Friday, 16 January 2015

Mistfall written by Andrew Smith and directed by Ken Bentley

What's it about: Drawn off-course, the TARDIS passes through a CVE into a closed universe – a hugely improbable event with a tragically obvious cause. In order to escape inescapable E-Space, the Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Turlough are forced to venture in the wilds of planet Alzarius. But they're not the only unwanted visitors to this strange world. A Starliner has landed, captained by Decider Merrion – but why would Merrion risk rousing the Planet that Slept, and the monsters in its marshes? Mistfall is coming. The Marshmen are coming. But while Nyssa and Turlough find themselves caught in the open, in the hands of fanatics who model themselves on the legendary Outlers, the Doctor and Tegan discover that the supposedly secure Starliner affords them no protection from monsters both within and without...

An English Gentleman: I cannot think of a single time when I have had nothing at all to say about the Doctor in a Big Finish release. Nothing at all.

Alien Orphan: Nyssa is very excited (but nervous) about seeing her daughter for the first time in 25 years and looking almost exactly the same age as her. How will she possibly react when confronted with a mother who has not only not aged a day but appeared to have discovered the fountain of youth.

Standout Performance: Peter Davison sounds bored. Jemma Redgrave sounds bored. Mark Strickson sounds bored. It's quite a shock after three releases headed by the passionate performances by Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant.

Great Ideas: It is plausible that Adric left the programmed co-ordinates in the TARDIS during Earthshock since we did see him tinkering with the console. It's unlikely that the ship would just decide to take them their on a whim but it has a grain of truth to it at least.  The Starliner left Alzarius 300 years ago, the Deciders finally plucking up the courage to make a choice. It travelled for a long time looking for somewhere suitable to find a new home before eventually happening upon the Haragee world. They made great friends with the indigenous population, established themselves and cultivated and introduced technology to a world that knew nothing about it. They were a simple people and the Alzarians made it their world, trampling over their natural way of life. Rather originally they called their acquired world New Alzarius. How inspiring. Now that is the environmentalists view of the situation, bringing to mind the hippy ethics of The Green Death. Fem is a Marsh(wo)man that has been evolved into an intelligent, reasoning creature. Improved or perverted, you decide? Two years ago there was a natural disaster, a tidal wave that threatened to wipe out one of the major cities. Decider Meriem made the decision to block the estuary and prevent the destruction of the wave from destroying their habitat. It was diverted towards Haragee land and the wall of water swept through and slaughtered hundreds.  Forgive me but wouldn't it be better to dramatise these events rather than simply regurgitate what happened in great gulps of exposition? Had this event taken place it would have been the most exciting feature.

Audio Landscape: The TARDIS screaming as it enters the CVE, jungle sounds, a growling truck, Marshmen slopping out of the mud, bubbling vats, growling Marshmen, a crackling spider.

Musical Cues: Perhaps it is a thing that you can only enter a CV to Paddy Kingsland sounding music because the synthetic music that piped through my earphones was remarkably authentic. For a moment I felt as though I was listening to an audio soundtrack to Full Circle. This is one occasion where I question using the same style of music because with all the familiar plot elements and the identical music it feels as though Mistfall is a little embarrassed to stand on its own two feet and that it actually wants to be Full Circle. Like an obsessive who isn't really happy with who they are and so mimics somebody else, Mistfall's score is startlingly reminiscent of Paddy Russell's work whilst not quite tapping into the same originality and excitement that the show was expressing at the time. And that is simply because it isn't 1980 and the show hasn't just kicked out its in-house composer in favour of the radiophonic workshop. This is 2015, anything is possible with the soundtrack and to slave so close to the original lacks any novelty. Fairs music isn't poor by any means but it is uninspiring.

Isn't it Odd: Surely the TARDIS wouldn't be tricked a second time into thinking that it has landed in the lowlands of Outer Gallifrey. I realise the planet inhabits the same spot spatially in E-Space as Gallifrey does in N-Space but she's savvy enough to point out to the Doctor where they really are. Mistfall reminds me frighteningly of Revenge of the Swarm last year, a story with a first episode that plays out precisely like the story it is aping to the point where you can predict every single scene. TARDIS goes through CVE, lands on (New) Alzarius, regulars discover Alzarians, dangerous experiments taking place with Marshmen, strange ecological things afoot...I could write this in my sleep and for Andrew Smith this is a disappointment, offering up self plagiarism of Terrance Dicks proportions. When there are so many exciting stories to be told I cannot understand what the point of so slavishly copying your own work is about. I was a little bit excited (not 'oh my God I want to make love to the writer' excited, more like 'oh that was a new kind of fart' excited) when the story showed a glimmer of innovation with the forced evolution of Fem but that was immediately followed by a scene with Marsh spiders bursting forth and all my goodwill vanished. And that was followed by the beginning of Mistfall (although if that hadn't occurred the title would be quite misleading...) and knives being drawn in the console. I'm being blinded by inventiveness. 'Live up to your name and decide!' Ho hum.

