Monday, 9 July 2018

The Age of Sutekh written by Guy Adams and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: The world has changed. And the evil Osiran Sutekh is returning. As blood sacrifices and worship boost the strength of the God of War, servicer robots walk the streets, killing those who have not converted. Leela is working with the homeless population of the city, while the Doctor co-operates with the police. A brutal battle is ready to begin. And if the Doctor and his friends fail, everyone in the galaxy will perish.

Teeth and Curls: Nothing to report. Which seems unbelievable given how full this section was in the last review. The physical fight between Leela and Sutekh is beyond lame.

Noble Savage: Leela’s assertion that the homeless are for once the fortunate of Drummond is a good one. The physical fight between Leela and Sutekh is beyond lame.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘He does sound a bit needy.’
‘I am the Doctor and I bring my gift of life to all humanity!’
‘I am enjoying the view, horse face!’

Great Ideas: This is now the world of Sutekh and however decadent, however ornate, it is now a world of Death. The Osirins were able to use their minds to propel themselves through time and space. At his peak, Sutekh was able to wipe out entire civilisations just by thinking about it. Sutekh has used the combined minds of everyone who has used Renonet, millions of people all linked with his as the focus. The power of that is inconceivable. His aim is the death of all life in the universe because as an insecure child he sees it as a threat to his dominance.

Isn’t It Odd: I really like Sutekh as a villain, it’s not often that the Doctor comes up against something as powerful as a living God (unlike Star Trek where that sort of thing happens every second week). However, I’m not sure belittling the character as much as they do here really does his street cred any good at all. In Pyramids of Mars he was treated as something that was to be feared at all times, even by the Doctor, which made him scarier than even during the scenes in his tomb. But by comparing him to an insecure child and making crack jokes at his expense, he comes across as little more than a petulant child that is desperate for a bit of attention. When he starts banging on about the gaping joy of emptiness that he will leave behind I was starting to wonder about the paucity of a villain that wants to get rid of everything just because it might threaten him. The trick with this character is to distract the audience enough with scares so that a light is not shone too brightly on the chief protagonist and his hoary out dreams of ultimate destruction. The Age of Sutekh seems to go out of its way to do that and Sutekh seems like a hammy old bad guy, desperate to impress as a result. Showing him in a state of weakness so soon after building his New Osiris was a mistake. It was time at that point to see what the character can do, not show him struggling to maintain control. It’s very odd to have the mummies appear in an audio given that the key factor of their success was that they were silent bringers of death. Silent enemies are pretty hard to bring to life on audio and just having characters screaming ‘they’re like mummies, run!’ doesn’t quite have the same impact. Wouldn’t it have been better to focus more on the mind control aspect of Sutekh’s power rather than turning this into an action adventure standoff between the people of Drummond and the Mummies? Turning Sutekh into an audio villain means you need to be more creative than just describing mummy attacks and using sound effects of their destruction. Did Guy Adams learn nothing from the last of The Last of the Time Lords and The Lie of the Land? Having a climax of a story that features an entire population slaved to technology that results in their brainwashing and then using that technology to help said victims overthrow their masters just doesn’t work as a satisfying conclusion to a tale. It’s too obvious and a little twee. The climax relies on the stolen moments of happiness from people that we have never gotten the chance to know in any great depth. As such it was a little lost on me. If it had been the Doctor and Leela remembering happy memories of each other, that might have made this much more affecting. Grrr it's irritating that the debate that began in the previous story is brought up again here in the last scene only to brushed aside with a 'it's very hard to stay annoyed with you, Doctor, I'm hungry!' Is there no attempt to follow through on some kind of tension or fascinating moral debate in this range?

Standout Scene: Sutekh’s influence over people is revealed quite vividly when he forces a crowd of people to literally fall on their swords. What is this, Game of Thrones?

Result: As I said in my previous review…if you’re looking for a standoff between the Doctor and Sutekh then you might be disappointed. I’m not sure what the was of bringing back what many consider to be the ultimate villain in Doctor Who canon only to belittle and weaken him so considerably. It means he’s a far less effective bad guy here; meek, enfeebled and pretty much described as a child desperate for attention. Nothing like the terrifying God from Pyramids of Mars who left the Doctor screaming and writhing with fear. Even Gabriel Woolf’s performance seems chattier and less controlled. It depends what you prefer when Big Finish bring back old monsters and villains from the past (every other releaser then), for them to innovate them and do something fresh or to give you more of the same. The key is to innovate for the better, to reveal new shades to their villainy. I don’t think it should ever be denigrate a particular character. Leela talks about judging a man by the quality of his enemies and in Pyramids of Mars you could see the Doctor at the top of his game, in The Age of Sutekh he barely breaks a sweat. It’s much more the typical action fare that Big Finish plumps for too, a thin approach to storytelling rather than an intellectual one. I didn’t think this was going to turn into Leela convincing the homeless of Drummond to overthrow their dictator because that seems like the most simplistic approach the story could have taken. What happened to all that decent characterisation that was in the previous instalment? The Doctor and Leela could have been Doctor/companion combination in this. Any Doctor can wave a sonic screwdriver and be glib and any companion can rouse the underdog to attack. And the idea of using silent mummies as a monster on audio? Sheesh! The cliff-hanger gave me hope that this might turn into something quite unusual with the Doctor in the position of a God and being able to influence people. I thought it might tie in to the concept at the heart of Kill the Doctor! but that was never the case. Instead it features the Doctor and co dressing up as mummies and a technobabble fuelled ending. And once again Sutekh only gets to stretch his legs for a few minutes before being defeated! I’m sure it isn’t the case but this script feels as though it was made up as it went along and after setting up something momentous that the writer didn’t have a clue about how to deliver it. The result is a huge disappointment and another instance where you have to wonder if it might have been best to keep an old villain on the shelf rather than dusting them down and giving them another airing. The 4DA curse strikes again: 4/10 

1 comment:

Dovid M said...

Not going to lie I was surprised by a positive review of the "Kill the Doctor!". Despite not having listened this seemed like it'd be underwhelming like most villain returns nowadays are. Despite that I can't say I was surprised by the second part getting a lower score which always seems to be the case. I shame, really. I'm hoping next season with a new companion they'll really shake things up.