Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Curse of Fenman written and directed by Gary Russell

What's it about: It’s Advent Day on Legion: a time that traditionally calls for celebration; a day spent with the people you love, when all the family come together, setting aside their differences… or when they bring old scores to settle. An old foe has been biding her time, manipulating the people and events around Bernice Summerfield for as long as any of them can remember… She knows so many secrets – the secrets they’ve all been hiding – but not everybody wants to learn the truth. Today is the day Avril Fenman comes to Legion. She comes to claim her son… and to set Bernice on her final, lonely battle. But will her friends stand by her, one last time?
Archaeological Adventuress: Beta Caprisis is Bernice's real home world but she always calls Earth her home. Her father survived and her mother was exterminated. The question of her age comes up but that is such a long story I don't think anybody should even try and go there. Brax suggests that Jack ask her himself. Imagine trying to pick apart her timeline and pinpoint an age? That would take a box set on its own. She probably has the right to be a little annoyed that her friends have been spying on her son for some time and thinking he is stark raving bananas and have completely failed to inform her. Especially when there have been ample opportunities to do so.

Mysterious Girl: Good on Ruth for no longer pussy footing around Peter and telling him outright that nobody else can see Antonio because he doesn't exist. Sometimes it takes somebody on the periphery to confront people - had Bernice tried this tactic I think it might have damaged her relationship with Peter for good. Although she has to work on her pitch a little beforehand, telling somebody that they all think he is mad isn't exactly the most delicate way of breaking the news that they have been spying on him and think his boyfriend is a figment of his imagination. Ruth is irritated by Jack's reaction to Benny thinking they are a couple. 'Dear God no!' is quite harsh, I agree. She is nervous when it comes to meeting her sons partner for the first time, someone that he loves. We finally get to see the sort of woman that Ruth was before she her mind was wiped and she wound up a priestess of Poseidon. The daughter of a corrupt despot by all accounts, a thoroughly nasty piece of work that was brought up to think of the public as lowlife scum who deserve to be subjugated. The sort of woman that would order protesters executed and run away if the tide turns and the public gains the majority vote. The thought of having to work appals her. She knew defeat when it was coming and she murdered her father when the support was against him. She figured she could at least use that act in her favour. Our Ruth is shocked by these revelations and thinks that everything she has ever known is a lie. She doesn't like who she was. Jack tells her to remember that person and make sure she is never like that again.

Dog Boy: If it makes everyone happy he will go along to the Advent celebrations that Irving is arranging, even if he cannot really be arsed. Bernice wonders what Adrian would make of Peter now he is all grown up and living his life with another man. I would really love to listen to that scene because I could imagine it might be extremely awkward in all the best ways. Back when he was existing in a forced labour camp all Peter wanted was to be able to find his mum, the only person who had always been there for her. Antonio used to tell cheap jokes about their relationship and Peter never lied it. He thought what they had was serious, something solid, something to hold onto during those dark times. Finally Benny and Peter have a chance to heal their relationship, sharing his loss of Antonio and being able to support him.

Super Villain: Irving has never truly understood the meaning family until now. That odd feeling when you wake up one morning and realise that the people who orbit your life mean something more to you. He still doesn't know if this is his universe or a parallel one but he does know there was another Irving Braxiatel who hurt the people he has come to consider his family. He now understands why he did the things he did, something that was a mystery when he first arrived on Legion. He never argues with Bernice and she has instructed him to celebrate Advent. Bernice learnt a long time ago to never argue with anybody called Braxiatel (that's outright bollocks but it serves the moment well). No Braxiatel in any reality likes being manipulated. He wants to be the Irving Braxiatel that his predecessor never was. On his own planet he was one of the best. Benny wants to trust this Brax and she stopped trusting the old one years ago.

Jumping Jack Flash: He was born into a family of lawyers and insurance handlers who neglect to give a damn about what is right and focus on exploit people for every penny they are worth. Jack was different, he did care about their clients and the ethics of their business which made him a great disappointment to his father. Jack's dad has no qualms about sending his son off on a dangerous mission if it means they will obtain a wealthy client. If it all goes horribly wrong and they miss out he can always reap in the life insurance on his son. I'm not sure what I was expecting when it came to Jack's past but I certainly didn't imagine it being quite this comical.

Standout Performance: I've said it before and I'll say it again, Sean Biggerstaff has a gorgeous Scottish accent. A shame he was bumped off here, as I go on to explain later he would have made a fine (and sexy) addition to the cast. His chemistry with Thomas Grant really sells the relationship far more convincingly than the writing.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'I have two...perfectly adequate parents!'

Great Ideas: Fenman gazed backwards through time and saw everybody she needs gathered in one place and she manipulates Braxiatel into making sure that it happens. That is why Braxiatel bought Legion as his bolt hole, the planet where the staging of this grand finale will take place. The first mention of Toothless Bob who would go on to play a much more essential part in The Brimstone Kid. Antonio Tulloch was real but he died on Bastion. To wipe out the Deindum, Brax and Benny created a paradox but it went slightly wrong and reality fractured and was rebooted. After the defeat of the Deindum Peter woke up on a slaver ship with none his friends around him. We learn that Adrian and Bev are rebuilding the Maximaderas solar system after bringing down the Deindum almost single-handedly. Fenman travels and controls people through crystals, they are scattered through time and she focuses finds and inhabits them. Avril wants Peter because she considers him her son, not Bernice's. The Braxiatel Collection is now run by...other people (Irving gives us no more explanation than that). The Epoch re-mapped the solar system for their schemes.