Result: A fourth Doctor story that deals with the Exillons followed by a fifth Doctor story on I starting to notice a trend here? Add that to two fourth Doctor releases that are audio productions of two books and you have four stories released in January that have very few original elements to them. Is this a mission statement of Big Finish now? Not 'we love stories' but 'we love appealing to your sense of nostalgia.' I wouldn't mind so much if there was a pleasing mixture of nostalgia and originality but the latter seems to have shrivelled up as died completely in favour of the former (the last three main range releases dealt with the fallout from Mindwarp, The Dalek Invasion of Earth and served as a sequel to both Mark and Time and of the Rani). Remember when the main range was spanking new and every release was a pleasure to listen to because it offered something fresh and interesting that hadn't been tried before or torn from a previously televised story? There is no reason why we can't return to those days but the creative minds behind the main range need to get over this obsession with Doctor Who of old and forge ahead with something unique of their own. What truly shocked me about Mistfall was the misuse of the regulars. Here you have four unique, very distinctive individuals who each bring something quite special to the party (check out The Emerald Tiger). And yet none of them display an iota of personality throughout this tale, nothing that makes them stand out or gives a reason why these particular characters were chosen for this particular story. They all behaved in a general way, how anybody might in this scenario. That's shockingly hard to achieve with the companions from the 80s. I think I might have even tolerated the argumentative Tegan of old over the bland alternative that stumbles through Mistfall. Ken Bentley's direction is uninspiring but that is hardly a surprise since he has been in the in-house main range director for yonks now. Remember when he delivered A Death in the Family? The actors sound half asleep with nobody bringing any life to proceedings. And the story ambles from one dreary plot turn to another. There is no part of this story that feels passionate, alive, willing to risk. It's as slumbersome and lacking in zest as I think I have ever seen an audio dip. I had no desire to listen to the last episode and forced myself through it. Andrew Smith wrote the stunning Lost Story The First Sontarans and played on my every expectation and confounded it. When I saw this story advertised that was exactly what I was expecting here but it was a false hope. No such luck. When Full Circle was transmitted it was an exciting time for Doctor Who, a bold new era of the show. Mistfall emerges from a creatively fallow period where trading on old successes is very much the order of the day. Enough now. No more Eldrad, Nucleus or Marshmen. If you love stories so much, start thinking of some new ones: 2/10


Tango said...

Every time Big Finish does sequelitis or adaptations of books is makes me appreciate more Moffat and his decision not to convert Series 7 and "The Day of The Doctor" on a fanfest fanwank.

This story is the "Time-Flight" from Big Finish.

Turlough is a obvediente puppy now instead of malicious bastard we all love, Tegan is Victoria Waterfield in this story (Although I like when she remembers with sadness Adric just before being interrupted by the redhead), and Nyssa is Amy Pond but boring as ever (Seriously, if she had not mentioned his children at the beginning and end of the story would have been impossible to believe that this story comes immediately after the traumatic heartbreaking "Prisoners of Fate")

The sooner we have to Adric and fresh new stories on the 19th season, the better. Our little mathematical genius is our only hope for the Fifth Doctor stories now. Oh the irony!

JHE said...

This review = "Beyond tedious - originality desperately needed."

Don't like nostalgia? Then perhaps you shouldn't review releases from a brand that is, and has always been built upon it.

Just another whiner who obsessively listens to everything for years on end, gets burnt out because of that, and then blames the releases themselves for their own self inflicted overdose. How very tiresome...

Joe Ford said...

Your first paragraph - very true. Even I thought that as I was writing it. Predictably trite main range stories lead to predictably miserable reviews. However if you think this story is something special then I have to call into question your critical faculties. Or lack of.

Joe Ford said...

And if you'd care to take a peek at my last three reviews you'll see how wrong you are about this site. I like stories well enough...when they are worth liking. Big raspberry :-)

Marquis said...

Not to be interrogative, but what would you consider a good Big Finish outing where nostalgia is the main focus? I quite liked To The Death, and that's a call back to several old stories. But then, that wasn't a main range edition.

Davy said...

I'm sad to say this.....I almost think Davison and co are just treading water now and they're taking room we could be giving to actors who actually want to be there. Say what you will about least he doesn't seem more interested in the free lunch.

Adam Graham said...

Good review, Joe.

Are you going to do the Novel adaptations?

Joe Ford said...

I sure am, Adam

Anonymous said...

Oh my God! Even "In the Forest of the Night" is much more creative and imaginative and fun than this pathetic fanfic.

But this no surprise me, this season 20 team was a bad idea from the start and their stories never worked well. It is ironic that the "return of Adric to Big Finish" was the two best stories of the Fifth Doctor for a long, long time. What do you think?

Flying Tiger said...

I didn't bother buying these, probably better than buying them then being disappointed. Or falling asleep listening to them.

If I become a Big Finish completist I'll grab them up.