Thursday, 5 December 2013

The Queen of Time written by Brian Hayles (adapted by Catherine Harvey) and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: Somewhere outside our universe, she is waiting. A god-like immortal, living in a realm of clocks. The hours tick slowly by as she plots and plans. She is readying her trap. A trap for a very special man in a very special police box. Hecuba has all the time in the world. But for the Doctor,time is already running out...

Oh My Giddy Aunt: The second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe are one of the most amusing line up of regulars in Doctor Who’s impressive 50 year run simply because they are like a bunch of kids rattling around the universe, squabbling with each other and getting up to japes. It would be joyful to step into the TARDIS with this trio and see the sights. You would be hard pressed to recognise this fact in the hands of Catherine Harvey though because she scripts them with relatively little character or humour and merely uses them (for the most part) as slaves to the (lack of) plot. The story seems to consist of them going ‘ooh!’ as they are pushed from one bizarre danger to another and barking ‘oh you!’ at Hecuba as she continually screams with laughter at their attempts to stay alive. It is so limited I could have scripted it. The inference seems to be that the Doctor could have chosen not to come to this realm but his curiosity got the better of him. How dull the universe would be without him, how sad the Queen will be to see him die. Troughton was by all accounts a terrible old flirt and I’m sure if they had managed to secure the services of a beautiful actress to play Hecuba he would have made a play for her. The scenes of the Doctor and Hecuba dancing would have been a delight to watch then, the Doctor’s naughty eyes twinkling as he takes her for a turn about the ballroom. Beings who found love a weakness and friendship something that can be put aside make him uneasy. He really is one of a kind.

Hairy-Legged Highlander: When a beautiful woman appears on the scanner screen laughing a malevolent laugh you can bet your life that Jamie would be beguiled. He always did think with his brains under his kilt. What harm could possibly come from a spot of grub with a bonnie wee lassie, he asks? A dazzling smile from the Queen of Time and Jamie feels as though they are the only two people alive in the whole universe. For one awful moment Jamie thinks that Zoe is dead.

Brains: It strikes me that Zoe always was full of courage for such an offensive looking kid, standing up to whatever menace they came across even if she only reached their waist. Perhaps she wasn’t the best person for Jamie to confide in to that the Queen is the most attractive woman he has clapped eyes on for a long time. Apparently the Doctor’s companions aren’t as stupid as they look…or at least Zoe isn’t. Zoe enjoys puzzles when there doesn’t seem to be a solution, she loves the idea of sniffing one out regardless.

Standout Performance: It was hard to get excited by Caroline Faber’s performance as Hecuba because she isn’t given a great deal to do beyond giggle and play the pantomime villain. She’s basically handed the same role as Ainley’s Master in the mid eighties and the character gets tiresome just as quickly.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I do hate to watch the television at meal times…’

Great Ideas: This kind of oddball adventure would fit perfectly into the more experimental nature of season six than it would in either of the previous two years. Rubbing shoulders with The Mind Robber. Aping the style and unpredictable nature of The Celestial Toymaker, this is one of those Doctor Who adventures set in a realm where anything is possible. The second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe are like a trio of children roaming the galaxy anyway so I guess it was time that they found themselves trapped in the most sinister of playgrounds. Clocks which come alive in a ghoulish fashion and bite you. Instead of the Celestial Toymaker and his Dollshouse, the Queen of Time has an obsession with clocks and the passing of time. The Grand Chronometer has hands so sharp they could slice you in half if they came into contact with you. It has the power to move time in any direction, backwards or forwards. This villainess is one of those sorts that doesn’t like to lose and only goes into battle with opponents she is sure she can best. It doesn’t seem sporting somehow. Riddles and anagrams, tests of planetary knowledge and conundrums drawn from the history of the universe. Each clue, once solved, would reveal a letter and the letters would come together to form a word that would reveal a secret about Hecuba.

