Sunday, 7 February 2016

The Forsaken written by Justin Richards and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What's it about: The TARDIS lands on an island off Singapore during the Japanese invasion of 1942. The travellers are found by some British soldiers - among them a certain Private James Jackson, who just happens to be Ben’s father. But they're not the only visitors to the island...

Giddy Aunt: I've heard complaints about Frazer Hines' interpretation of the Doctor during the second season of Early Adventures, comments that he doesn't sound bona fide enough. Get a grip guys, Frazer Hines is not trying to portray Patrick Troughton as the Doctor, he is offering his own take on the character. An interpretation that springs from real affection for their time together. If there are bumpy moments when Hines doesn't quite get the inflection right I can easily forgive that because I know he is acting his heart off out of a place of pure love for both the character and the actor who played him. If it's enough to take you out of the story, I feel for you. But for me Hines' efforts are greatly appreciated.  The Doctor doesn't mind what he gets to eat during wartime...but states specifically what he desires. I love how the Doctor can suddenly turn on a sixpence from a bumbling buffoon who gets entangled in a trap of pots and pans to a quietly menacing figure facing down an alien interloper. It's those shades of grey that make him such a fascinating incarnation. Richards has always had a good grasp on the most indefinable of Doctors, as far back as his novel Dreams of Empire. The Doctor manages to prove he is who he says he is because he bamboozles everybody in trying to prove it. His playfulness in the face of a creature that feeds on fear is his greatest strength. He has no fear of dying, which is a bit of a problem for a foe that uses that thought as a method of dispatch.

Able Seaman: I truly appreciate the chance to explore Ben more as a character because we have already enjoyed a wealth of adventures that have fleshed out Jamie and Polly. Ben is more of an enigma and with a strong actor in the role it is a great chance to puzzle him out. Having him feature in a grim historical featuring a family member brings this a little close in style to Resistance (which had the same modus operandi but for Polly) but since that was such a success I can completely understand why they have repeated the formula. Ben knew there was a possibly of touching upon aspects of his life when travelling in time but he never expected it to become so personal.

Dolly Bird: Polly enjoys a huge imagination which can run away with itself. She informs Ben in a very curt way that he cannot coddle her all the time, no matter how much he might want to. Her ability to talk to people, to comfort them, is a real art. Amongst two testosterone fuelled young men and an awkward Time Lord, she is the personable link to the real world. A feisty lady who isn't going to be frightened to death by their foe, Polly gets seriously angry when the alien tries it's party trick on her. She's smart too, managing to escape its clutches and survive against the odds.

Yahoos: Whilst there might have been some underlying tension between Michael Craze and Frazer Hines that manifested itself on screen at times during the early Troughton era (the scene where they brawl in The Moonbase feels bourne of real feelings to me), I always had the sense that a bromance could emerge between these two characters if the writers had wanted to explore that. Or maybe that is just wishful thinking on my part. There were moments during The Forsaken where I felt a brotherly association between the two, a laddish connection. I would love to see that explored some more because it would be a really fresh approach to both characters. He's not a tactical genius but he knows how to set up an early warning system with pots and least in order to ensnare the Doctor!

Standout Performance: I'm truly on the fence when it comes to recasting but not because I object to the idea, more because Big Finish already have an ideal way to cover for the missing actors (the companion chronicles) in a format that I really miss. But even I have to admit they have gotten it spot on with Elliot Chapman as Ben. Chapman sounds really authentic; chrirpy, charming, cocky and moody. All the things that Ben brought to the series. And adding a real cockney accent to this foursome makes the stories themselves sound more genuine.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'If you're fighting for a better world then you need people to live in it.'

Great Ideas: When a character states that there are worse places to be stuck waiting for evacuation than Singapore during this period, he clearly isn't too aware of the tidal wave approaching the country. Jimmy Jackson is Ben's father. He's come face to face with his father nine months before he was born. If he isn't careful, he could change things for himself in a pretty permanent way. Richards manages to brew up a familiar base under siege environment thanks to the appearance of a roomful of bodies. Who is responsible and are they still among us? An alien creature that feeds on fear, that can generate it and use it to its advantage. That's simultaneously a terrifying prospect and an awesome natural protection.  Killing some of them makes the survivors even more afraid. It drains its victims of terror, devours it, killing them outright. Another survival technique, a shape shifting ability. Not just the killer among us but the killer is one of us. The Doctor thought the Forsaken were a legend. They land somewhere off the beaten track where they don't attract attention to themselves. The Doctor realises that whilst the Forsaken are relishing in the death of others, they are terrified of their own end.

Audio Landscape: Birdsong, seagulls which feel so evocative to me living on the South Coast and being woken up by the buggers every morning, planes roaring overhead, rasping breathing, creatures whistling and screaming in the jungle, heavy breathing, a squeaking door, gunshots.

