Friday, 18 March 2016

The Sonomancer written by Matt Fitton and directed by Ken Bentley

What's it about: On the other side of the galaxy a mining company is exploiting the already unstable planet of Syra for every precious mineral it contains. River Song is attempting to save the native people. She needs the Doctor’s help, but she also knows he mustn’t yet discover her true identity. The final confrontation sees the Doctor once again face his enemy the Eleven in an attempt to prevent the destruction of Syra and the genocide of its inhabitants.

Physician, Heal Thyself: He's always one for trying new experiences and the Doctor is up for a ride on the 'six legs' beasts to get them from A to B. The Magician, the Spiv or the Geography teacher? Those are the three incarnations of the Doctor that River is intimately acquainted with. There is some discussion about River meeting the Doctor in the wrong order but this is kind of old hat now. I would have just gotten along with telling the story featuring both of them. Does anybody buying these CDs need the explanation? Surely they are au fait with River's rasion d'etre? The Doctor has tasted the powers of the Gift and they terrify him, they aren't something that he wants to exploit. The power to destroy worlds is not a gift.

Liv Chenka: Finally a story where Paul McGann and Nicola Walker get some substantial time together that reminds us why the Doctor and Liv are made for each other. There is something about the blending of his excitement and her deadpan humour that really gels. Liv had to save six planets before she had a go on the sonic screwdriver. Her dad used to take her climbing to the mountains around Kaldor, saying they should rely less on robots and focus on humans remembering the things they can do. Thinking that the Doctor is insane, Liv needs assuring that walking into a volcano that is being drilled full of holes is the most sensible option. She's happy to be a distraction to get the Eleven out of the way so the Doctor can investigate what he is up to. Her confrontation with the Eleven is something to behold, she really is quite scary when she wants to be.

Helen Sinclair: Unpaid hired help?

The Only Water in the Forest: This is my first experience of River Song on audio, having purchased her set but not getting around to reviewing it yet. I was very excited for Big Finish when I heard they had secured the services of Alex Kingston and were going to be continuing the adventures of River. Not because her character is a personal favourite of mine (to my mind she only truly worked as a character in her first and last stories on TV) but because it was going to generate a lot of interest and possibly a lot of dinero. She has a huge flurry of fans that could potentially sample Big Finish on the strength of River's presence, especially teaming her up with classic Doctors (which I have to admit is quite an exciting idea). Aside from the fact that New Series elements bleeding into Big Finish brings them bang up to date, it is nice to think that we will experience stories written for the character that aren't by her creator. I personally feel that Moffat became a little too obsessed with the character (series six was her absolute nadir, she was part of the DNA of the season in a very destructive way) and that less is most definitely more. One exciting appearance a year is far more anticipatory than an entire season that is saturated with her convoluted timeline. Certainly The Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead introduced her character extremely well (and could have been a thrilling one off) and The Husbands of River Song saw her functioning without the constant smugness, violence and sex that became a staple of her character. If Big Finish can focus on those two stories and how she genuinely aided those narratives without them being entirely about her we will be in excellent shape.

She's done so many things in her time but she has never done them for anything as vulgar as money. Is that true? That doesn't strike me as being completely honest...but then River doesn't strike me as being an entirely honest character either. She's always been stepped in mystery and deception. She's escaped the Storm cage, the Bloody Tower and the Marquis de Sade's private boudoir. If you think River is an entirely independent woman when she is away from the Doctor then think again, she can be heard playing her loves me/he loves me not and longing for a TARDIS. This girl never goes anywhere without her diary. River remembers some outrageous parties in the 1920s. She added a weather app and subspace communications to her vortex manipulator, she's been upgrading. For River this is set not long before The Wedding of River Song because she mentions their upcoming nuptials. Mind you weren't they married in an incredible hurry? She's vicious when she wants to be, attacking the Eleven with Venusian Martian Arts. River knows she mustn't meet the Doctor in this incarnation but she develops a fine rapport with Helen and Liv.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'We have our ultimate weapon...'

Great Ideas: It's a good five minutes featuring the Eleven, Caleera and River before the Doctor and his assistants arrive. In quite and exciting way the story manages to bubble along without them, proof that these characters have been sufficiently developed to hold up a story. 

Audio Landscape: Horn blowing, screams, a detector beeping, drilling into the planet, the Players, bubbling vats.

Musical Cues: There was a gorgeous musical cue that reminded me of River's theme from The Big Bang when she was explaining how she came to be on Syra.

Isn't it Odd: In a box set that has featured some very cleanly plotted stories, The Sonomancer appears to drop you in the middle of a story and neglects to ease you in gently with a beginning. It left me scratching my head for a little while, wondering what was going on. It takes us 15 minutes before we realise that the Doctor and co are chasing seismic activity created by the Gift, that explanation is long delayed. The fact that the Eleven is so easily tricked leaves him looking a little ineffective.

Standout Scene: Did the Doctor really toss Caleera in a volcano? There would have been a time when that sort of action would have provoked some serious discussion. I guess with what the Doctor will become in his next incarnation, this is baby steps in that direction.

