Friday, 6 September 2013

Trouble in Paradise written by Nev Fountain and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: Responding to a desperate summons from the Doctor's future self, he and Peri find themselves on a sailing ship in 1492, where the crewmen are gripped by superstitious fear. They say the Devil walks among them, stalking and striking them down. Even though they have landed in paradise, they fear that 'El Diablo' himself will drag them over the edge of the world and into the depths of Hell. When the Doctor and Peri meet the captain of the ship, they both discover that heroes can sometimes behave unheroically. Peri's reaction leads her into deep water, and soon the Doctor fears not only for her life but also for the existence of the ship, the paradise island, and the universe itself...

(Not so) Softer Six: Nev Fountain has such a superb grasp of the sixth Doctor, in the audio range he is like the Robert Holmes of the TV series at the time, offering a much maligned character such wonderful material. The only person I can ever imagine the egotistical sixth Doctor willingly going on a mission for is himself, and perhaps Margaret Thatcher (The Ultimate Adventure). The opening scene reveals that this is set quite soon after Revelation of the Daleks, despite the inclusion of the Trial of a Time Lord theme music. They are still sniping at each other continuously (in Fountain’s hands this is much more of a strength than it ever was on television) and rather wonderfully find that they cannot communicate at all – he is talking in Time Lord technobabble and she is trapped in the vernacular of 80s American teen speak. Peri thinks that the eleventh Doctor looks like what the Doctor’s son might look like if he ever showed the slightest inclination to settle down and start a family. With the sixth Doctor that idea is about as far away from a reality as I can imagine, at least at this stage in his life (perhaps not when Evelyn comes along and they adopt Thomas Brewster into their dysfunctional family). Matt Smith’s geeky Doctor thinks that the sixth incarnation has the most wonderfully chic coat and the best sense of fashion out of all of his previous selves – go figure! Upon meeting a goat, the Doctor declares the animal his new best friend clearly finds more intellectual worth in the creature than Peri. When he spies an omniparadox he declares it one of the most beautiful things he has ever seen despite it’s raw, destructive temporal energy. Maybe he did regenerate into a cat, obsessed with moving shiny objects. Peri’s criticism that the Doctor makes no time for the little people during his adventures is absurd, he more often than not does little else. When the Doctor thinks that Peri has fallen to her death he is genuinely distressed, all that mock consternation dropping away as he has to face the fact that he has lost his best friend. Some might find it cold that he quickly moves on to try and stop the universe from ending, but it is perfectly in character (and he does admit that his own personal universe feels as though it has come to an end). Why is it when he tries to explain anything to people these days they just run away from him? Nobody baits villains like old Sixie, he seems to have a remarkable amount of disdain for anybody who is up to no good and isn’t afraid to let them know it.

Busty Babe: Delightfully, Nev Fountain writes for Peri as though she really was from Baltimore and gives her the appropriate US slang terms and attitude. So often on the television she was written as a middle class British teen which Nicola Bryant then had to try and translate into the outlook and dialect of an American with understandably varied results. I adore the gag (like so much of this story) in The Two Doctors where the Doctor throws a poisonous look at Peri and sighs that Christopher Columbus had a lot to answer for and it makes perfect sense that if this particular companion was going to meet any historical celebrity it would be the man who discovered (for want of a better word) America. Rather than celebrate his achievements, Peri acknowledges that Columbus was a monster who sold American natives into slavery to pay for his voyages. Peri has always had a note of hysteria in her voice and arguments and so her reputation destroying rant about Columbus really hits home because this time she is talking about something truly obscene that legitimately occurred. She’s so impassioned that the usually unalterable Doctor decides that hanging around and having dinner with Columbus might not be the best idea after all. Being told that you cannot interfere with history is all very well but when a man is dying of TB before your eyes and your best friend holds the cure in his hands but refuses to do anything about in fear of perverting the timeline is quite something else. It brings the morality of time travel a little too close to home, just as it did with Barbara and Steven before her. Bryant is panic-stricken as Peri loses her cool and questions whether the Doctor would let her die if she was in the same position as the sick man, an extreme reaction to a tough dilemma. Leaping onto the prow of the ship and risking her life in such a dangerous way was ridiculous but within the context of her argument (trying to see if he would try and save one of the ‘little people’) it makes perfect sense. You’ll learn more about Peri’s fatty deposits than you might want to. Ultimately Peri wins the argument over changing history, the Doctor begrudgingly admitting that it is only acceptable when the entire universe is in danger. It’s still a win for the botany student, all the same. And the Doctor cures the sick sailor of TB, inventing some old guff about time travel interference to justify his actions. Really he just wants to appease his companion, the old softie.

Standout Performance: You wont find a more enthusiastic reading anywhere else in the Destiny of the Doctor series than Nicola Bryant’s energetic interpretation of Trouble in Paradise, no matter how hard you look. I find her audio work of an extremely high standard and it is such a pleasure to be able to enjoy so much of Bryant’s natural accent during the narration. She clearly adores Colin Baker and interprets his Doctor honestly and wholeheartedly and her portrayal of Peri, whilst erring on the side of hysteria in this script, continues to impress.

Sparkling Dialogue: Bringing together the witty and verbose Nev Fountain and the witty and verbose sixth Doctor is a collision of multifarious wordplay that could cause a lingual space/time event…
‘Americans! They can put a man on the moon but not a conjunction in a sentence!’
‘We are quite literally sailing off the edge of the world!’
‘Don’t you understand Columbus? None of us have much time! If I don’t locate the omniparadox, the whole universe will collapse in 45 minutes!’ – the sort of line that Colin Baker was put on this Earth to exclaim with melodramatic flair…or at least Nicola Bryant doing an apoplectic Colin Baker impression.
‘My fat deposits couldn’t power anything! I’m only a little heifer!’ – Fountain creates the most macabre alien technology made from human body parts and then proceeds to poke fun at it. 
‘The United States has always seemed a bit to strange and wonderful to be true.’
‘The Doctor has gone, thank goodness, and all is finally well’ – a reaction often attributed to the sixth Doctor’s departure!