Musical Cues: The music was instantly memorable; instrumental, chilling and exotic. After a time it becomes a little familiar but that doesn't take away from the fact that it is beautifully composed.

Isn't it Odd: How very bizarre to flaunt the concept of Ben having to protect the life of his father in order to preserve his life and then do so little with it. It's not an original idea but I was at least expecting some touching moments between Ben and his father and some kind of complications to the story that might suggest that Ben might pop out of existence. Otherwise why bring the idea up in the first place?

Result: 'It's only a matter of time...' I have been doing volunteer work with various organisation for the past five years. One of those was Age Concern Eastbourne and in their befriending programme I found myself in the company of a fascinating man called Jack who was a Japanese prisoner of war in Singapore in the Second World War. If I had a strong reaction to this tale it is because Jack recounted in some detail the horrors that he suffered during that period, even giving me his autobiography to read. It is a rich and emotional historical furrow for Doctor Who to mine. It was a genuinely horrific time and to set a Troughton adventure during that period is quite a brave affair - his era was far more interested in entertaining than educating and this is the kind of raw reminder of human history that was contained to the Hartnell era. Whilst this story doesn't go into graphic detail about the atrocities that occurred (it is still Doctor Who after all), I listened on edge in a way that somebody who hasn't experienced the torture of the experience through another might not. Richards does something surprising with the regulars, he keeps them together for a great deal of the story. That impressed me because it must be much more tempting to split them up and handle their own thread in the story. It reminds me of just how engaging this foursome are. Lisa Bowerman is such a strong director with acres of experience at bringing historical adventures to life (Jago & Litefoot) and this had a touch of one of my favourite audios stories about it, A Thousand Tiny Wings (also directed by Bowerman). There is an air of disquiet to the story, a feeling that the enemy could set upon the characters at any minute. That enemy turned out to be a science fiction concept rather than an historical one but it was a creepy, if derivative, threat all the same. I enjoyed the shorter episodes too, very in keeping with the Troughton era. The atmospherics and character compensate for the fact that the story is actually rather thin and barely justifies half the length. But this is hardly the only story from 60s and 70s Who that commits this crime and the realisation and strong cast truly pick up the slack. The whole dilemma of Ben's father being present is bafflingly ignored...I'm not entirely sure why it was included given it's irrelevance to the story. A shame as whilst this is a strong story for Ben anyway (Elliot Chapman is superb), it could have been a lot more personal. But I wont quibble because if you compare this to Richards other recent contribution (The Wave of Destruction) The Forsaken is loaded with riches. I listened to this story on a Sunday afternoon and it feels like the perfect time to enjoy an atmospheric and enjoyable slice of Who: 7/10


Blue Custard said...

Just wondering, where have you heard that was tension between Michael Craze and Frazer Hines? Cause I heard an interview once (I honestly can't remember where, it might have been in DWM) where Frazer seemed to be talking fondly about Michael Craze and how much he missed him.

dark said...

I must admit I loved to hear Ben again. Sinse stories like Resistance focused on Polly (and why not), I've sort of come to think of Ben as really an adjunct to her, especially with the romance between them, which isn't really fare at all to Michael Craze or the writers who came up with Ben earlier, although in fairness he's a companion I've probably seen and heard least in the various media, even in the bbc's soundtracks.

So, great to get a story focused on him, with a very definitely faithful performance, albeit one which really should've had more impact than it did with his father as you said.

My one really! major issue here however is that the villain seemed to have stepped streight out of the shlockiest of schlock horror films.

"I am eeeevil! I kill people by fear of death because death is eeeevil! deeeeeeath!"

Even the voice sounded amazingly overdone, quite aside from the thing being a walking skeleton. The Doctor managing to defeat the thing by basically saying "Yah boo I'm not scared of you" made me laugh for precisely the wrong reasons, though I rather wonder why nobody had done that up to now.
Really a more ethereal, unearthly voice and definitely a less cliched description would've done far more to sell the threat and actually give those opening discomforting scenes of boddies in the jungle and a claustrophobic hotel in a nearly deserted town on the eve of invasion some sort of payoff.

ACtually, in a way I thought the creature being so amazingly bad a representation of death was almost offensive on a historical level.

For me, the good points about the story just never made it past this one, the fact that what things had been building up to was such an amazing let down.

Quite a shame, and I hope we get aa better Ben and polly story soon.

Leslie said...

In response to Blue Custard, (awesome name by the way)I'm also curious where you heard about tension between Michael Craze and Frazer Hines, Joe. I saw the two of them at a convention once (yes, I'm old enough to remember that) and they seemed to get on like a house on fire