Saturday, 1 March 2014

The Brimstone Kid written by David Llewellyn and directed by Gary Russell

What's it about: “Welcome to the White Rabbit. What’ll it be?" “You can start by locking and bolting the doors. Then everyone in here can keep real calm…” Bernice and Irving were expecting another quiet night at the White Rabbit saloon – their only customers a veteran prospector named Toothless Bob and timid schoolteacher Miss Hannigan. But the evening takes a sinister turn with the arrival of the Brimstone Kid, a wanted outlaw, and the terrifying bounty hunter Cazador hot on his trail… Soon, Bernice and Irving find themselves caught up in an adventure involving giant, flightless crows, buried treasure and the galaxy’s most ruthless detective agency.

Archaeological Adventuress: Benny to her friends, that infernal Summerfield woman to her enemies. There isn't a university on Legion but if there were she would be a Professor. Irving likes to label Bernice as competent rather than good because the latter suggests moral fortitude.

Super Villain: One thing that this Brax has in common with his predecessor is his love of money. He can be counted on to do practically anything so long as the price is high enough. It turns out this has all been a heist to entrap a very different kind of treasure Braxiatel himself. Unfortunately they have got the wrong Braxiatel and when the crimes are laid bare (larceny, theft, vandalising a religious icon, assault, fraud, corrupting the clergy, arson, criminal damage) that becomes increasingly more obvious. The other Brax is one of the most wanted men in the galaxy.

Standout Performance: I thought we were entering The Gunfighters territory of hideous faux American accents when I was confronted with the character of crazy Hank but fortunately my pal Peter Sheward seemed to be the only actor who struggled. Toothless Bob might be a terrible old stereotype but he is charmingly played and I was happy to see that his presence propping up the bar of the White Rabbit was referred to before the story that he was clearly designed to be a part of. His drunken singing halfway through the story had me in tears, particularly Irving's dramatic method of getting him to stop. The interaction between Miles Richardson and Lisa Bowerman is so instinctive and natural at this point I was having great fun with the pairing, as much fun as they seemed to be having with the story.

Great Ideas: I can't decide whether the format of the Missing Persons box set is a good one or not. Basically every story features Bernice having an adventure with one of her colleagues on Legion (The Big Dig features Ruth & Jack, The Reverent's Carnival is fronted by Benny and Peter and this story gives Irving Braxiatel another chance to step into the limelight) and at the end of each one they are spirited away into the ether never to be heard of again. Bernice's (and everybody else's) memories have been altered so that it is like they have never existed in the first place. An intriguing notion and one which picks up steam until Benny is all on her own in the fourth instalment of the set, The Winning Side. On the one hand it is great to see each of these characters getting a lot of attention in one story and showing how well they interact with Bernice (in every case the chemistry between the actors is fantastic) but it is sad that in their last run of stories together that they should be excluded from all the other stories and that there should only be one story in the entire run where they are all together. The missing persons idea is a marvellous hook for the season to be hung but it has both positives and negatives. There is no reason why the main street of Legion cannot be depicted as that of a western town in space given we have spent very little time there since landing on the planet. Given that this is supposed to be a hive of criminals and cut throats, this is just about the perfect place to pull off a western in the Bennyverse. I would question why everybody has started talking in an American drawl but that just comes with the territory. Are the children on Legion so ill bred that a school teacher looking for work on the planet is so deeply amusing? A school ma'am coming to town is another delightful cliché that is ticked off the list. A Cyber-saw is part lizard, part machine and this one is a particularly nasty bounty hunter (what else?). Miss Hannigan is the Brimstone Kid, Billie Ford. The ending is fabulous, Braxiatel stolen away from Bernice and her memory wiped as we witness. What the hell is going on?

Audio Landscape: Club music, party atmosphere, hover cars, hydraulics, footsteps on the boards, growling, computer voice, alarm, flying on the land crow, smashing a bottle, walking into a cave, an explosion that brings the 'diamond mine' down.

Musical Cues: A delightful soundtrack that lives up to the genre by providing some catchy ambient music for the White Rabbit (the Harmonica and piano are staples of a good western) but also some deliciously upbeat plucking on the guitar as Bernice and her fellow conspirators take flight on the land crow.

Isn't it Odd: The second that Miss Hannigan came into the bar I had feeling that she wasn't everything that she claimed to be. It's the nature of these Bernice Summerfield CDs that with their economic number of cast members the characters have to come packaged with surprises to justify their inclusion. Throughout I wondered if she was the real villain of the piece. It doesn't affect your enjoyment of the piece one iota to be proven right on this occasion. Cheekily, Llewellyn has Bernice point out the twist halfway through the story by mocking Cazador's wish to take a genetic swab from her to prove that she is not the Brimstone Kid because she's a woman.

Standout Scene: How bizarre to take out Legion is such a frothy story. It was location for the range to establish itself in (indeed Everybody Loves Irving spend an inordinate amount of time setting up a new base of operations for them to work from) and yet most of the stories seem to have taken place away from Legion City itself. I don't know if it is because the production team want to move on or that Big Finish want try the series in fresh hands but it feels as though the series is keen to hurry along into another format just as it was starting to establish itself nicely. A shame, I could see real potential for another couple of series set on Legion featuring Bernice, Brax, Peter, Ruth and Jack. Gary Russell and Scott Handcock have successfully rebooted the series and promoted an engaging new cast of regulars. What a pity to lose all of that so quickly.

Result: 'That was Legion...' Inconsequential, and yet hugely entertaining regardless. I have never been a huge fan of western movies (which is mostly down to them being forced down my throat on Sunday afternoons as a kid) and yet every time a SF show has attempted a spin on the genre I seem to find it a lot of fun (The Gunfighters and A Town Called Mercy are both favourites of mine, I love DS9 which incorporates many aspect of your typical western into it's setting...and how much fun is Back to the Future Part III?). The Brimstone Kid rattles along pleasantly enough, paying homage to many western stereotypes and indulging in the atmosphere of the genre. There isn't any reason for the regulars to be involved beyond the potential riches they could earn so it doesn't stretch beyond a fun stab at a western in space. Braxiatel vanishing at the climax aside, there is no personal stake in the action. Some of the twists surprise (listen to what Toothless Bob is saying) and some don't (Miss Hannigan is too innocent to not be involved) and I came away from the story having had a good time but wondering if it was well placed given how little time the current administration has to settle up the range and pass it on to new hands. The score is a massive plus. Like all of the Bernice Summerfield releases since the Epoch box set, the music is excellent. You're flirtin' with disaster if you go lookin' for the Brimstone Kid but David Llewellyn avoids that by providing the most entertaining story in the Missing Persons set: 7/10

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