Isn't it Odd: The Pandora virus that has been locked away in Brax's head since the early Galifrey days is suddenly relevant again. Considering they have gone to some lengths (aside from a quick mention at the end of one of the adventures set on the alternative Gallifrey's in season four) to fail to connect the Braxiatel from Gallifrey to the one from the Bernice Summerfield range I think it is a big ask to get the audience up to speed on a plot element from the former series that is now pertinent in the latter. There is a good chance that the Bernice Summerfield audience has never touched the Gallifrey range (they are tonally about as far from each other as you can get). 'Advent wouldn't be Advent without plum pudding...' - don't go nabbing lines from far superior stories! I remember there was a first season episode of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series where they attempted a sequence of outright comedy. The show had a dark tone and one that didn't successfully lend itself to a farcical dinner party sequence. It felt for that episode as if the show didn't know whether it was trying to be funny or dramatic. It was not an experiment that they tried again. The Curse of Fenman reminded me strongly of that episode during the Antonio sequences because it was teetering on the edge of being comical (with everybody coming along to the Advent celebrations with a different opinion on whether he exists or not and the resulting madness of them all spilling the beans at once) whilst also going for the emotional jugular (Peter discovering that his boyfriend hasn't been real since he escaped Bastion) and tragedy (the pain of losing him in some grossly overwritten heartbreak). Frankly it all feels a bit odd and makes me wonder if the outcome (this fresh madness) was worth all the build up. I have a feeing that it was supposed to have a far more emotional impact than it does but the 'death scene' is so overplayed and scored that this was comic highlight. A shame because Peter and Antonio's might have been quite a refreshing relationship, especially when you add 'foot in mouth' Bernice into the mix. As it is portrayed here it is just bizarre, like something you expect to see in Dante's Cove. 'Whatever happens on Bastion, stays on Bastion...' - that made me chuckle because it sounded like a line from a cheap porn movie. Jacob's hippy cool-man dialogue is enough to make you want to hide under the sofa for a decade and never come out again ('That's some cool dudage word, you dig me?'). Antonio's murder is utterly inconsequential, he is killed because he and Peter refuse to leave Bastion without each other and the slavers want a deal, and so they murder Antonio to prevent any further problems in their negotiations. Apparently Antonio's love for Peter was so strong that some of Avril's mental energy from the crystal transferred into Peter...or something. This is the payoff from the Antonio storyline, a quirk of magic made him manifest himself inside Peter's head because their love for each other was so strong? Spare me. Why would Avril suddenly come after Peter now? It's been decades. Where has she been until now or did she just come over all maternal at Year Zero? There's an awkward dump of information about the Epoch set when Jack and Avril are reunited on Legion where they discuss the multiple Benny's, the Epoch and Zordin's constantly shifting surface. These plot elements have been completely forgotten for nine stories over several years...and suddenly they are brought up in a release already top heavy with continuity and one that they have nothing do with? Fenman went to all those lengths to get Jack and Ruth to Legion just to steal their youth and vitality? Forgive me but weren't their two easier catches that  she could have found that would have required a lot less effort. All Fenman's plans and schemes were leading up to the point where she could be reborn into her son's lovers body. That's just icky. Fenman's plans have been known to Braxiatel from the start and he has made allowances to stop her from the very beginning. Rendering all of this rather pointless.

Standout Scene: The reveal of Antonio was probably the best surprise of the box set. After spending so long trying to convince the audience that Peter is bonkers, it is a great surprise for Ruth to be able to see him too.

Result: More a series of long winded explanations than a piece of drama, The Curse of Fenman is trying to be a season finale full of exciting twists and turns but falls short in several key areas. One massive misstep is the casting of Georgia Moffett as Fenman, a performance that brings to mind every panto villainess and ice queen that has ever been depicted ('You are too late Irving! I have won! And I shall take my son! Cackle! Cackle! Cackle!'). Never once a genuine menace and always feeling as though she is winking at the audience, this part should have gone to an older actress with much more gravitas. As much as he understands these characters inside out and back to front, Gary Russell is not the man I would choose to script such an essential story because he doesn't quite know where to hold back. There are so many points where the audience is being blatantly manipulated; whether it is trying to be funny, poignant or cute. It is such a shame because the amount of character development that has been injected into the regulars because of this story is impressive (we learn Ruth and Jack's back story, Brax's history is explained and the whole Antonio thing is put to rest) but the presentation of the story, both in how it has been crafted and in how it has been directed has all the conviction of a daytime soap opera. Russell wants you to believe that this where the fates of all the characters has been heading the whole time but with no hints along the way it feels like a writer trying desperately to pull everything together at the last minute and explain everything away as being manipulated by Fenman. It is not in the least bit convincing because none of this has been developed in the stories leading up to it, it is just dropped on the audience at the last minute and wrapped up just as swiftly. This is how not to conduct an arc because it feels as though it is being made up on the hoof. If it wasn't and this was how it was always planned, well that's even more worrying. The Curse of Fenman has a worthy goal, to explain how everybody made it to Legion and where they came from. However these revelations would have been far more effectively spaced out over the past six releases rather than condensed into one great info dump of flashbacks and exposition. The whole thing left me rather cold, not least because Fenman's master plan amounts to absolutely nothing: 4/10

1 comment:

Neil Larrisey said...

I have to disagree. I loved this story, I had been waiting for explanations for ages and above all else the reveal that This Brax is good and that Avril is responsible for his counterparts behaviour was ace. But each to their own, I don't always agree with your reviews but always enjoy to read them.
I look forward to your take on the next boxset.