Result: 'The universe needs your silence!' Matt Fitton commits to an exotic alien world, not always a successful enterprise in Doctor Who but with Ken Bentley to back him up Syra comes to life like a fully established setting that will continue to thrive long after the events of this story are forgotten. To have two stories set on Earth and two set on out there locations has given this set a really miscellaneous flair, much more successfully than the first set (mostly because of the realisation). Atmospherically, I almost had a bit of a Star Wars: A New Hope vibe about the story, which was exciting for Doctor Who. River makes a decent first impression in a Doctor Who audio drama, driving the story for a certain amount of time and certainly less abrasive and self-righteous than she can be in the hands of her creator. Alex Kingston has a natural audio presence and it certainly bodes well for more appearances with other classic Doctors. It's also a firm encouragement for me to explore her box set that is sitting on my shelf. Something I have been resisting for some time. So, a decent setting and decent characters...what about the plot? Meh. Probably the weakest the set if I'm honest. The ideas are good but the journey to explore them seems a little confused and cluttered. After the very engaging second and third episodes this was a bit of a letdown in the entertainment stakes. Let me be clear, it doesn't drop the ball in the same way that the first set did but I am starting to get the unfortunate impression that as whenever the Eleven makes a reappearance in the flesh (he only appeared in flashbacks in the last story) the quality of the material takes a bit of a nose dive. The Eleven has failed to live up to his potential as a truly arresting villain with a psychological angle. Fitton set up his character so well in his introductory story, I've been waiting for another writer to truly get under his skin and see what makes him tick. But he has either been ignored entirely or treated as another raving villain, albeit one that has a number of silly voices at his disposal. Technically he could be the most chilling bad guy we have ever heard. To me though he just seems to be the villain of diminishing returns. It's not a terrible story because it has a lot of fun elements that make it worth listening to (Helen is a bit unmemorable but it is a fantastic story for Liv) but it is just a little underwhelming as a climax to this set. Caleera is dealt with and the Eleven achieves his aim but it feels more like a box ticking exercise rather than a natural extension of the stories that came before it: 6/10


Anonymous said...

River and the eighth Doctor have good chemistry on her box set (even if they don't meet in the flesh so to speak) , give it a try! (even if you haven't much time to review it)
I think Matt Fitton is being a bit overused of late (certainly in the Eighth Doctor box sets he is) and I'm not a big fan of any of his stories. If you look at the various Big Finish ranges and audios, he is everywhere, it's time to give new/underused writers a try. I would love to see fresh writers on these box sets

Ed Azas said...

"magician, spiv, or geography teacher"

Too bad McGann changed his look. He could be The Pirate.

ali said...

"Technically he could be the most chilling bad guy we have ever."

Doctor Who is like pizza. When it's good it's REALLY good. When it isn't good you sigh and eat it anyway.

I don't know where this metaphor is going...the Eleven is just like cold pizza?

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the off topic but... Joe you MUST hear the audio Jago&Litefoot&Strax, it's a SCREAM, can't stop laughing, and the story is good too.

Eldron said...

I adored River and Liv beating up the Eleven. Physical confrontation is so rare and un-Doctor-ish, so this really stood out. It also made me laugh my arse off. I love Nicola Walker, I hope we get more of her and Alex Kingston together.

Anonymous said...

It seems that River will be meeting all classic Doctors, in her next box set she crosses paths with Six and Seven. But yes, she and Nicola Walker had great chemistry

dark said...

Well I confess my reaction to learning we were meeting River was groooooone!
Yes, in silence in the library she was awesome, but two more appearences and I was already sick of her, and worse of Moffat's adoration of her. How could any story with this schizo, s/xually obsessive egomaniac, (not unlike any female character written by STeven Moffat), actually be any good?
And the answer? Well that this isn't a story written by sTeven Moffat ant and thank the White Guardian for that!

Shock horror, I liked! River. This compitant person saving alien cultures and debunking mining operations was far more what I imagined from the character we met in that library.
River aside this was a strong peace for all the rest of the cast two, especially liv, and I loved the alien prospector (such a difference getting a huge, wooki style alien as a slimy businessman).
The location rocked, and at least at the start the Eleven and kaleera were an intimidating combo. the problem however is this really needed to be a two parter.

There just wasn't time to explore any of the ideas that far, which is why the sonomancer herself seemed to go down like a damp squib with one of the easiest defeats on record for such an intimidating foe (really she felt quite the anticlimax).
Also, while the robot fight with Liv had to be believed, I was a little disappointed that Liv did so badly and that it fell down to River to give the knockout blowe, indeed the Eleven himself here was remarkably ineffective as a villain, synister goal or not.

A big bombastic conclusion with strong characters and a great setting? Yes, but not really one with time enough to achieve all of what it set out to, meaning that the wrap up was so quick it made most of the threats not too threatening (the volcano is probably the most dangerous and long serving villain in this story).

Still, I'm most impressed at River's presence on audio, indeed I went off and heard her box set on the strength of this one alone and was definitely not disappointed there either, which is not something I ever thought I'd say.
I also do really hope that next series though we'll be getting more on the eleven, and Kalera, and generally a pickup on the part of the villains sinse these easy defeats are making The Eleven look more like the zero :D.

grafotter said...

>> For River this is set not long before The Wedding of River Song because she mentions their upcoming nuptials.
Ain't that after "Husbands"/ during the 24-year night?
She mentions "magician" Doctor and she didn't know he existed until "Husbands".

Ethan said...

Great review as always, Joe. By the way, you mind if I ask you to review the Churchill Years? They're all awesome(maybe except for the last) and you seemed to crave for more Ninth Doctor audios back in Night of the Whisper!

Anonymous said...

I would love if Joe continued reviewing the Jago and Litefoot series!

Anonymous said...

Survivors!! By Big Finish, wow that's intense... Lou Jameson,superb act! and Terry Molloy will break you heart