Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Black Hole written by Simon Guerrier and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What's it about: On a research station near a black hole, time keeps standing still. Investigating the phenomenon, the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria discover a power far greater than any of the monsters that have challenged them on their travels... The Doctor's own people. With the safety of thousands balancing out the need to flee, and a policeman from his home planet working at his side, the Doctor reluctantly finds himself involved in a race against time. But nothing is ever as simple as it appears. And if you can use the Doctor's compassion against him, you have the makings of a perfect trap…

Giddy Aunt: The Doctor's two approaches to getting some attention; making a fuss or getting them arrested or asking nicely. The Doctor is terrified of the kind of people that can control the TARDIS...because they are his own people. He knows that if the Time Lords are close by and they catch up with him it will be the end of his adventures with Jamie and Victoria. The success of saving these people is dependent on a precision flight and the Doctor can barely control the TARDIS. Even his friends don't have faith that he has the piloting skills. The idea of a battle of wits between Troughton's Doctor and the Monk is delightful, they are both impish and quick witted. The plotting of the last episode is like constant one-upmanship between the two characters. The only thing that will stop the Doctor meddling in the Monk's meddling is when peoples lives are in danger as a result.

Yahoos: This isn't a substantial role for Jamie but that doesn't mean that Frazer Hines isn't working his nuts off to make this work.

Shrieking Violet: The Doctor tells Victoria that she has a very 19th Century way of thinking, a somewhat unfair criticism given that is precisely where she comes from. Victoria experiences what it is like to not exist and to know about it. She needs some respite from this latest adventure because of it. Intriguingly, Guerrier leaves Victoria as the focus of the tale as the Doctor and Jamie head off to the Third Zone for an adventure with the sixth Doctor, Peri and the Sontarans. How nice to see what she was up to whilst they had their little romp around Spain. Victoria learnt from her father than science aspires to be objective. She is clever enough to figure it is Pavo who has created the black hole and is directing it for his own purposes. How nice to see the character removed from her usual snivelling screamer status and treated this intelligently. Simon Guerrier acknowledges that he doesn't get the opportunity to explore the ramifications of Victoria being erased from time in the same way that he would in the companion chronicles because the Early Adventures don't afford the luxury of first person narration to really get inside its characters heads. 

Standout Performance: Narrated by David Warner? The Black Hole has a huge advantage over all the other Early Adventures before it has even begun. A sublime narrator, draining every last nuance from the script. Thank goodness for that because once again Deborah Watling sounds like that drunken aunt that you are always wary to invite to the party because she'll make a spectacle of herself. Her voice has not aged kindly and she sounds nothing at all like the young slip of a thing that she did in the sixties (and why should she?).

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Fixing time isn't without it's costs, you see. I do have overheads.'

Great Ideas: The TARDIS passed through a massive spatial phenomena in space which caused the crew a bumpy ride. The people that control such a phenomenon and can influence the TARDIS must be very powerful indeed. It shouldn't take a fan of the show long to figure out who that race might be. More of a habitat than a spaceship, a small city in space. A spatial anomaly that freezes time in an instant, leaving the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria feeling they are caught inside a photograph. The Doctor is baffled at the very idea of a facility in the wake of a Black Hole, an impossible position to be in. No star, no supernova but the black hole cannot have appeared out of nowhere. It was created artificially. The idea that time is fucked because of the nearby black hole gives Guerrier the chance to offer the travellers snapshots of the future, a bleak peek into the horrors to come. The Black Hole isn't afraid to tamper with continuity a little to tell a good story, an approach I wholeheartedly approve of. Whilst it sticks to The Two Doctors approach that the second Doctor had dealings with the Time Lords during his tenure, it rather ignores the fact that they were originally introduced in The War Games. It's a fresh approach and the Doctor's sense of foreboding about the presence of the Time Lords makes for some wonderful scenes. Somebody is creating a tunnel through time and space with the black hole at one end and the facility at the other. The description of a TARDIS being twisted inside out is just gorgeous, amongst some hypnotic, hallucinatory imagery as the black hole swallows. If you have a symbiotic link with a TARDIS and you sacrifice your ship, is that like committing suicide? How this story ties in directly with The Two Doctors is smartly done, just a few references and a damn good reason to remove Victoria from the action. Apparently Jamie and the Doctor had several stops after their adventure with the Sontarans that we knew nothing about. A chance for some solo Doctor/Jamie stories in the future, that's Big Finish making their only gap between stories to fill at a later date. Who else wants to visit the City of Owls? Episode three initially has something of a Wheel in Space vibe to it, the Doctor and Jamie exploring a facility that feels abandoned and disquieting. The Analogue Wars saw the worlds of this system ravaged by mankind and the Monk wants to change things and teach humanity a lesson. The Doctor and Jamie get to experience the gravity well at the centre of a black hole. Where no human has gone before.

Audio Landscape: A crowded scene, a tree toppling into a fountain, the hum of the Monk's TARDIS, alarms, the screaming swarm of the Seeth, laughter, broken glass, a hurricane whipping up.

Isn't it Odd: Because of the complex nature of the story and the ideas that are being explored, we never get much time to study the Seeth in any great detail.

Standout Scene: The climax of episode two comes as a complete shock. The Monk is a character that has appeared in a fair few Big Finish stories of late and each time his appearances has managed to be a surprise. He's not a well known villain like the Master so his presence on the cover isn't going to rake in the sales. A good thing too because each time he steps out of the shadows it proves to be a great moment. This is no exception. And the moment when a character regenerates within the story into another character that we have already met...well my mind was well and truly boggled. And tempted by the prospect. It's the 'first' example of a Time Lord regenerating and changing sex. Although we have been heading in hat direction for some time. It made me want to go back and listen to the first two episodes again to look out for clues that Pavo and Flail are one and the same person at different points in their time stream.

