Monday, 23 March 2015

The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield: The Revolution written by Nev Fountain and directed by Scott Handcock

What's it about: On the planet of Arviem 2, Bernice Summerfield has a lot of problems. Pursued by robots, maniacs and miracles, she has another issue to contend with. The Doctor's come looking for her – and he's not feeling himself.

Archaeological Adventuress: Bernice's calling cards are: stealing priceless artefacts, violating the local culture and desecrating the sacred. Benny's scathing criticism of the Doctor (where she is apparently being kind) is easily the nadir for the character as long as I have been reading or listening to her. I can't think of a single moment where I have wished ill of her like this. Hardly an auspicious start. Never underestimate what a woman can reach with her heels...why do you think Benny wears them? Benny's love of drink can get her in terrible trouble sometimes because it loosens her mouth.

The Real McCoy: The idea of the Doctor being stuck up on a shelf and waiting to be rescued merely emphasises his ineffectiveness and the failed efforts this story goes to to be quirky. The Doctor hates it when people say they are going to explain later, a supposedly amusing role reversal. The Doctor suggests that everything that is happening here is a fiendishly clever plan dreamt up by him in the future, so intricate and involved that they cannot begin to determine its true shape. Whilst that might be an amusing idea in practice, it is exactly the sort of timey wimey bollocks that drove me nuts in the New Adventures. Where the Doctor was always playing God with his companions. The idea of McCoy's Doctor being considered some kind of supermodel because of his superior brain (which he hardly demonstrates here anyway) made me feel a little nauseous. He stands for scientific proof at all times. The Doctor is supposedly something a genius and has concocted a solution before the adventure even began but the evidence of this is not backed up by the Doctor himself who behaves like a drunk child throughout. Tell me something I don't know is his motto.

Oh Wicked: At least we are spared Ace. Let's be thankful for small mercies.

Standout Performance: Hands down, this is McCoy's worst performance in a Big Finish audio in some considerable time. Probably his least convincing since the days of The Rapture and Unregenerate! He's always been dramatically inconsistent as an actor (but pretty consistent as an entertainer) but when Bernice points out that the Doctor has had his day I could not help but be simultaneously shocked at such a statement and shake my head in agreement given the hideousness of the performance of the man playing him. He screams and shouts and gurns and giggles and moans and sighs. It's the most bizarre performance I have listened to in some time. Mind you Lisa Bowerman, who I have long admired for many, many years has a momentary aberration in her stunning track record when she delivers the least convincing drunk of all times in the opening scenes. Finally there is Nicola Bryant who manages to deliver the most outrageous character in a story full of them. Perhaps she is doing her damndest to disguise the fact that she isn't Peri but I couldn't buy into the accentuated eccentricity of her voice one jot.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Professor Summerfield come out, we don't want to harm you' 'No?' 'No, we want to kill you.'
'Attention: this is not miracle! A rational explanation will be issued later.'

Dreadful Dialogue: 'Doctor pleeeeeease! Show me a siiiiigggnnnnn!' One of the most cringeworthy deliveries of a line ever. I wanted to the ground to open and swallow me up it was so embarrassing.
'What has religion done for us? Nothing. It makes up fairy stories and calls everything it can a miracle.' I'm not in the slightest but religious and have my own issues with the notion but I think that is dangerous territory to take the series in. For the Doctor to make such an uncompromisingly disrespectful statement boggles the mind.

Great Ideas: To give you a clue about the unimportance of Arviem II, there isn't even an Arviem I. In a one planet race to be called Arviem I, it came second. The obsession with science on this planet is not healthy because it is like an obsession without love. Benny rather cleverly uses that obsession to her advantage by highlighting the theory of Schrodinger's Cat as a scientific fact that cannot be disproved and manipulating it to allow for her escape. This is a world where faith in the indefinable is a punishable action, you have to have your every belief backed up by scientific fact. Arviem II joined the Federation three months ago. Unfortunately the Doctor was drunk when he created all life on this planet so he seems to have forgotten al about it. He's created the only planet in the galaxy where all the bible stories are literally true.

Audio Landscape: Robot hydraulics, automatic doors, footsteps, a hover bike ascending, smashing glass, a screaming cat, gunshots, a screaming crowd, jungle sounds, an exploding head.

