Friday, 20 April 2018

World of Damnation written by Matt Fitton and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: Rykerzon is a maximum-security planetoid designed to hold the most dangerous criminals in the star system. The Governor plans to reform its inmates, with the help of the Kandyman. But two prisoners prove particularly troublesome: the alien fugitives known as the Eleven, and Miss Helen Sinclair.

Physician, Heal Thyself: The Doctor gets eaten by a big spider. That’s pretty novel.

Liv Chenka: Sometimes she think she has seen everything: end of the universe, time hopping nuns, exploding moons but today has been special. Liv sounds positively ecstatic to be with Helen again. Is there an element of unrequited romance there?

Helen Sinclair: I realise a lot of time has passed between DC and Ravenous but there’s simply no reason why she should suddenly have a personality bypass and be the Doctor’s enemy and the Eleven’s ally. We saw them go through hell and high water together, lean on one another in a crisis. Helen is intrinsically a good person and that was thoroughly explored. To have made her turn to villainy, even in desperation, would make a mockery of her previous appearances. She’s a caring person and so she is looking out for the Eleven naturally. He’s a link to her friends and her past. The more she knows him as a person, the more she realises that he is suffering all the time. Helen is sensible all over, except when she is on the run from the law. Where she comes from privileged men tell her what to do all the time. She was rather hoping that in the future things might have changed for humanity.

Great Ideas: The opening scene really made me pay attention. Not because for one second I thought that Helen had turned to the dark side and joined the Eleven but because it did something that genuinely surprised me, with Helen stepping in and soothing him. It takes something we took for granted in Doom Coalition (his schizophrenia) and does something touching with it.

Isn’t it Odd: It’s very odd that we are halfway through this box set and the search for Helen has only just started, despite little teasers at the beginning of the previous two stories that this was the Doctor’s motive all along. If he had wanted to find Helen that badly he wouldn’t have been enjoying diverting adventures that have absolutely nothing to do with her discovery along the way. It would be ‘Is she here? No? Right, back to the TARDIS!’ It strikes me as a problem with these box sets that want to lure you in with a continuing narrative, they also want to have their cake and eat it. If anybody bought this for the search for Helen (which is how it was marketed) they might be extremely disappointed at this point to have been greeted with frippery and nonsense for the first two stories. For me, who was a little fatigued by the apocalyptic melodrama by the end of Doom Coalition it has been a real joy to step back and enjoy some more laid-back adventures but for somebody fresh to the range to step on board here with promises of ‘the hunt for Helen’, well they might come to think that she is very unimportant because it has been all but ignored.

I don’t want to be the moaning Minnie of the Reviewniverse but given there are a spectacular number of sites out there that will simply suggest that every release and decision that Big Finish make is a stellar one (and by law of averages that level of consistent quality simply is not possible) I find myself being one of the few that will hit them with a little honesty. So here it is…the Kandyman? Big Finish has long plundered the depths of Doctor Who continuity and indulged in sequels to televised stories. The Daleks have been played out to death, and all the B-Level monsters (Cybermen, Sontarans, Ice Warriors) have had a fair showing too. One by one though, it appears that every single monster and villain deserves a resurrection. Fancy another Kraal invasion? Thought Morbius deserved more of a showing? Fenric hasn’t played chess against the Doctor for a while. It’s gone beyond a joke. I realise these productions are made by fans for fans but in order to appeal to a broader audience you really need to widen your scope and let your imagination fly a little bit. To take the Kandyman, a notorious character from a late eighties production, and flesh out his character some more plays out exactly how you would imagine: like a complete cash in. Is there a reason this character is involved beyond his previous appearance in Doctor Who? Not really. Did somebody go ‘hey why don’t we bring the Kandyman back?’ without any solid motivation beyond ‘wouldn’t it be cool?’ Almost undoubtedly. My question is…what next? Do we need to know why the Jagaroth were on the Earth in City of Death? Shall we visit the Mandrel planet? Does Amelia Ducat deserve her own spin off series? (Actually, I would buy that one). Where does this kind of fan service end? Is this as bottom of barrel as it appears? Well, yes. Does the Kandyman work in this context? He’s alright, but his humanoid appearance contradicts his previous showing and he’s relegated to the role of the Eleven’s stooge. Anyone could have played that role. That’s no criticism of Nicholas Rowe’s performance, which is excellent, I merely question the decision-making process around bringing back such an infamous villain. And wouldn’t it have made more sense if this had featured the Kandyman pre-Happiness Patrol in his humanoid form and that he turns to the confection suit as a result of these events?

Result: Was there an element of the tenth Doctor comic Thinktwice to this? A correctional facility, obsessed with reform, housing one of the Doctor’s previous associates. This is the first substantial piece of the Ravenous set, containing a little drama that the previous two stories have been lacking and for once Matt Fitton has given equal weight to both character and plotting. The first scene threw me off balance immediately and the scenes between Helen and the Eleven throughout were the best of the story, quietly reflective and beautifully played. What worked best for me was the atmosphere, mostly provided by Ken Bentley and his sound designers, but with pointers in the script at something sinister and surreal. The focus on confection, contrasting against the griminess of the prison setting works very well. I’ve spoken about the Kandyman in some depth above and he’s handled as well as could be expected, but I still think it was a questionable decision in the first place. It might have been nice, given that they had the limelight in the first half of Ravenous 1 had the Doctor and Liv not shown up in World of Damnation and Helen taken centre stage. They might have been able to spin out the ‘Helen working against the Doctor’ idea a little more convincingly but having the duo land six weeks after what is happening with Helen is novel. It’s the first part of a two-part story and they always have the advantage of setting up the threat and indulging in atmosphere without having to conclude anything satisfactorily and on that level it does a very good job. Should it be reviewed in isolation? Not according to some, but I’ve never gone along with the herd. A lot of this depends on what you think of the character of the Eleven. After his brilliant introduction in Doom Coalition I was never too persuaded by the schizophrenic nature of the character as it was too often played in a very OTT way but this was a laudable attempt to dial back that overdone madness and get in touch with the core of the man. A shame a lot of that should be undone before the episode is out, because I quite liked this more cerebral take on the character. Once a ranting villain, always a ranting villain. I liked this a lot, even if it doesn’t quite have the punch of your average new series penultimate episode: 7/10


Urlance Woolsbane said...

You'd need to have a heart of stone *not* to want an Amelia Ducat spin-off.

Dovid M said...

If anyone should get a spin off, id love to see one about Miss Hawthorne. Or an Amelia Ducat one like you said! Or have them team up!

Dovid M said...

Continuing that last thought...i agree that big finish has been beating a dead horse with bringing a lot of enemies back...i can understand bringing back Fenric or the Silurians but the kandyman is a pretty ridiculous choice to bring back and by now any monster id personally think was worth a return have now been done.