Saturday, 21 April 2018

Sweet Salvation written by Matt Fitton and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: The Eleven has the authorities in the palm of his hand and an entire world held to ransom when the Kandyman cooks up a deadly confection containing a secret ingredient. In a last-ditch attempt to prevent disaster Liv teams up with a desperate criminal, and the Doctor must decide whether Helen is still his friend.

Physician, Heal Thyself: For doubting Helen because of a quirk of technobabble, the Doctor behaves like a bit of dunce. And that’s never a good thing. He does lots of Doctorly things like dash about trying to save lives, talking at a pace where the plot doesn’t need to make sense and confront the villain. But there’s no real sparkle or wit or intelligence to what he’s doing or saying. Like everything else, he’s going through the motions.

Liv Chenka: When they get to know her people generally like her.

Helen Sinclair: As soon as she is reunited with the Doctor the facility falls into hell and they are on the run for their lives. It’s like she has never been away. She’s convinced that she saw a spark of humanity in the Elven but it’s clear he was manipulating her all along.

Standout Performance: Mark Bonnar is still trying to give his all as the Eleven. But I think this has ultimately been quite a thankless part, inconsistently written and I’ve rarely gotten the sense that writers have a handle on the individual characters. They are all sharply contrasted, the various iterations of the Eleven, but I think that was ultimately the point. To have lots of different voices going at each other in a garbler of madness. For me it got tiresome halfway through the Doom Coalition series so to have it bleed into the next set wasn’t exactly welcome. That he was written out here (for now) was. A shame to lose Bonnar because he’s such a good actor but I think this could have been a really powerful acting exercise that was a bit of a wasted opportunity.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Sorry! I’m sucrose intolerant! Really intolerant!’

Great Ideas: How do you convince a bunch of angry prisoners to walk quietly into their dorms? The silk of the spiders has psychoactive properties and subdue their prey, cocoon it with a web that literally soothes it into submission. The Kandyman has been using in his food to keep the inmates in check and now he and the Eleven are taking that process and are going to subdue entire worlds with his mind controlling confection. The Kandyman’s expertise is in giving people what they want and giving those in power what they want at the same time. He’s built up quite a CV as an enforcer for several regimes. Androgums ripped the Kandyman apart and the Elven put him back together like humpty dumpty using the finest spun sugar in the quadrant.

Audio Landscape: It was cute to hear the Kandyman’s original voice and I love the idea that this bio-mechanoid ends every adventure melting away and betrayed. God bless him, always the stooge and always winding up a bit gloopy mess.

Musical Cues: The music is working hard to try and convince the listener of Helen’s duplicity, but I wasn’t buying it for a second.

Isn’t it Odd: The final line of the previous story was extremely strange. Without any warning or context, the Doctor declares that Helen is suddenly not to be trusted. Admittedly she is in an unusual situation and to be found in the company of the Eleven but that’s no reason for the Doctor to suddenly act as though she is suddenly working against them. It feels like they were trying to manufacture a cliff-hanger for a cliff-hangers sake rather than this is anything that has naturally sprung from the events of the previous story. It’s an interesting conceit, for sure, but had we seen any evidence ourselves away from the Doctor, then it might have carried a bit more weight. The Kandyman and the Eleven setting out to revolutionise the universe? It does sound like really bad fan fiction, doesn’t it? Perhaps if Helen had featured in all of the stories of this set and her relationship with the Eleven had been allowed to evolve naturally then the shock she received in Sweet Salvation where she discovers she was being used all along might have hit home. Instead we only re-joined them in the first half of this story as much of a highlight as their scenes were, it’s simply too soon to reverse all that good work to convincingly get under the skin of the listener. ‘I’m not bad because I’m broken!’ he declares, ‘I’m bad because I’m me!’ Well, what a revelation. The Eleven is a nasty piece of work just because he is. That was a revelation worth waiting 22 instalments for. Psychological examination of that depth is available in any tenapenny Doctor Who story. If this is where he gets off the bus, the Eleven’s climactic statement of madness lacks any finesse whatsoever. And in his final moment he becomes what he has essentially always been, a collection of silly voices babbling inanely. I’m not putting the Eleven on my final fantasy Doctor Who villains team. Long story short, he was a bit naff.

Result: The epitome of okay, with nothing that really thrills or insults. I’m not too sure about Ravenous to date because it has done very little to establish itself and like Doom Coalition's first set it has barely begun to explore the idea behind it’s title. There has been four hours of material so far and where has it gotten us? Right back to where we were at the climax of the Doom Coalition set with the Doctor, Liv and Helen off on their adventures as the huge reset button is pressed. In that respect this has been a coda to Doom Coalition because the main function is to find Helen and put the Eleven out of the way for good. It does both of those things, with an unconvincing run-around that tries to promote Helen as a villain. Ravenous 1 adds in the Kandyman to try and spice things up and truly ghoulish plan to try and control the universe with confection but it plays out so matter of factly that it’s clear that this is just a silly scheme for the Doctor to foil before the next segment of this great epic can continue. I sound cynical but within 240 minutes of material you might expect for the bare bones of the series we are in to have emerged or at least some of those elements to intrigue us and be going on with. What’s disappointing is that because Helen is just Helen and they jog off to the TARDIS at the end that there isn’t a fresh idea in the whole set. An existing line up of regulars, Churchill, the Eleven, the Kandyman; all old characters thrown in to make a party. How to Make a Killing in Time Travel is the most unique story of the set, and it’s easily the most throwaway. I’ve heard the accusation that Big Finish produce plenty of dodgy fan fiction and it’s not an allegation that I agree with on the whole but after listening to Ravenous 1 with it’s severe lack of invention, I’m concerned. Let’s hope the next set innovates more, finds some kind of identity of is own…or even actually kick starts the arc. All we get is a reference at the very end of the story. Well cheers. Sweet Salvation is pacy, well-acted, with some nice lines but it’s a bit like going to a Chinese buffet. You’ll find that you’re shovelling it down and once you’ve finished you’ll struggle to recall a thing about it. This isn’t actively offensive like The Silurian Candidate or wildly exciting like Static, it’s smack bam in the middle in the world of Doctor Who humdrum. A shame to end this set on such a routine note: 5/10

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