Sunday, 3 April 2016

The Labyrinth of Buda Castle written by Eddie Robson and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What's it about: The Doctor and Romana land in Budapest, intent on enjoying another holiday, but shortly after landing they find themselves too late to save the life of a man who has seemingly been attacked by a vampire. As they learn that this is the latest in a series of violent attacks, it becomes clear that they have stumbled onto something that needs investigating. Aided by a vampire hunter who is searching for Dracula, they look into the nearby Buda caves, currently being used for storage by the military - and find that the soldiers have problems of their own. Stalked through the tunnels by a monster, and up against an ancient evil, the race is on to escape alive - and foil the dastardly schemes of the maniacal Zoltan Frid.

Teeth and Curls: Do you get the impression that these season 17 audios are going to be chasing the City of Death vibe and a whole handful of them will open with the Doctor and Romana enjoying a holiday in an exotic location? The Doctor never has much use for money so he often runs out very quickly on his adventures and of course the trouble is you never know what currency is going to be needed. Is the Doctor a fiction? Many people have thought so, especially after he has performed his magic and left. He gets so few times to be properly disdainful these days so the presence of tiresome man is very welcome. Only the Doctor would attempt to hypnotise a vampire - he really isn't like other protagonists out there, is he? The Doctor suggests the locals on Gallifrey are terribly aloof, an understatement if ever I heard one. If he's told to stay out it will only encourage the Doctor even more, he's like a petulant child like that. Occasionally he dies but he always comes back different - this is the sort of ordinary observation the Doctor is making in this story. Hardly a great revelation, is it? The Doctor is the official cause of the villains death in this story but for once I think Tom Baker plays the moment unconvincingly. He's angry right up until the point where he says the word that will cause Frid's demise and then he seems unsure how to play the moment, sounding a little lost.

Noblest of them All: Radiates a keen intelligence and can spot an attractive woman when the man around her cannot. She wont talk down to people from a lower social standing, quite the reverse in fact. The Doctor is thieving her sonic screwdriver again. He's an old rogue for superior technology.        
Standout Performance: Mark Bonnar is making quite a name for himself playing sinister bad guys in Big Finish stories. Whilst his character here isn't a patch on the Eleven in Doom Coalition, his commitment to the role is just as striking. It's a very different kind of performance, showing his versatility even when playing the same kind of role. In Buda Castle he is all whispered threats and quiet menace, in Doom Coalition the Eleven is far more hysterical and unrestrained. A shame that he isn't given more to work with here, he's propping up a pretty empty part.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Dracula, ay? That's why you're threatening me with a stake. I thought perhaps you couldn't afford a knife.'
'I don't like what you're implying' 'I don't like what I'm implying but if I stop implying it, it wont go away.'

Great Ideas: Ummm....

Audio Landscape: An extremely crisp production courtesy of Jamie Robertson. He's the one sound designer/musician that I never have to check out in the credits because his work is pretty much flawless. Cocking a rifle, firing a shot, scream, footsteps, cafe sounds, a snarling creature, a ticking watch, bubbling vats, dialling a telephone, scream, a whistling kettle, a neck being snapped quite nastily, a waterside stroll, falling into water, bullets being fired, water rising, a fight between two women.

Musical Cues: More Dudley-esque music, bouncy and fun, nostalgic and contemporary. I would have Robertson score every 4DA if I could. Perhaps a slightly more exotic flair might have been appropriate though. Even Dudley upped his game for their sojourn to Paris.

Isn't it Odd: The revelation that Celia wants to Zoltan's Queen comes out of nowhere. It's the sort of twist that should blow your mind but there has been no kind of build up to the moment, no hints that this was her sole intention. It's like Agatha Christie revealing the killer to be...someone who hasn't been mentioned in the book to that point. A vampire hunter in love with a vampire? Buffy has made that old hat and there really isn't anything sexy about this. Frid's scheme is so unambitious it is barely worth mentioning. A planet of parasites that will head off to infect the universe, harvesting every corner of reality. Yawn. 'All of time and space shall be mine. I will know everything that ever was and ever will be...' blah blah blah. With as much Doctor Who as there is out there now there really is no excuse for villainy as banal as this. Even the way the Doctor defeats the villain is mundane. Unambitious, banal, mundane...have these become the watchwords for the 4DAs?

Standout Scene: The only scene that really stood out as justifiably season seventeen was the confrontation between the Doctor and Zoltan where the Time Lord is waxing lyrical about crossing paths with Deadalus and Pythagoras. It might be a tenapenny Doctor Who hero/villain moment but Tom sounds like he is having a whale of a time, even if it does mean the climactic confrontation comes way before the climax.

Result: This reminded me very much of The Cloisters of Terror last year, an uninventive spooky tale that is beautifully realised and you will forget all about as soon as you press stop on the player. It's Who by numbers, propped up by some fun performances and truly excellent sound design. It's really rather sad because The Labyrinth of Buda Castle features an unusual location, a splendid performance from Mark Bonnar as the villain and one of the best line ups of regulars the TV series ever aspired to and yet it fails to do anything out of the ordinary with them. I'm not saying this could have been another City of Death or anything but Budapest could certainly have been explored in more detail (frankly it could have been set anywhere), the gloriously named Zoltan Frid could have been much more frightening than the one-note mad scientist he ultimately turns out to be and punchier dialogue could have been handed to Tom and Lalla so they sound slightly less bored by the whole affair. Like so many fourth Doctor adventures, it aspires to be okay rather than exceptional. The only thing that truly stood out for me was Jamie Robertson's sound design, which salvages a lot of atmosphere. Eddie Robson is one of the most reliable pair of hands that Big Finish has, if you look at his spread of stories there is barely a dud among them. It would appear that the brevity of the fourth Doctor Adventures and their unambitious nature is enough to drag even this safe pair of hands into the quagmire of mediocrity. A shame because his 50 minute eighth Doctor Adventures were often sublime. Not offensively bad, just desperately average. Gorgeous cover though (again like The Cloisters of Terror). So unspectacular that Big Finish have only managed to find two quotes that mildly praise the story for their web page: 5/10


dark said...

Funnily enough I barely remembered this one when you mentioned it, which says pretty much all there is to be said. Then again, I do remember rather liking some of the villainy deaths in this story, Bonar gets all the fun bits. i can see they were trying! something with his interplay with his minian and the military at the base , but it just didn't go far enough (talons of Wheng Chyang this is not).
Likewise, I was really sorry with the hole "celia vampire quueen" angle because I rather preferd her as an unprepared vampire hunter than a ranting villain, sinse it isn't like we don't have enough of those id Doctor who already. The scene where she believes the Doctor is Dracula was actually quite cute.

I don't know why, but this didn't get right up my nose the way cloisters of terror did for being dull, mostly because I could think of it almost as a doctor who parody, and there was at least some sort of life in a couple of performances albeit neither of the regulars or the writing.

Urlance Woolsbane said...

"So unspectacular that Big Finish have only managed to find two quotes that mildly praise the story for their web page"

I haven't listened to the story nor am I in the employ of Big Finish (alas!), but that really isn't fair. Since when is rating a story 9/10 or calling it "horribly good" mild praise?

Additionally, Cultbox wrote "It’s always a pleasure to see Eddie Robson’s name against a Big Finish title, and this is up there with his best."

Perhaps I'm misinterpreting your remark, but it gives the impression that the reaction to this release was rather unenthusiastic, which hasn't been my experience. It was quite well received on the Divergent Universe forum.