What's it about: The Doctor, Jamie, Polly and Ben arrive on New Houston, an Earth colony in the Fourth Sector, which the Doctor previously saved from an alien invasion. He wishes to pay his respects to his late friend Meg Carvossa, but something is not quite right with New Houston’s subservient robots...
Giddy Aunt: The Doctor is attempting to show his young friends how to operate the TARDIS in the case of an emergency but he knows it is only basic manoeuvres. Can the Doctor be described as any old riffraff? Polly considers the Doctor to be quite a gentleman. It's unusual for the second Doctor to begin an adventure looking to catch up with an old friend. He always felt like such a cosmic hippy, tripping from one adventure to another that actively seeking out old friends feels like an anathema. The death of his friend gives him a fine excuse to engage with the story though, pulling up his chequered trousers and playing the role of detective. And I enjoyed the idea of Meg being an old friend of the first Doctor and not being able to recognise the second. He suggests he wouldn't know how to cause trouble whilst his eyes glitter with mischief. The idea of him trying to stand tall and imposing with the army of robots around him is amusing, it's something that Troughton's Doctor could never aspire to. Ben and Jamie expect the Doctor to join the Yes Men revolution but he was never one to behave in a predictable way. His young male companions way is 'you're with us or against us' but the Doctor is far more complex than that.
Able Seaman: I've discussed Elliot Chapman elsewhere but since this is his debut it is worth mentioning again just how vivid he is as Ben Jackson, a very strong re-casting. Ben is happy to take advantage of the Yes Men and to enjoy the sort of luxuries they are willing to bestow on humanity.
Dolly Bird: Polly knows better than to ask if they have landed somewhere safe because that never happens. Can you think of anything more sixties than Polly getting her groove on in a hover car? Polly is never short of ideas in her adventures but they are rarely described as brilliant. Polly Cocktail, eat your heart out.
Yahoos: Subverting the usual robot/human relationships, Jamie is forced to live the life of a slave in the underground artificial world.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'What's a Mim?' 'Very clever, very cross alien sponges' 'What's a sponge?'
'Governments don't win elections, they lose them.'
'Tell them to eat their nuts and bolts so they grow up big and strong.'
Great Ideas: Simon Guerrier is world building from the off, creating a vivid world in relatively little time. Central information bank, electronic eyes watching everything, rules regulating everything, yes men catering to your every whim. The parallel to the Voc robots in the season fourteen classic are there to see, especially the calm, calculating voices. Our sympathies are instantly with the Yes Men because they are treated with such casual violence by Harriet just to prove a point. A hidden city under the ground, buildings stretching as far as the eye can see but encapsulated by a roof that happens to be street level. An automated city populated by Yes Men. There are even families, the young developed automatically by technology so they have the appearance of growing up. It has a parody of a class structure, copied but not quite understood. Only one thousandth of the population is being recorded...because only one thousandth of the population exists. That's why the streets are so empty. After what happened in the war with the Mim they had so little left but they had hope, they were going to rebuild the world. The Earth Empire was going to send supplies but it wasn't enough, not with the resources already stretched. So they faked the numbers to feed the people, to rebuild the city. That's how it started anyway.
Audio Landscape: The TARDIS buffering through space, footsteps, ticking clock, trudging through water, rainfall, the Battle of Culloden.
Isn't it Odd: Whilst the first episode is by no means boring, there is a lackadaisical pace to how it unfolds that means that it is hard to get too worked up over it. Perhaps it is because we are dealing with a mechanical city populated by mechanical men but there is a sense of artificiality about the environment that is hard to feel any great passion for. The intention of the Yes Men here isn't to conquer but to be allowed a society of their own. It's an interesting, less exciting approach to the same ideals as The Robots of Death but with nobody being in danger equals a narrative that never dices with death. And that makes it entirely intellectual and worthy. Meg Carvossa's downfall comes at her own hands, it's satisfying that she is responsible for her own downfall but she was stupid to reveal quite so much of her plans in a world that records everything.
Standout Scene: I shall have to call Simon Guerrier the Surprise King. Of all the writers for Big Finish I believe he has the most talent for sneaking up behind you with a shock and presenting it in a way that genuinely thrills. I didn't see the end of episode two coming a mile off and it certainly had me eager to start the next episode to discover the fallout of the surprise unveiling. And despite not being delivered in a particularly dramatic fashion, the cliffhanger at the climax of episode three is deliciously surreal (at least in conception).
Result: 'The robots don't want to fight you! They just want you to be nicer!' And therein lies the problem... An unusual tale, both for the season four crew and because it comes from the pen of Simon Guerrier. The Yes Men flaunts an interesting premise and an intriguing location...a far cry from the comic strip fun that this crew experienced throughout much of their time together. And yet it fails to do anything particularly interesting with these ideas, despite some arresting imagery and that does surprise me because if there is an author that can get to the heart of a good idea and explore it in surprising ways then Guerrier is usually your man. It feels like the extended length of the Early Adventures is working against him rather than for him, the extra time taken up with extended dialogue scenes that fail to be about anything. Sometimes brevity forces a writer to get to the nub of the matter with much greater clarity. As a murder mystery it fails to grip (although there is one great surprise in the middle of the tale) because there is relatively little human interest. Agatha Christie understood that only too well...to tell a riveting murder mystery you have to put psychology at the heart of the story and that is a difficult thing to do in a tale populated by automatons. Compensating for some faults are the season four TARDIS crew, entertaining by their very nature and well captured by Guerrier. Ultimately there are two forms of revolution in this story (a political one and a class one) but they are both done with such politeness that the excitement levels are somewhere around a lecture on plumbing or advanced paint drying. It isn't a massacre that caused mass population control, it was really good accountancy. That sort of thing. Lisa Bowerman directs but if her name wasn't on the cover I would question that fact because it lacks the urgency I have come to expect from her. The Yes Men isn't appalling, it passes the time but I can't pretend at any point (except at the midway point) that I was eager to continue. Sad but true, this would have made an excellent companion chronicle told from Ben's point of view but the extended length and full cast nature affords too much scope. Scope it does not fulfil: 5/10