Audio Landscape: Rolling dice, the TARDIS lurching, laughter, clock chimes, cuckoo clock, lovely old fashioned carnival music piping through the TARDIS, ticking clocks, birds screaming and cackling, a misty atmosphere, a panting dog, battle scenes, men in armour with steel clashing, a pinball machine, gunfire, a busy kitchen, a World War II tank firing, a rocket shooting into the air and plummeting almost immediately, sand falling through the air, the demonic creatures hungrily chomping on bones, Zoe the baby screaming, glass breaking,

Isn’t it Odd: Comparisons with The Celestial Toymaker are inevitable considering they both stories that feature omnipotent beings trying to force the Doctor and his companions to play deadly games and they are both stories that come from the fevered mind of Brian Hayles. Was this Hayles attempt to get it right after his original stab at playful surrealism was distorted out of recognition in the turbulent creative turmoil in season three? Episode one takes ages to find its focus, throwing all manner of weirdness at the three regulars before the Queen of Time turns up to explain what is going on. I’m pleased, four episodes of random weirdness would have gotten tiring very quickly. It might have something to do with the scatterbrained nature of the threats but I found the plotting to be a little too loose and unfocussed throughout, lots of random danger but no central narrative to hang the set pieces on. I realise this is supposed to be the realisation of a story that was supposed to be made for TV but I would have liked some concessions for the fact that it is now being played out on audio. Much like The Celestial Toymaker, The Queen of Time makes for an awkward audio experience because so much of it is clearly supposed to be seen rather than heard. I couldn’t help but think I was missing out on so much by having to make all this up in my head. All this running around between clocks would be a massively enjoyable farce if we could witness the physical comedy of Troughton, Hines and Padbury but having these scenes relayed in exposition doesn’t have the same effect. It takes Zoe two episodes to figure out that all Hecuba’s games involve time in some way or another…it’s been there in her title all along. The Doctor playing a game of wits with Hecuba across a battlefield is a neat idea but strangely it doesn’t translate into anything nearly as fun as a similar fantasy mind game that he has with the Master in The Mind Robber. Jamie and Zoe being trapped inside an hourglass…Big Finish played about with a similar concept in Jago & Litefoot a few seasons back and it feels like it is trying to match the same duo being trapped inside a book in…you guessed it…The Mind Robber. Unfortunately the fact that there is near flawless tale of this nature already nestled in season six means that one of them was going to be left wanting. Companions ageing to death…been there, done that. Hecuba is the Celestial Toymaker’s sister? We’ve waited four episodes for a terrible Jeremy Kyle revelation like that? Hold up, the Doctor manages to foil the Queen’s plans by shoving a spanner into the Chronometer (so to speak) and jamming it? I could have told him to do that in episode one. Villains in the sixties really didn’t have a penchant for screaming ‘Noooooooo! when they were defeated.

Standout Scene: As a vegetarian the Russian doll meat platter consisting of a whole farm yard stuffed inside one another was quite  a revolting prospect (‘She started to dismember the charred animal…’).

Result: I love clocks (their intricacies and beauty) but I was starting get a little weary of them by the end of The Queen of Time. Comparisons with The Celestial Toymaker are inevitable (Hayles, the tone, the Toymaker connections) but I would say that the first Doctor oddball adventure is by far the superior adventure because it had a form of narrative thrust that this story lacked entirely. For the most part it feels like a bunch of weird stuff happening for very little reason. Each scene is fun while it lasts but as a whole piece it soon starts to run out of steam when you realise there is no great momentum to the piece, no real purpose. The last few times that Big Finish produced stories that were as obsessed with horology as this the resulting tales were a characterful adventure packed with charm and good humour and another which studied the horror and the intricacies of time and used the theme to genuinely terrify with its possibilities as a weapon (and I’ll give you ten points each if you can tell me which eighth Doctor tales they were). The Queen of Time in comparison lacks the strong characterisation of the former and the solid narrative and intelligence of the other. I wouldn’t say this was a particularly accomplished production either with loud sound effects taking dominance over the music (which the story could have done with a lot more of to make the scenes flow easier) and giving most of the scenes quite a discordant, jarring effect. The saving grace is the performances of Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury who are as game as ever and embody their roles with gusto but they are rather let down by empty characterisation. Caroline Faber’s Hecuba did very little for me either, giggling away like Ainley’s Master and hardly concocting the smartest of tricks of the Doctor and company to unravel. There were moments to savour in this adventure, some imagery that made an impact but on the whole it felt quite irrelevant and amateurish. I love this range for it’s glimpses into what could have been but I have to admit it has turned out to be one of the most inconsistent Big Finish series. I recognise that they are trying to make these stories as authentic as possible but as with Leviathan and Point of Entry a little innovation can go a long way and when you are working from a two page brief you practically have carte blanche to do your own thing. Set your imagination on minimum: 5/10


Peakius Baragonius said...

I'm guessing Seasons of Fear and The Chimes of Midnight? The only Main Range EDAs I've heard aside from Storm Warning, conveniently ;P

Looking forward to your reviews of The Lords of the Red Planet and The Assassination Games when you get to them!

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