Thursday, 16 April 2015

Death Match written by Matt Fitton and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What's it about: The Death-Match is under new management. The Hunt Master's Champion has been installed. All regular players are welcomed back to the Pursuit Lounge to observe the contest in luxurious surroundings. Privacy is assured. For this reason we ask our elite guests to abide by the strict security protocols. Please note, the house has no limits. In the Gallery, your combatants can be observed on the orbiting Quarry Station. A purpose-built environment filled with deadly traps and hidden dangers. Prizes are offered for every kill, with bonuses for rogue elements. Only an elite hunter can survive the End-Game. Do you have a worthy champion? Kill or be killed: the only rule of the Death-Match...

Teeth and Curls: Without Leela in the TARDIS to act as a mediator, the Doctor and K.9 are getting on each others nerves. It is clear that they both miss her terribly but neither one them is going to be the one to say it. Isn't it wonderful that in this season the Doctor is the spanner in the works to all the Master's plans rather than the Master turning up to ruin the Doctor's day. It really suits Tom Baker's cheeky, irreverent Doctor from this period. Not so much the Master's friends but his nemesis, similar interests but different approaches (too embarrass the Master completely he tells one of his guests that he was always a rotten cheat as a child and always picking his nose). It's only once he understands Leela's role in the Death Match that the Doctor drops his sarcasm and starts making demands. The Master sees them striding the cosmos like Gods, making moral choices, deciding who rules, who serves, who lives and who dies. I'm sure the Doctor just does it for a laugh. He looks at stars and he wants to visit whereas the Master looks at them and wants to snuff them out. It's fascinating to listen to the Doctor and Master attack a moral debate with such vigour without the threat of death to either of them. It breaks down their relationship and their different moralities to its rawest. For the Master his schemes are just a distraction, a diversion from the oncoming victory of death. The Doctor warns him that however many victories he might score he is still stuck inside his putrescent head with his madness. The Doctor's reaction to K.9 attempting to answer his question of how long is a piece of string is an absolute scream.

Noble Savage: Her reunion with the Doctor and Leela is a triumphant moment. He has missed her savage colloquialisms and she has missed his rational science. You realise in their absence from one another that they teach each other a great deal. I enjoyed Leela's romantic subplot because it made some in roads into revealing that she does have a loving side which sets up her (sudden) departure in The Invasion of Time. I think of all the Doctor's companions, she is the one that feels every emotion the strongest. Especially passion. So to see her behave in such a tender way is a surprising development and the gentle sequence where the Doctor comforts her even moreso. How better to honour his memory but to keep travelling and keep fighting.

Standout Performance: Did I hear John Dorney killed horribly at the beginning of this story?

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Is that a new rotting cowl?'
'I find the question of morality fascinating. How far can it bend before it breaks?'
'Why trap ten mouthfuls when you can secure a feast.'

Great Ideas: Straight off the bat there is something quite engaging going on in this story and it has to do with the range in general at the moment. Finally there seems to be some kind of innovation bleeding into the 4DAs, even if that means a dominating presence of the Master and the kidnapping of Leela. They aren't hugely imaginative ideas but they are different from the norm, not just more nostalgia kicks and standalone bits of fluff. There is an attempt to build up some kind of excitement for the range that is admirable, an ongoing story that is paid off from one adventure to another. The Master's involvement in this story is assured by his appearance on the cover but I rather like the way he is being treated as a regular character like he was during the Pertwee era rather than a (not so) shock villain of the piece. A touch of Marinus, this is set on an ocean world with the majority of the surface covered by acid seas. Like Requiem, the Master has insinuated himself into the setting with ease and it is a pleasure to spend time with him when he is simply going along with his normal activities rather than him popping up as the grand villain of the piece. One because Geoffrey Beevers is a great actor that is too good to waste on melodramatic posturing and two because this damaged Master is quite an interesting character in his own right. The Death Match is a pass time for rich and despotic, military leaders and fascist dictators need somewhere to relax and unwind. K.9 is used in a very amusing way too, trundling along and chatting to himself and attempting to puff himself up when he is in danger. John Leeson sounds like he is having a whale of a time. The Red Giant is built up as the most formidable champion but that just makes his combat against Leela all the more exciting. I think we all know what his ultimate fate will be in her hands. The Master is so deliriously evil that he will destroy a star system if he is just passing through, not for any particular reason.

Musical Cues: I recognised the musical signature of Jamie Robertson long before I looked on the website to see who was scoring. His themes have become indicative of the range and his uplifting bouncy soundtracks one of my favourite features. He takes what is an already amusing tale and elevates it to something even more entertaining.

Standout Scene: No matter how silky smooth the Master behaves around Kastrella you just know there will come a point where he will turn on her. It shows Geoffrey Beevers at his most diverse, from seductive charm to vicious malevolence. Scenes of the Master and Kastrella getting off on the chaos and destruction around them are just sublime, finally he's found himself a bird who can revel in all the death and destruction with him.

Result: The most blatant Blakes' 7 rip off I have ever seen in Doctor Who is pulled off with spectacular style. I thought Chris Boucher returning to his roots (both the 4th Doctor and Leela and the combat scenario that played out in the Blakes' 7 episode Death Watch) in the BBC Novel Match of the Day felt congratulatory and self plagiaristic but this takes things a step even further. If it wasn't all so deliriously enjoyable to listen I would probably take more of an exception to it. This is a range that is finally starting to deliver on a regular occasion (that's three strong releases in a row) which makes me very happy for Tom Baker, Louise Jameson and Nick Briggs who I am sure have figured this is the kind of success they have been achieving since day one. Death Match sports some delicious Doctor/Master dialogue, which Baker and Beevers relish like a fine wine and it provides some new insights into the relationship of the two rivals. The story is fast paced, set on a gloriously Terry Nation-esque world (acid seas and testosterone fuelled competitions) and features a terrific score courtesy of Jamie Robertson. Listening to this story was effortless and I had a smile slapped on my face throughout. This is a little longer than your average 4DA too so you'll get a little more enjoyment for your buck too. Matt Fitton deserves some recognition as one of the breakout talents of the last few years, he's delivered again (The Wrong Doctors) and again (The Fall of House Pollard) and again (Equilibrium) and again (Return of the Rocket Men). Give that man a pay rise, he's approaching the Dorney's and Morris' of the company. If you want to take this as Requiem of the Rocket Men as a four parter there is an argument to be made for that...but they are equally strong standalone stories too. The usual suspects will tell you that this is undemanding fare but it is hugely enjoyable and in this range that is a valuable commodity: 8/10


Anonymous said...

Thank God, finally you reviews some Doctor Who. Your blog was being contaminated by so much Torchwood.

When are you going to review the books again?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reviews which are always detailed and intelligent. However, must disagree about Jamie Robertson's score this time as there was some truly wince-inducing stuff towards the end where Leela laments the loss of Marshall. It sounded like schmaltzy lift muzak and threatened to obliterate my good will for the story. It's a personal preference, but I don't always feel the love for Jamie's work. I really liked Nick Briggs' tribute to Carey Blyton in THE EXXILONS. Wish there were more Dudley Simpson-esque scores in the BF 4DA's as Dudley was one of the elements I loved most about the 4th Doctor TV stories.