Great Ideas: Fountain uses the staple ingredient of the Destiny of the Doctor series – the eleventh Doctor contacting himself and providing a vital plot point – and gets it over with right at the start, using it as a catalyst to kick start the story. It reminds me a little of The Androids of Tara and Romana finding the segment to the Key to Time in record time in that respect. GPS tracking with the voice of Davros? The Doctor always did have a sense of whimsy. An omniparadox is an extremely rare and potentially universe shattering space time event, he also has a gift for the overstatement. Just as nuclear power is brought about by bashing atoms together, omniparadox power is brought about by the collision of time. One false move and reality could be snapped like a twig. Fountain is not afraid to write Columbus as he actually was rather than how we would like him to be and he talks of executing the natives (that he has mistaken the Doctor and Peri for) if the colony does not fall into line. Cutting the hands of fourteen year olds that didn’t come back from a days work with gold was hardly his finest hour either. Fountain makes a strong point about how Doctor Who offers a ladybird book version of history, hooking up the Time Lord with the great periods and characters but never truly delving into the atrocities that occurred during those times and by those people. When Peri lists all the famous historical people she has met she mentions Richard III which is either from an off screen adventure or she is mis-remembering Paul Darrow’s ostentatious performance from Timelash. In his most bold move to date, the Doctor manages to trick the universe into believing that it still exists. That is a pretty nifty feat in anyone’s book. Peri realises that she is in danger when the bondage she is restrained in is assembled out of human remains, hair, bones and eyes. At the time of ice and snow, the buffalo ruled this planet and stretched across the land masses. They were the dominant species, the mighty bovine and humanity worshipped them, praying to the horn and the hoof. The day of disaster came when the herd leader was trapped in ice, his mind cut off from the rest of the species and rendering them simple and placid once more. He’s the Queen bee of the Bovine and needs a large number of them to spread his intelligence amongst, to turn them into his army. In the future humanity has created time travel and the Herd Leader copied their technology and came back through time to prevent the extinction of his species. He was seen in many times, becoming the form of the devil through the ages. In the future the Bovine horde are destroyed by the species indigenous to the major land mass, the Native Americans. So he has brought the Europeans to America to take their place and allow his people to survive. It is heavy on exposition but Fountain has created a clever device to explain away the British presence in America – Columbus isn’t responsible for ‘discovering’ the land mass, the Bovine Herd Leader is. Unfortunately all he has done is created an even more destructive future for his people, creating the timeline that we live in. It is a scornful criticism of humanity and our destructive behaviour towards other species on the planet but a point that is well worth making. Barry Letts would be proud.  The time interference that caused the omniparadox was the discovery of America, setting off the whole catalyst of events. America shouldn’t exist in the first place and Peri deserves a big pat on the back for creating her own continent. Talk about building yourself a home!

Audio Landscape: Creaking timbers, lapping sea, a goat screaming, lush, vegetative wilderness, a fly buzzing, cracking wood.

Isn’t it Odd: I wish somebody had reined Cameron Stewart a little bit when it came to his turn as the Bovine leader. It is precisely the sort of performance that non-fans would expect of guest actors when apprehensively approaching a Doctor Who story, overly arch and insanely over the top. Had these lines been played a lot quieter they would have had much more effect.  I bet Cameron had to gargle some salt after this days recording.

Standout Scene: ‘Peri! You have to understand! I thought I had lost you! I had to find a new companion from somewhere and Neddy seemed to fit the bill. Noisy, angry, eats anything, always butting heads…’

Result: The last time Nev Fountain and John Ainsworth colluded on a Doctor Who audio the resulting product was Peri & the Piscon Paradox, which is easily one of the most piquant entries of the companion chronicles range. Can they reach such heights again? Yes, and no. Fountain is far too intelligent a writer to simply try and recreate something that was previously well-liked and this is as much a different beast to his preceding story as his double length companion chronicle was to The Kingmaker. Trouble in Paradise is a game of two halves but they are both very good in their own right. The first half is a scathing examination of the much-criticised relationship between the sixth Doctor and Peri, using Columbus as a catalyst to set them at each others throats over the morality of travelling through time. It is pretty much plotless, focussing squarely on the characters but since the material is so well pitched and delivered with such passion by Nicola Bryant it doesn’t matter one jot. Fountain makes brilliant observations about things that we have come to take for granted about the show (Doctors crossing paths/interfering with history/deciding who is worth saving) and comments wittily on the most caustic of Doctor/companion relationships. Once they have been separated, the plot kicks into high gear and things aren’t quite as potent for a while, primarily down to an unsubtle performance by Cameron Stewart who jettisons any chance of menace from the Bovine intelligence that has been carefully crafted by the writer. Whilst a little heavy on exposition, the way the story ties itself up without the Doctor having to do a thing but figure out the temporal lunacy and comment sarcastically on events is rather beautiful. I can’t complain too much with about a story that bursts with this much wit and imagination and one that offers such a piercing portrayal of Christopher Columbus. The moment when he steps into the TARDIS is one for posterity. And Neddy should have left with the Doctor and Peri during the upbeat and very satisfying climax: 8/10


Zelna Smith said...
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Steve said...

Peri met Richard III in the Big Finish story The Kingmaker, actually!

Ian Tracy said...
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Ian Tracy said...

I loved this. My favourite DofD release so far, and you're right Nicola Bryant excels and realy helps the action move with her enthusiastic performance. I listened to this on a short haul flight, and it really relieved the boredom :)