Result: Given the great engine of storytelling that Big Finish has generated there is naturally a selection of sub genres that have emerged in Doctor Who audio drama. And naturally there are some that I am drawn to and others that I aren't. I adore historical adventures that immerse you in the setting but I'm less keen on shallow action adventure stories that feel like soundtracks of adventures rather than adventures that were created for audio in the first place. One sub genre I am very keen in is the high concept stories, the science fiction tales that deal with complex ideas that get my mind racing. Stories such as Brotherhood of the Daleks. The Black Hole is another successful high concept tale that revels in the chance to promote big ideas ahead of your typical run-around. The less substantial stories require an immersive soundscape to prop up the narrative and fill in the gaps of interest but the more abundant stories take my mind for a walk and I barely notice the sound design. It's a continuity lovers dream too but it just goes to show that revelling in the shows history doesn't have to be to the detriment of the story (check out Last of the Cybermen to see how that sort of thing can go very wrong). In partiuclar is the return of a popular character, that gives the latter half of the story a real boost at exactly the point where a story of this length would begin to lag. It might not be entirely realistic in historical terms but I really like how Jamie and Victoria are not represented as being unable to grasp the sophisticated notions in play, that they have a grasp of the discipline once it is explained to them and they ask intelligent questions. Just because they are scientifically ignorant it doesn't mean they aren't creative or bright. I thought the narration worked extremely well with this release, too. There is no reason why an actor who isn't playing a part in the story shouldn't guide us through the story and when that person is David Warner the light he shines on the detail of the narrative is very bright indeed. I often praise Jonny Morris and John Dorney to the high heavens (and justifiably so, their work is excellent) but it is often to the detriment of Simon Guerrier who I genuinely believe to be one of the most consistently excellent Big Finish writers. He's written countless scripts now, bursting with interest, great dialogue, an exceptional understanding of character and with an eye for wrapping up his stories satisfactorily. The Black Hole is another notch on his belt. He's an awesome talent. This is intelligent and constantly developing itself, a very giving release: 8/10


dark said...

Probably my favourite early adventure thus far, but then again I could listen to David Warner reading a shopping list, the man has one of those voices which is just compelling.
My only real issue with this one is that it felt a little too much as if it should have been a companion chronicle, it just reminded me far too much of several companion stories, both good ones ike here there be monsters, and very horrible ones like fear of the Daleks. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I did rather wonder if the Early Adventures were intended to be a little closer to the usual bf audio drama than the sort of hybrid audio drama/talking book type setup, then again I like both so why am I complaining?

My only issue with using the monk here is that we've seen a bit too much of The Monk of late, and he's turning into something of a second Master. the Monk is an awesome villain, but in stories like Lucy Miller, I always got the idea The Monk more had his own, somewhat anarchic way of doing things than was actually completely evil, yet here with murders and body swaps he almost might as well be The Master.

Still, probably my favourite early adventure this series, and definitely a unique use for a Black hole.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. The Black Hole is not so much an actual story as it is some twonker's "clever" idea to force various continuity points. As such, the 'revelations' don't work, and at the end the story just sort of trails off. It'a almost as though Guerrier felt "Well, I've forced MY ideas into the story, so let's resolve it by, er,...."

Watling never sounds like Victoria did in the 60's. perfectly understandable, given as she played the character nearly 50 years ago, but it's one of several reasons why this never genuinely feels like an actual Second Doctor story. All the way through, the listener gets the distinct impression that this is a Nu Who arsecreeper trying to retcon the Troughton Era to fit Moffat's vision of what Doctor Who should be. The big one is of course the regeneration in this story. There is NO chance that that would have happened on screen in 1988, let alone 1968.

The story itself also seems to be Big Finish taking a large dump on stories that many people genuinely love, like World Game, Players, and a host of Second Doctor short stories. 'Big Finish...we love stories!'...But only THEIR OWN stories. This seemed very mean-spirited, and it also creates various questions about this story's "authenticity", as Sontarans are mentioned. Showing once again that all the nonsense about 'We tried to make it fit into Season 5' complete bollocks.

And then there's 'The Monk'. Big Finish still have not provided a decent explanation as to why a Time Lord who ONCE disguised himself as a monk(very badly as it turned out) should still be carrying his monk's cowl around, nor why he should be calling himself 'the Monk', nor why the other Time Lord in this story(who was never in Time Meddler or Daleks' master Plan) would ALSO call him 'The Monk'. Especially after Garden explicitly told the Doctor that the Doctor is the ONLY ONE who calls him 'the Monk'. Apart from when garden called HIMSELF THAT. And Lucie. And Tamsin. And Susan. And the Daleks.....

In short, The Black Hole is not so much a story, more Guerrier' and Big Finish's attempts to state 'THIS is the continuity! And we're giving two fingers up to anyone who ever liked any story that states otherwise!' Unfortunately, Big Finish THEMSELVES have made stories that totally and utterly contradict The Black Hole, and will no doubt continue to do so.

So, looking at this as just a story, we're left with the usual Big Finish cliche of someone trying to open a gateway for hostile aliens to come through, the Doctor closes the gateway blah blah blah, and lots of third rate fan fiction. The only people who could enjoy this are people who were probably jumping up and down when the widely held 'Season 6B' fan belief was peed on, or people who just love the IDEA of new Second Doctor stories, and don't overly worry about the actual quality of those new stories.