Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The Valley of Death written by Jonathan Morris (from a story by Phillip Hinchcliffe) and directed Ken Bentley

What’s it about: A century after his Great-Grandfather Cornelius vanished in the Amazon rainforest, Edward Perkins is journeying to the depths of the jungle to find out what became of his ancestor’s lost expedition. Intrigued by what appears to be a description of a crashed spacecraft in the diaries of that first voyage, the Doctor and Leela join him on his quest. But when their plane runs into trouble and ends up crash landing, everyone gets more than they bargained for. The jungle is filled with giant creatures and angry tribesmen, all ready to attack. But in the famed lost city of the Maygor tribe, something far, far worse is lurking. Something with an offer to make to mankind. Who are the Lurons and can they be trusted? Will the Doctor defeat the plans of the malevolent Godrin or will he become just another victim of the legendary Valley of Death...

Teeth and Curls: The Doctor tramples all over the mystery of the tale with logic, asking if the Professor vanished without a trace how his diary found it’s way back to England. Had this story been made it would have been the last time the Doctor mentioned his association with UNIT during his fourth lifetime. When the Doctor gets deadly serious Leela knows to do precisely as she’s told. A city of solid gold is a bit flashy for the Doctor’s tastes but then he has never exactly been in vogue. He’s fallen victim to too many traps in his four lives that spikes descending from the ceiling just don’t cut it anymore. In a moment that quite took my breath away the Doctor informs Godrin in no uncertain terms that if he shared his lack of interest in life then he wouldn’t be standing, breathing now for all the loss of life he has caused. I love it when Baker gets angry, his Doctor feels dangerous when he does. He’s happy to call in the help of UNIT if it is necessary but in the same breath he’ll happy mock them at every opportunity. The Doctor is appalled at the inadequacies of his duplicate despite the fact they look and sound exactly the same. Obviously he thinks he is unique. He’ll accept his weaknesses though, he admits that he wouldn’t have lasted much longer exposed to the radiation of the Luron sun if Leela hadn’t turned up.

Noble Savage: You can always count on Leela to be honest and she informs Edward Perkins that his grandfather was stupid for not listening to the people of the jungle and that his fate was justly deserved. He first experience in an aeroplane does not feel like flying to Leela, being trapped inside the belly of a machine that hurts her ears. But she likes the windows, you can see where you are going unlike the TARDIS. She often talks about having no fear of death but proves it when they are plummeting to their deaths in a screaming plane and all traces of terror are absent. Especially in comparison to the other female passenger. The jungle is Leela’s natural environment so you can be sure that she shines in this adventure – she does so in pretty much all of her stories but she has an opportunity to outfox nature in the way that only she knows how here. Never underestimate her intelligence, she spots immediately that there is ‘little man’ behind Godrin giving the deity as bombastic voice. She has absolute faith in the Doctor, considering their foe beat just because he is present. Leela offers a man a massage, not aware of the effect that she has on them. She tries her best but sometimes she cocks up the simplest of proverbs (‘The beach is clear?’). Leela is excited to see her duplicate because she wants to know if she fights as well as she does. Leela proves that she has learnt a great deal from the Doctor when she declares the powerful weapon in the universe the sonic screwdriver. Because it is a tool of intellect rather than savagery.

Standout Performance: Nigel Carrington brings his best Brian Blessed to the role of Godrin the deity. So convincing was he that I was having flashes of the Nekross King from Wizards vs Aliens. What’s brilliant is when we get to the man behind the façade and he is as camp as Christmas.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘More unlikely than a lost valley full of giant frogs?’
‘I’d be careful with that gadget if I were you. They might think you’re stealing their souls. Or their intellectual property.’
‘It’s an ancient temple in the middle of the Amazon rainforest – of course it’s booby trapped!’
‘This is your chance for the scoop of a lifetime. A face to face interview with God himself!’
‘It’ll be like trying to stun a wilder beast with a peashooter!’
‘Protocol? Only a military mind can make visiting an alien spacecraft sound tedious.’

