Wednesday, 21 February 2018

The Morton Legacy written by Justin Richards and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: When the TARDIS lands in London, Ben and Polly are initially delighted to be back home… until they realise that they’re a hundred years too early. But this is nothing next to how the Doctor and Jamie feel when the TARDIS itself vanishes! Their attempts to locate their ship lead them to an antiquarian, Josiah Morton, possessed of a most unusual collection that is currently subjected to a legal dispute. But they’re not the only people interested in him. Dangerous criminals watch from the shadows, waiting for a moment to strike. And the police are calling too - accusing him of murder. An unusual series of deaths have been occurring across the capital, and all signs point to Morton as the culprit. But is he really a killer? Or is there something else at large in the city? Something… alien?

Oh My Giddy Aunt: The Doctor talks about recalibrating the ‘yearometer.’ I love the simplistic sixties name for technology. There’s no attempt to make it sound slightly sophisticated, just functional. He’s an expert in just about everything. The Doctor proves to be quite the slippery customer when it comes to outthinking the police and providing some respite for Josiah. I would expect nothing else from the most anarchic of Doctors. The Doctor is the only person to hold Blazzard to account at the climax, which feels like it wants to have the same impact as Tom Baker’s ‘go away’ at the end of Nightmare of Eden but because everybody else is feeling for the man who has just died it loses all of its impact. Is Doctor Who endorsing murder now?

Lovely Lashes: There’s the question that whatever Polly and Ben have been through with the Doctor, the TARDIS is never their home but their conveyance in order to get back there. Polly is excited to be the 1860s because it is a chance to explore a living history in her own town. Leaving the Doctor will hardly be a decision that they can make over time, it’s going to be a case that they will land in the place and time closest to their own and they will have to get off because there won’t be a better time. An accidental departure rather than a deliberate one. There always was a lovely chemistry between Patrick Troughton and Anneke Wills and this story captures their rapport well, giving them extended scenes together to investigate, almost mischievously.

Able Seaman: I’m so pleased that Big Finish have found Chapman and that he has slipped so effortlessly into Ben Jackson’s shoes. It’s really enjoyable to hear him interacting with the other regulars, particularly Polly and he has a similarly flirty and fun chemistry with her that Michael Craze did. Perhaps Ben would have been a little more aggressive towards the Doctor when he realised that the TARDIS has bought them to the right place but the wrong time. Cockneys always help each other out, that’s a rule he has always been taught and certainly helps them out here. Whilst sounding a lot like Craze and capturing the spirit of his performance well, he doesn’t attack people verbally in the same way that Craze does, which makes his interpretation the gentler and more reasonable one. During their television stories if Craze’s Ben suspects that anything has happened to Polly he talks to everybody, especially the Doctor, as though he is so irritated by the thought of her being hurt that he could tear their faces off at any minute. Chapman on the other hand is a lot gentler in his approach, while still frantic and concerned. It is a far more measured performance. Craze’s mania is far more of what the shippers like to see, I’m sure, but I prefer a milder method.

Who’s the Yahoos: I like the instant rivalry between Ben and Jamie that is apparent as soon as a beautiful lady enters the scene. Funny how it doesn’t seem to be a problem with Polly, but then she always will be Ben’s lass.

Isn’t it Odd: The story is loosely centred around the Doctor and company attempting to get the TARDIS back and becoming embroiled in the Morton legacy in order to do so. It’s such a common theme in 60s Who (losing the TARDIS, I mean) that I couldn’t help but think a more interesting motive for hanging around could have been deployed. When there is no personal stake in the story, just one of functionality, it’s very hard to get involved with what is happening. I’m in two minds about stories that appear to be historical in nature and then take on a science fiction element to keep the interest levels up. I question whether the setting or the characters are arresting enough in the first place. Pseudo-historicals are completely different beasts because they mix the historical with the extra-terrestrial immediately and normally base the story around the contrast. But when someone deliberately sets out to tell a down to Earth story and then adds science fiction elements to prop up an unexciting set up, I take issue. Morton is such an honest, decent four-square sort of fellow that it is quite hard to find any shades of grey to examine. He’s perfectly lovely and well played, but not particularly captivating. I don’t understand the distance between the regulars and where the drama is – the murders. To have them bandy up with Josiah and only hear about the deaths when the policemen visit is a pretty bland way to go about telling the story. The inclusion of the robbers that are after Josiah’s worldly goods is an unnecessary complication to the plot simply to pad out the time a little. Richards goes for a double bluff climax but it feels like the story hasn’t really earned it. First off there is the inclusion of the necklace that offers Richards an ‘it’s a psychic field’ that made everything happen resolution that means that none of the characters are truly responsible for their actions, only inadvertently. Then that is proven to be false and the butler creeps from the wainscoting to reveal he did it all. The clues are well pointed out, but this is no Agatha Christie style wrap up where the whole piece is revealed to be a masterfully plotted exercise. It’s one character waving a magic wand at the end and taking the wrap for everything.

Standout Scene: The end of episode three is simply inexplicable! After a couple of episodes of introducing the thieves and the device from another world the most obvious thing that could be done is for one to steal the other. That happens with irritating expectedness, but without actually telling us what the item is, just the Doctor’s exclamation that it is the most powerful object on the entire planet! Predictably plotted and with a lack of detail, this is a truly diabolical cliff-hanger.

Result: Justin Richards baffles me. I know he is capable of truly pushing the envelope and devising plots that are devilishly complicated, epic and satisfying. His original novels were often the highlight of their respective ranges (Time Zero is deliciously baffling and dramatic and Sometime Never… has one of the most sophisticated plots I have ever experienced within the Doctor Who universe) but for some reason on audio he has become the Mark Gatiss of the medium; safe, traditional, comforting, nostalgic. I never go into one of his stories expecting anything unique or meaningful, just a series of Doctor Who clichés knitted together with predictable amiability. The Morton Legacy might have worked a lot better as a Companion Chronicle, with some of the wordier dialogue scenes skipped over in scant narration and getting to the heart of the story a lot more briskly. It’s fortunate that the winning team of Hines/Wills/Chapman are championing this adventure because Polly, Ben and Jamie regularly prove to be worth listening to even when there isn’t much going on. The Morton Legacy is a gentle drawing room drama, the sort that could play out on the stage (if the dialogue was a little fruitier). The complications in the plot are gentle and harmless for the most part and the story is content to coast along on its atmosphere and cast interactions. It’s a bizarre form of storytelling where, aside from the kidnap of Polly, much of the story is told through a series of discussions rather than anybody experiencing anything. The legal entanglement over the Morton legacy, the murders, the supernatural item found overseas…all of this is in place and ready for discussion before the time travellers arrive. Even the double bluff conclusion is just the Doctor explaining that the device has been responsible for the flow of events, like an extra-terrestrial get out clause before a character emerges from the shadows and claims responsibility for everything. The time travellers turn up simply to join the dots and witness all this play out. I guess the biggest question you can ask of any Doctor Who story is ‘would it make a difference if this story was never made?’ and with The Morton Legacy the answer is a resounding no: 4/10

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