Sunday, 8 March 2015

Dark Eyes 4: The Monster of Montmarte written by Matt Fitton and directed by Ken Bentley

What's it about: The Doctor and Liv’s investigations bring them to Paris, where a monster stalks the streets...

Breathless Romantic: Do you know I am beginning to see some potential in the Doctor/Liv relationship and all it took was to have them separated from the TARDIS and enjoying their time taking in the sights whilst they try and get it back. It might be the fourth Doctor that visited Paris on screen but I cannot think of a Doctor who is more suited to take a tour of the most romantic city on the Earth than the eighth incarnation. Something about his lust for life and giddy joy when he is captured in the moment suits the city perfectly. He looks like he has just stepped off an English Dreadnought. He's interested in anything out of the ordinary, the story of his life. Four regenerations ago he was familiar with Montmarte, modelling for Toulouse LeTrec and came to Zidler's funeral. He wasn't a child but he was childish (sums up the fourth Doctor rather well during the Williams era). An admirer of art and a critic of tawdry night spots, the Doctor can spot the changes in Paris a mile off. It is rare for a man to fail to be seduced by the sexual delights of the Red Pagoda, the Doctor is unique in that respect. He has no interest in petty criminal activities but that wont stop him passing judgement on them. The Doctor's mockery of the Time Controller is both vicious and amusing, the monstrosity has been manipulating him for too long now for him to feel any sympathy for its situation. He's furious when he discovers that the TARDIS is caught up in it's lash up of technology, stolen and abused.

Liv Chenka: Now she is thinking like a seasoned time traveller, splitting up from the Doctor and covering more ground. She knows if she is being followed and isn't afraid to call them out on their lack of discretion. A woman of education and refinement, she likes to be referred to as Dr Chenka by strangers. Liv asking the Dalek Time Controller if he feels any pity for his dying wife achieves a certain kitsch amusement. It's the one line of dialogue within this bizarre scenario that I couldn't quite buy into.

Standout Performance: That man Briggs finds himself plenty of work within Big Finish, whether it is a prolific amount of writing, directing or performing assignments. It's worth remembering that the reason he has secured such bountiful opportunities is because he is a talented man and his performance as the Time Controller is an excellent example of that. A sick creation that is played to the hilt, it's drunk, lilting voice and hysterical exclamations never fail to creep me out and make me chuckle.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Many men lose things in Paris but many men find things too.'
'Don't worry Time Controller! We'll always have Paris!' - well somebody had to say it?

Great Ideas: Much like the way that The Faceless Ones segued into Evil of the Daleks because the TARDIS had been stolen in the moments between one story and the other, I love the way that A Life in the Day and The Monster of Montmarte are connected in a similar fashion. It means that the stories are linked remotely but stand on their own as stories. The Dalek Time Controller screaming long and hard into the Parisian is almost worth following the entire Dark Eyes saga to stumble across something as wonderfully insane as that. The Doctor sensed that Adeline was corrupt but never in a million years did he expect her to turn out to be a Dalek duplicate. I love the way she describes the Time Controller as her husband, it matches the warped angle this story has taken from the off. The monsters that are roaming the streets are failed Dalek experiments, put out like dogs that they can no longer afford to feed. The Time Controller requires Dalek strategists that are able to comprehend the myriad complexities of the timelines, utilising the very best criminal and artistic minds of the time period. A squadron of time strategist mutants are prepared...the Controller simply requires the raw materials to make their armour. The Time Controller has been cut loose by the Daleks, a new paradigm making its presence felt. It has delusions of grandeur to control all Dalek operations throughout all of time and so is trying to build his own little army in neat little hideaway, a forgotten time period on an insignificant planet. What a poor, pathetic creature. Molly's timeline, from the 1890s all the way to the 20th century, is like scar tissue across history infected by retrogenitor particles (I wondered when they would show up). Time Lord technology, Time Lord interference and now the Time Controller is contaminated too. The Daleks sense that the Controller is no longer part of their history, that is why it has been cut loose. A gigantic Dalek standing in the middle of 1920s Paris? Has Matt Fitton been overdosing on The Next Doctor and thinking 'well, if the Cybermen can do it?' The TARDIS has been perverted by the Time Controller and the Doctor is trapped within its heart at the climax.

Audio landscape: Much more immersive than the first story in the set, the Paris setting seems to inspire both the director and the sound designer and they both aim for a 'you are there' feel and succeed. An unearthly scream, extermination blasts, dogs barking, a steam train pulling away from the station, station masters whistle, hammering on the door, crockery moving, washing plates, shaving, music hammering from a nightclub, conversation in a bar, banging on a door, screaming on the streets, footsteps on cobbles, Dalek heartbeat, screams from the conversion chamber, the stage splitting apart, bubbling vats, gunfire, Adeline's terrifying screams, rain n the cobbles, extermination blasts, the struggling TARDIS, a mass army of Daleks, the Master's TARDIS.

Isn't it Odd: Bizarrely the one element of The Monster of Montmarte that I have come to praise (see below) and bury is the inclusion of the Dalek Time Controller. He's a phenomenal creation and it is by far Briggs' most interesting performance of many for Big Finish but the reveal of a Dalek in an unusual location strikes me as a duplication of the twist from the Lost Story The Elite. The set up, the pacing and the reveal feel very similar. And with John Dorney coming on board for Dark Eyes 4, the connection between the two stories is more apparent.

Standout Scene: The Dalek Time Controller sure knows how to make an entrance, a stage splitting apart as he creaks and grinds into view. I was starting to wonder if this entire set would take place in it's own little bubble of fun since the Daleks and the Master had yet to make an appearance. Although I have to say this is a superbly handled surprise, it's twisted and anachronistic and makes a delicious visual. The emergence of the Dalek Time Controller is when this story goes from being a good one to a great one. The truth between the Time Controller's connection  Molly is extremely creepy, a flesh crawling sequence.

Result: Delightfully atmospheric, seductive and quite bonkers, this might be my favourite instalment of Dark Eyes to date. Gone is all the severity and pretension and the fun strikes like an arrow to the heart. Had the series been whipped up into this kind of spirit of adventure from the off I would have been chomping at the bit for more box sets. Did the writers of the previous sets look at what they had previously produced and decided to jazz things up exponentially or is this the John Dorney influence again, turning something that is only party working into gold. Dark Eyes I was a bizarre portmanteau of ideas that was perfectly entertaining but didn't really hold together as a whole, the second box set started out in the doldrums but improved in its second half and the third set took a razor to its wrist in taking the Doctor to some dark places with the Master but falling to pieces at its conclusion. The emphasis in the fourth set is to return to the jolly spirit of old whilst still keeping ahold of the elements of previous sets and it is by far the most effective approach yet. This is one of Matt Fitton's most accomplished scripts to date, up there with The Wrong Doctors and Masterplan. He's taken what is essentially another run-around and packed it full of character and life, opportunities for great sound design and some truly macarcbre imagery. One of the delights of Doctor Who is that it indulges in the perverse art of juxtaposing elements that would never come together in any other show. Navarinos in Butlins. Schoolteachers and giant ants. 'Only in Doctor Who...' has become a phrase not to bury the show but to praise it. I can't think of many audio tales that delight as much as this one in lashing up such disparate elements but the net result is something quite enchanting, if utterly bonkers. I thoroughly enjoyed it: 9/10

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