ understanding of the character on audio and India Fisher’s lengthly experience of working with the man and accurately portraying his mannerisms. Fisher’s eleventh Doctor is a massive step up from Aldred’s, she always has something of a grown up child about her performance and that is Matt Smith through and through.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What’s Wikipedia?’ – oh Charley, you don’t want to know…

Great Ideas: Who doesn’t want to listen to the adventure featuring an army of granite behemoths in London’s Bloomsbury? The Faberge egg bomb, the Living Will…Alan Barnes offers exciting scope into many previously unheard adventures with the eighth Doctor and Charley. Another blasted lot of aliens (or so it would appear) up to no good in London…but let’s be honest when isn’t there? Somebody should write a story where there are a multitude of invasions, schemes and dodgy extraterrestrial deals going on in Britain’s capital city and the Doctor has to unravel them all. Rarely has a Doctor Who adventure ever seemed like such a party…where the Doctor and his assistant need to check out an array of nightclubs, jazz venues and convert houses to try and find aliens playing Rossini. Who would have ever thought that Six Guns Sadie would still be rootin’ and tootin’ after 60 years! Finally there is some kind of explanation of the eleventh Doctor’s activities as he admits that he is trying to get messages to his former selves but something is blocking them. A mothership emerging in the skies of 1930s London, this has a touch of contemporary Who to it as well.

Audio Landscape: The TV Movie console room, atmospheric London street scenes bustling with activity, dogs barking, the hustle and bustle of an audience preparing themselves for a show in a Musical Hall, laughing, coughing, a fry up bubbling with fat, train whistles, rifles firing into a river, birdsong, a train chuffing into motion, bombs falling, explosions, air raid warnings, rubble, Big Ben chiming, the screaming alien, the Doctor’s bleeping wotsit.

Standout Scene: Look away if you don’t want to be spoiled (although I would question why you are reading this before you listen to it) but the enemy aliens turn out to be…Germans! It’s a typically insane twist in this scatterbrained romp and one that makes perfect sense with regards to the period. The Doctor and Charley got completely the wrong of the stick is all. The secret key and lock is nothing of the sort…they are just used to these things turning out to be big, epic, mystical adventures. It instead refers to the more mundane secret quay and loch.

Result: ‘Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to…’ ‘Run!’ What a jolly adventure! The 8th Doctor and Charley before their relationship turned bitter, bounding about 1930s London like a excitable kids; accused of murder, gadding around town, hopping on trains and on the trail of the enemy aliens. There’s an energy and excitement to events that perfectly captures those optimistic first two seasons that these two characters shared, where the 8th Doctor was afforded an extended life on audio and everything was right with the universe. Alan Barnes is the perfect writer to be handed this assignment because he did more than any other to pitch the tone and characterisation of this giddy period (penning Storm Warning and Neverland, two superb tales that bookended the Doctor and Charley’s solo time together) and so he knows better than anyone how to recapture that animated innocence. I’ll be honest this isn’t the most tightly structured of scripts or infused with lashings of intelligence but that really isn’t the point. This is all about ambience, evocative details and the dazzling characterisation of two time travellers that took us on a whirlwind adventure and on those terms it succeeds admirably. I took a long walk whilst listening to this story for the first time and I don’t think a smile left my face from the first second to the last. As we dash through the atmospherically rendered (both in terms of the script and the production) location, we get to meet an array of colourful characters who are charmingly portrayed by Fisher. What’s brilliant about Enemy Aliens is that it promises something exotic but deliberately delivers something much more mundane…before delivering on it’s initial promise after all! It’s another winner for the Destiny of the Doctor series, a range that has delivered no absolute classics but has also failed to drop the ball in eight stories. As busy as a fizzy sarsaparilla and just as enjoyable to swig down: 8/10


Anonymous said...

yeah, that made me feel a pang of nostalgia for the first 2 seasons of Charley and Eight.oh how I miss the breathless romantic!

David Pirtle said...

Wait, their relationship sours? Shucks.