Friday, 13 October 2017

The Maker of Demons by Matthew J. Elliot and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: Decades ago, the mysterious time-travelling Doctor and his cheerful companion Mel became the toast of the planet Prosper, when they brokered a peace between the native Mogera and humans from the colony ship The Duke of Milan. But when the TARDIS at last returns to Prosper, the Doctor, Mel and their associate Ace find only a warzone. The burrowing Mogera have become brutal monsters, dominated by their terrifying leader Caliban – and it's all the Doctor's fault!

The Real McCoy: This is the kind of story that should fit the seventh Doctor like a glove. He’s the Doctor that is willing to make genocidal moves in order to tidy up the universe and he’s exactly the guy that needs a wakeup call every now and again. Instead of using this as a chance to examine the most dangerous of Doctors, Elliot turns this into a revenge story where the Doctor is treated as the enemy without ever digging deep as to why. As far as he is concerned he did a good turn, until he realises the true consequences of his actions. Instead of dealing with that, what is his best solution? To go back in time and punch himself on the nose! Whilst I’m sure he meant that facetiously, he needs to deal with his problems instead of wiping them away. Mel is the voice of good reason when the Doctor wants to go back and rewrite an entire century of history on this planet just because things didn’t go how he wanted. That’s playing God. The argument that the Doctor is only interested in saving the day rather than ensuring that a planet is left in capable hands and its future is secure is nonsensical because it goes against everything that we know the Doctor is about. If the villain of piece had constructed an argument around a portrayal of the Doctor we could buy into (or one he could himself) then this might have been a hard-hitting examination. Instead it feels like a slack motivation of the villain and a waste of the Doctor.

Oh Wicked:
Ace doesn’t enjoy stories when people don’t die and nothing explodes. I can’t see the point of Ace in these stories and certainly in this story where she is shunted off into her own pointless subplot that serves no purpose but to add to the running time. If it meant the pain of listening would be over sooner, I would have happily excised her completely. Seriously, this could have been set in season 24, which is probably where it belongs. She’s has enough of snorting with the Porcians.

Aieeeeeeee: Mel loves to stay around a celebrate and is willing to accept what she thinks he and the Doctor deserve, even if he would rather leave. It’s Mel who manages to unpuzzle this adventure, she’s the one who is taking note of the details and unmasks the villain. However, she has the right idea but the wrong person.

Standout Performance: Everybody is struggling with the dialogue in this adventure, especially Sylvester McCoy who is saddles with gems like ‘I’m being impatient being a patient!’

Terrible Dialogue:
‘And it seems I created those devils!’
‘You made them into monsters!’ ‘After you made us into monsters!’
‘There are seams in our territory but mining them are suicidally dangerous and we have a subterranean enemy…’ – every other line is of this ilk, exposition central.

Musical Cues: Nigel Fairs is a decent musician, I remember he scored some of the early companion chronicles and did a wonderful job. I even liked his lunge into melodrama recently when he provided the overdone (but appropriately sixties) music for Last of the Cybermen. This time, however, he is all over the place. At times I felt the Daleks were approaching as the music went all chorus of doom (but I guess we have Murray Gold to thank for that) and at other interludes something akin to a digeridoo was farting away in the background. Maybe Fairs was attempting to blind us to the stories faults.

Isn’t it Odd: When the opening speech contains the phrase ‘this day of days…’ I should have known I was in trouble. In fact just listen to the opening speech as a whole for a perfect lesson in how not to write science fiction, characters talking like cod Shakespearean characters and over emphasising every line. Even the comedy punchline before the credits fails. Gratuitous continuity references abound. So much so I thought Gary Russell might be using Matthew J. Elliot as a nickname; the plot of Underworld, Vardans, Dido, Polly, Tegan, Sharon, Dodo…is Elliot trying to remind us of the worst of Doctor Who? There’s an irritating tendency in these Mel and Ace stories to portray one as a complete goody two-shoes and the other as a teen space bitch and contrast the two. It lacks any subtlety. Mel is enthusing about how she wanted to cuddle an alien race to bits whilst Ace bangs on about explosions. I’d rather focus on the crueller side of Mel and the gentler side of Ace, that would be much more interesting. ‘It’s like some kind of armour plated ogre!’ – has Elliot ever written for audio before? I mean, I know he has but this is remarkably clumsy. And I fail to understand how Big Finish, who have been at this malarkey for 15 years now could let such blatantly awkward descriptive dialogue reach the final script. Russell T Davies said that he didn’t want to go down the route of having stories set on an alien world because it would be hard to connect with the events on a human level…he was probably referring to scenes like Ace and the mutant scrabbling around on the surface. It’s mind numbingly dull, overwritten and hackneyed (‘Humans all have funny names! I’m not even interested in whether or not you have a name!). I feel so sorry for Ewan Goddard, who has to try and convince as a mutation but winds up sounding like a dog chewing a caramel toffee. Seriously, go listen again. Slurp. Slurp. Plus, the voice of the actor and the (ahem) realisation of the creature on the cover don’t really marry up. Powered by Doctorium? A power source that has been named after the Doctor after his meddling in the first adventure. I bet Chris Boucher would listen to this and weep. Alonso being revealed as the villain of the piece is about as surprising as it would be if I wrote a Missing Adventure, squeezed it into season eight and made the Master the baddie behind it all.

Standout Scene: Go and listen to the end of episode two. Like right now. There have been some inept murder scenes in Doctor Who before (who could forget the Co-Pilot and his split trousers?) but this one must rank. ‘Oh hello, what are you doing back here? I’m afraid the kitchen’s closed…no wait…Mel get out of here…nooooooooo!’ Unbelievable.

Result: ‘Back off super furry animals!’ I think if I took off all my clothes and went to eat in a top-class restaurant I would feel less awkward than listening to this audio. A series of hideous SF clichés, served up with characters that talk in pure exposition, a plot that is explained rather than experienced, a noisy soundscape full of people shouting, continuity vomiting everywhere…it’s the sort of thing you would imagine a company producing if they were new to this medium. The idea of the Doctor revisiting a society that he has had an adventure in before and the consequences of said adventure and his involvement coming back to haunt him is a good one. It was a fresh approach when The Ark and Face of Evil played about with the notion. They took different approaches but they were both intelligent stories that used the idea to paint a picture of a society that has adapted to the Doctor’s interference. Evil in particular built an entire world around him. Demons adopts the approach without any of the intelligence. It’s so clumsily handled, it isn’t a story that staggers the revelations so we are engaged with the idea, it just dumps you in the middle of the scenario within 15 minutes and then becomes a run-around for remainder of the running time. The story is heavily influenced by The Tempest, but any serious comparison between the stories is like comparing the cuisine of the finest Michelin star restaurant and a Little Chef. If you’re going to ape Shakespeare, you need something a little more compelling than a bunch of slavering, slurping monsters and a Scooby Doo villain searching for a motive. Most Doctor Who stories you can find something nice to say. The music was pretty, or there was a decent idea thrown in the mix, or the soundscape brings the story alive. Maker of Demons is so lacking in positives I feel like I’m pointing a gun at a sick dog. Avoid this nonsense like the plague. I’m hoping for better in the second Seven/Ace/Mel trilogy: 2/10


Anonymous said...

The second trilogy doesn't get that much better. The key issue is that there doesn't seem to be any direction for this team, and it was commissioned more because it seemed fun to get Sylvester, Sophie and Bonnie in studio together. Ace's characterisation is all over the place and it's hard to believe this is a post-Hex Ace.

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