Monday, 1 February 2016

The Wave of Destruction written by Justin Richards and directed by Nicholas Briggs

Whats it about: A modulated frequency wave cancellation signal isn’t something that the Doctor and Romana expect to detect in 1960s London. But then they don’t expect to find Professor Lanchester, the man who invented it, lying unconscious. Or MI5 investigating.With the help of MI5 Agent Miller, Lanchester’s daughter Jill, and his nephew a pirate radio DJ called Mark, the Doctor, Romana and K-9 investigate. They soon discover that there is more at risk than they imagined, and an alien invasion is about to begin. Can the Doctor identify and defeat the aliens in time? Will Romana manage to find a recombinant transducer before it’s too late? And how will K-9 cope with his new job?

Teeth and Curls: Only the Doctor would be such an appalling cheat as to try and puzzle out the crossword today but have tomorrows newspaper handy just in case he cannot figure it out. The Doctor and Romana setting up house in the sixties is a delightful prospect, even more delightful than it was in The Auntie Matter because these two are so clearly mad for each other. Romana thinks he is very clever, a compliment he owns since it is coming from her. If he is the second most extraordinary person he knows, who is the first?

Noblest: Oh how I have longed for the day that Tom Baker and Lalla Ward would work together again. To be honest the odds were not good. Quite aside from their domestic differences in the past it is well documented that there was not always an atmosphere of contentment on set when they were working together. Tom held back from Big Finish for far too long but Lalla Ward has been a staunch supporter since practically the beginning. The fourth Doctor and Romana combination is one of my favourites, the sort of intellectual relationship that Graeme Williams favoured over the irritating domestic arrangements that JNT replaced it with. They compliment each other so beautifully. Romana thought that New Scientist was called History Today. She can walk into a room and figure out instantly what is going on, puzzle out the arhiac technology and offer a solution. What a woman. She does not find the idea of shoe shopping particularly emancipating or intellectually stimulating, especially since she would probably do a better job of solving the problem than the Doctor. It is amazing what people can fit into handbags, maybe she should get one after all.

Standout Performance: Lalla Ward. Makes anything worth listening to.

Great Ideas: K.9. is keeping The Black Guardian guessing by taking the TARDIS on a whirlwind tour of the universe whilst the Doctor and Romana have adventures on Earth. A pirate radio station that ges inside your head…as soon as the script points that out I was suspecting brainwashing.

Audio Landscape: Nick Briggs and sound designer Alistair Lock manage to conjure up a reasonably realistic cheesy radio station from the 60s. Fortunately the script goes to some lengths to state that it is pretty awful (the catchy kind of awful) so you can see exactly the level of tawdriness they were going for. 

Isnt It Odd: The Vardans. It wont take the brain of a genius to figure out who the bad guys are in The Wave of Destruction as soon as sound waves are touted as a possible means of murder. It ties in with the setting of the pirate radio station but to be honest the twist is delivered in such an obvious I cannot imagine there were many listeners who were dropping their coffee cups in surprise. And the Vardans are such a lousy monster anyway. Simon Guerrier is the only writer who has managed to take hold of the ropey concept and do something effective with it. Even Paul Cornell failed to make them sing (geddit?). In The Invasion of Time the Vardans turned out to be crass, middle class politicians rather than a terrifying invasion force of Gallifrey. The Wave of Destruction follows in its wake and are even more bourgeois than ever. Even when they wax lyrical about their schemes to take over the world it sounds like they are preparing an afternoon tea of cucumber sandwiches and cream scones. I never thought I would say this about a story directed by Nicholas Briggs but the presentation of this story felt pretty lacklustre at times too. It plodded along without any truly exciting or surprising moments. Sometimes you can package a predictable twist in an unpredictable way, to compensate for the problems with a script. There is no evidence of that here. The entire piece feels so slight; the setting, the characters, the villains, the plot. There is so little substance to the whole piece it feels like the script was a single piece of paper that could dance away in a light breeze. Even the solution to the story is in plain sight from the very beginning. Hexachromite was more subtle. When it comes to a point where you would be embarrassed if the world came to an end as a result of the story it is taking place in, something has not quite come together.

Result: Justin Richards would not be my first choice to launch a new section of the fourth Doctor adventures simply because his brand of audio Who is very comfortable and nostalgic. When he was the head honcho at BBC Books and was batting out novels every month he was responsible for some of the most innovative stories to be adorned with the Doctor Who brand. His own novels (The Burning, Time Zero, Sometime Never…) were packed full of big, bold ideas and excitement. His audio work is much safer and more traditional, perhaps with good reason. You can always rely on him to produce a workable script with good lines but there is rarely anything extraordinarily memorable. If he was a flavour of ice cream he would be vanilla and there is nothing wrong with vanilla but it can be a little on the bland side compared to some of the other choices. My personal choice would have been Jonathan Morris to launch this series – simply because he already has an excellent track record of pulling some of that season seventeen magic out of his ass. The Wave of Destruction is typical Richards; workmanlike, perfectly engaging but lacking the extra sheen and sparkle that the season this story hails from had in abundance. Frankly it is such a delight to hear Baker and Ward working together again (whether they were in a studio together or not) that I am willing let the lacklustre plot of The Wave of Destruction get a pass. I was never gripped by the narrative developments and the atmosphere was pretty flat but at least the actors were giving it their all. To be honest Ward was in the unfortunate position of propping up series five of Gallifrey and Baker has suffered some dreadfully mundane 4DAs so they have both suffered far worse material than this. Even so I was expecting a more colourful, lively and imaginative punt into series five. I have a feeling that this will be a transitionary year with all the old names popping up and disapointing (Barnes. Briggs, Richards) with the odd standout (Dorney, Morris) before the sophomore audio year for the fourth Doctor and Romana, where the lineup of writers is much more exciting. Richards himself produced a story which was much more zippy in The Rennaisance Man. Worth a listen once but this wont brainwash you in the way it probably should: 5/10

1 comment:

dark said...

I have one word for this one, zzzzzzz.
Really, I can't imagine a boringer story, even those reharshes of classic episodes like xigon hunt last season had potentially an interesting audio location to listen to, however some random houses in the sixties with static filled sets are about as interesting as they sound.

Even when the story vaguely threatened to do something slightly amusing, like Romana having to learn the mysteries of shoe shopping or K9 acting as a dj, it took the easy route out usually by making something obvious happen or just prevaricating so we didn't even get a smile.

Personally, I'm afraid I've never been a fan of the fourth doctor and romana. Far too safe and interlectual to really provide interesting tention or fun in a story, despite the lovely chemistry in city of death, leela will always be the fourth doctor's ideal companian for me, and Romana is far more fun on her own investiating the universe than with bubly old uncle Tom to stop her poking her nose in too far.

So, I'd probably go lower than five, maybe even lower than three.

Fortunately I just finished this months Fourth doctor story, the Paradox planet which was 7 kinds of awesome with awesome sauce, so I'm pleased to say wave of distruction is hopefully just a low point.