Isn't it Odd: I wont lie, when I first heard that the Benny adventures were moving away from their established continuity and straying back in to New Adventures territory my heart sunk. I genuinely felt that the series that had done the most to strive for its own identity and had never played by the rules was falling back into a safe region and a one that I had not been particularly keen on in the first place. Whilst I can admire that the New Adventures were a wildly innovative period of for brand as a whole it doesn't change the fact that, Benny aside, I could barely stand any of the companions and I found that McCoy's Doctor was perverted out of all recognition. The books were often overblown, atrociously written trying to push the envelope for the sake of it rather than having a creative reason. Don't get me wrong there were some fantastic authors to spring from the New Adventures but the range was also saddled with some amateurish ones too. Whilst this set as a whole alleviated some of my anxieties, The Revolution certainly failed to do so. What I feared would happen was that Doctor Who would intrude on the Bernice Summerfield range and take over and instead something even more shocking happened, the Bernice Summerfield range judged Doctor Who, criticised it and considered it unworthy. When Bernice belittles the Doctor in such a way s to tell him to fuck off and let her get on with this adventure without him, I was appalled. Apparently the Doctor without the TARDIS and a hat is just an annoying man in a hat. This is clearly a Bernice Summerfield adventure with the Doctor why is it fronted by the Doctor Who theme tune rather than the Bernice Summerfield one. For a range that is claiming to have not lost its identity that is a bizarre statement to make. The tone of the story doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the new direction that the range is taking. For once I think the Bernice series should have dumped the sarcasm and ploughed for something more serious, the smugness that permeates The Revolution reeks of a new direction that is absolutely full of itself. The Doctor doesn't fit in in adventures with a lot of shooting and shouting? Who was that wandering through the Eric Saward era then? I've swallowed down some pretty outrageous concepts in my time as a Doctor Who fan...but sentient clothing? I'm unconvinced that the structure of the story works either, we come in after the Doctor has made his considerable input to this world and pick up with Benny drunk at the bar with no idea what has occurred before until later in the narrative. But the revelations hardly justify the mystery. Once we reach the climax of worlds being created by pink dragons, robots dancing to awful music and heads literally exploding because they cannot handle the pressure of contradictory ideas I had lost the will to keep going. I was willing this to end.

Standout Scene: 'This isn't easy Doctor but I don't want you to come with me. I just don't think this is your kind of adventure. This isn't the kind of adventure where we do something frightfully clever at the end where everybody ends up more or less happy. This is the kind of adventure where I fire my guns at them and they fire their guns at me and the one who fires their guns the most number of times wins. It's just a lot of shooting and shouting and you don't fit in here. Most of the time you are the most wonderful, inventive, clever person I've ever met and you have quite definitely the finest brain in the galaxy but you're just an odd little man saying odd little things and you're just getting in the way. Find a nice little planet where everyone's nice...' It actually made my blood boil typing those words that I had to stop. Just hideous.

Result: I have never known so many Nev Fountain jokes fall so wide of the mark and I think it is due to the uncertain tone of the story. Whether that is due to the writing, directing or performances I don't think I ever quite put my finger on it but I was literally astonished to see the work of so many people I admire failing to gel in such a spectacular way. There were points where it was so ill judged that I was quite embarrassed listening to it and I don't think that has happened since the days of Bang Bang a Boom! which ironically enough featured another abysmal Sylvester McCoy performance. I fail to see the logic of bringing in the Doctor to generate some interest in the Bernice Summerfield range if he is going to be undermined and made a joke of like he is here. Laugh with him by all means but the characterisation and performance is so off kilter that I was mostly laughing at him and that isn't something I ever want to find myself doing. The story itself plays about with some tasty ideas (as you would expect from Nev Fountain) but it is squandered on a shallow run-around featuring too many characters that are facetious and self-righteous. Go and listen to the superlative range Dorian Gray and you have hours of evidence that Scott Handcock is one of the strongest directors Big Finish has ever employed. So what happened here? There are so many gags in this script, most of them need to be delicately handled but instead it is like watching an appalling Benny Hill sketch where he trips over his shoelaces, slips on a banana and falls face down into a cream pie. It lacks any subtlety or nuance. The biggest indignity, however, is Sylvester McCoy's performance. So bad it practically redefines the meaning of the word, it sounds like he has tripped off a plane after a flight back from New Zealand and picked up the script jetlagged. I've never heard anything quite like it. I always want to love what the Bernice Summerfield range is releasing because it is constantly innovating and surprising but this was an enormous step backwards in quality and realisation. Parts of this story are truly abominable so things can only get better: 2/10

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