Great Ideas: I’ve got a friend who is terrified of frogs and toads so the thought of coming across one the size of a rhinoceros would probably be enough to send her into an apoplectic fit. A perfect audio teaser, The Valley of Death opens with an extract of Cornelius Perkins journal during his expedition to the jungle, planting the viewing straight into the action in a very intimate way. I very much liked how it cuts to the gathering where the journal is being read out suddenly, the extract cut short and with no further entries to complete the story. There is our mystery. I would have loved to have been able to see the sequence of the plane careering out of control and heading for the Amazon rainforest, the two pilots burnt to death, but I fear that it might have been a little beyond the budget of even the expensively produced Hinchcliffe era. This region has been coined the ‘second Bermuda Triangle’, a fact that it might have been quite relevant to know before stepping onto a plane and flying across it. The jungle proves to be a deadly and inhospitable location, full of natural dangers. There is a 104 year discrepancy between the year the Professor went missing and the year his great grandson came looking for him that has to be explained. A crashed flying saucer dashed on the rocks and of the Amazonian rainforest, that is some potent imagery for sure. Godrin is the last survivor of the Luron race. Hundreds of years their scientists attempted to increase the power of their sun but instead they caused it turn into a supernova (there’s a lot of that sort of going about, sadly) and only a few ships survived. To honour the motherland they decided to search the cosmos for worlds containing intelligent life so they could share their technology and make sure no other worlds repeated their mistakes. He decided to stick around on the Earth until the human race became sufficiently advanced enough to take advantage of his technological know-how. He generated a time bubble around the valley to slow the passage of time (that explains the great grandfather that never got a day older). He has been waiting for somebody to technologically advanced enough to get through the time bubble, somebody how knows how to use a gravity inversion drive. It bucks the trend of the usual four part format by shifting into an entirely different story halfway through, switching locations from the jungle back to contemporary London. It makes for a refreshing change to have two such vastly different halves of the same story. The twist that it has been two years since they have been away comes out of nowhere but makes perfect sense given the time manipulation concepts the story has flaunted. The Luron fleet hasn’t been destroyed, they are very much alive and the mothership is orbiting the Earth ready to strike. I was greatly amused by the notion that Brigadier is in Oslo because of fishing stocks – somehow Hinchcliffe never could get Nick Courtney back. We’ve seen villains perform some heinous acts before on Doctor Who but never anything quite as damning as interrupting a broadcast by the BBC to contact their mothership. Beware of Greeks bearing gifts, the Luron mothership communicates with Earth and offers bounty in return for settlement but as is always with these things it is never as simple as it seems. How amusing is a press conference with aliens? UNIT hasn’t learnt much from the Doctor over the years…if they aren’t returned to Terra Firma by the end of the day then their ground forces will start lobbing missiles at the Lurons. The Luron world has become uninhabitable but it wasn’t the work of a supernova – the miniaturised their own sun to power their ship across the galaxy to find a new home. That’s some impressive technology. A sun being used as a glorified nuclear reactor. They place a time bubble around the mothership so that time slows down relative to the outside world. Over time they will be able to re-populate the Earth with Luron duplicates, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers on fast-forward. The irony of Godrin being poisoned by the very sun he was exploiting for so many of his schemes is delicious.

Audio Landscape: Some Big Finish adventures really standout because of their soundscapes and The Valley of Death is one such example. Andy Hardwick has done an incredible job of bringing what is essentially an action tale on audio to life. Shut your eyes and be whisked off to the Amazonian jungle, I promise you with authentic sound effects like this you wont find it at all difficult. Birdsong, lush, aggressive vegetation, anxious natives, animalistic roar, a plane screaming past the listener (it almost gave me a turn), a plan struck by lightning, the engines screaming, a destructive crash landing through the rain forest, the scuttling legs of hordes of tarantulas attacking, tribes folk chanting, poison darts shooting through the forest, toppling over the edge of a precipice, the ship careering over, Leela falling and landing in a squelching mess, moving stone, growling taxi, the hypnotic signal, the hustle and bustle of UNIT HQ, a screaming crowd on a spaceship, the duplicates being burnt in the light of the Luron sun is spectacularly nasty, sonic blast, Godrin screaming as he falls off a gantry,

Isn’t it Odd: Not so much a criticism as a consideration but The Valley of Death is real love letter to the Hinchcliffe era, or rather The Face of Evil, The Deadly Assassin, Terror of the Zygons and The Android Invasion. You’ve got a dangerous jungle setting, all manner of phobias being thrown at the characters, a vicious primitive tribe, a false God created through technology, body print patterns, duplicates and the Doctor discovering the is only six aliens to deal with (isn’t it time one of them came out on a balcony and waved a tentacle?). To say it isn’t entirely original is an understatement.

Standout Scene: Imagine the harm that will be done if humanity is given inexhaustible, free energy, a longer life span and a cure for all major diseases? It would fundamentally change the way we live our lives, alter the political landscape and bring a whole host of new rewards to fight over. A shame that more isn’t made of this potentially shattering development for humanity because it would sure make an interesting story.

Result: Heading off to an exotic clime to solve an intriguing mystery, the first two episodes of The Valley of Death are top notch Big Finish and worthy of much praise. The second half is entertaining but much more routine alien invasion bumf of the sort we have seen countless times on this show. However with Jonny Morris scripting the dialogue, there are plenty of witty lines and the characterisation is tops across the board and so even if the plot has been reduced to something akin to what we are used to the whole piece stays afloat on those terms. Much like The Seeds of Doom, The Valley of Death ends somewhere vastly different from where it started except this time the shift is not in the story’s favour because the unusual locale of the early episodes made for a fresh audio experience. Tom Baker and Louise Jameson are on incredible form throughout, clearly delight to have the opportunity to work together again and Nigel Carrington deserves a round of applause for his fantastically over the top villain. A shame he is confined to one story because he is crying out for return appearances. The whole thing moves along at such a lick I felt as if all four episodes flew by like a dream – I’ve listen to two part fourth Doctor adventures from subsequent seasons that have dragged out at what felt like a much greater length. Paired with The Foe from the Future you have a dazzling pair of stories to greet the return of the fourth Doctor and I wish I had listened to this set before Destination: Nerva because I would have had a much more animated reaction to his first appearance on audio had that been the case. That’s entirely my fault as I was holding onto this set because I somehow knew it was going to be good and wanted to keep something back to fall back on if I ever got bored of the main range. I’m glad I discovered its treasures sooner or later and I can now see why so many people were thrilled with the arrival of the fourth Doctor to audio. Flawed but massively fun to listen to: 8/10

1 comment:

David Pirtle said...

I was a bit disappointed by this one. After the terrific "The Foe from the Future," this story sounded like it was going to end up being nearly as good, but as you say it turned at the middle into something we've seen (or heard) a hundred times before.