Wednesday, 4 July 2018

The Bad Penny written by Dan Starkey and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: In the 1970s, hotelier Ron Tulip is having a difficult time. Many of his customers seem to be absconding without payment. The few who remain complain of strange noises and terrible sleep. And to top it all he’s just been summoned to the VIP suite... which is something of a problem as he didn’t even realise the hotel had one. When turbulence in time takes the TARDIS off course, the Doctor and Leela find themselves visiting the same establishment and in the middle of a temporal paradox and a terrible plan. Because that’s the thing about the Cross-Keys hotel. You can check in... but you can never leave.

Teeth and Curls: The Doctor talks eloquently about the Great Exhibition, a glorious spectacle for Leela and he to enjoy. I don’t think he actually gets there until his eighth incarnation in Other Lives (and that’s a story well worth checking out). He has been known to tickle the ivories now and again but mostly he plays the fool. Posing as (a well-informed) public health inspector. He dashes into the Ship and cries ‘hello my dear old TARDIS!’

Noble Savage: How nice to hear Leela talking about her home planet again. There have been so many audios stories with her now it is starting to feel as though she has always travelled with the Doctor. It’s a glorious opening scene for the two travellers with a natural chemistry, reminiscences, excitement at their destination and Leela impressing the Doctor with how she reasons things out. Starkey writes them both very well, there is a felling that they have adjusted to travelling together. Leela is mistaken for a hippy – someone spreading peace and love! He really doesn’t know her very well at all.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I faded away…and just as I was about to say something fascinating!’
‘A coherent conversation in the centre of a temporal anomaly can be rather tricky for the average human brain. Cause and effect don’t always see eye to eye…in fact sometimes they’re not even on speaking terms.’

Great Ideas: K.9 has a touch of digital distemper but its nothing that a thorough reboot wont cure. A tear in the fabric of space time stretching around 200 years from the 19th Century. A tear can become an anomaly, which can become a paradox. And they are always bad news. Imagine looking in a mirror and your reflection taking a few seconds to respond to your actions? There is a conversation in an intersection between two parallel timelines that puts the Doctor and Tulip at the heart of a temporal anomaly. The Doctor was talking to a much younger version of Tulip one minute and a much older version the next. The hotel is shifting in time, dragging in elements from different time streams. Mainly people but parts of the building too. The bad penny is a coin from the 21st Century that currently exists in the 19th and it dragged Edwin forward in time. The human mind is not equipped to figure out such a complex temporal nexus. Lord Tulip built this Empire, this reality. I love how he is essentially both the villain and the hero of this piece. When timelines start dancing together, people from different realities can interact. It can get very confusing. Tulip used foreknowledge that he remembered giving to himself in the past to make investments in the future – he’s so cheeky reminds me of the Meddling Monk. As such the anomaly fed on itself and became a paradox.

Musical Cues: I really enjoyed the music in this story, it felt a little different from the rest of the season. Robertson is a reliable composer but he has something of a house style with the 4th Doctor adventures now, which I have come to predict. A bit like Dudley Simpson during the 4th Doctor’s extended stint on television. This story has all the dramatic cues I would expect and all the pace and excitement but there were a few comedic and musical hall cues that made this stand out.

Standout Scene: The whole story is told at such a pace, with such enthusiasm and elegance, it’s hard to find one scene that stands out. It is one of those stories that just works very well as a whole.

Result: Hugely enjoyable. Because I waited to listen to this series as a whole rather than in two parts I don’t think I have ever listened to so many classic Doctor Who audios back to back, certainly not since I started the blog eight years ago. What is standing out more than anything (aside from my scores which started out positively but seem to be sliding) is varying styles and tones that are being trialled this year. We’ve had everything from existential angst to kisses to the past to B Movie invasions to a historical dressed up as science fiction. It’s been an eclectic bunch for sure but one that stresses the diversity of the range. Here again is something completely different. Listening to the trailer I thought I was in for a knockabout comedy a bit like How to Make a Killing in Time Travel recently but aside from some heightened characters in an extreme situation, this is played pretty straight for the most part. Starkey has written a terrific script with some very witty and arresting dialogue and his characters jump into life memorably. Whilst taking its inspiration from The God Complex, featuring as its predecessor does a hotel that nobody can escape from, but it’s played very differently in The Bad Penny. Starkey doesn’t keep all the information at arm’s length like Dorney did in his portmanteau two parter earlier this series, or try and deceive you like Justin Richards did, or even explain everything in extreme detail as is Andrew Smith’s habit. He’s got the balance just right at keeping you informed of what’s happening and the ideas in play, whilst still letting them surprise and delight you. Listen to Tom Baker and Louise Jameson in this story. Not only are they given some sunny exchanges but their natural chemistry that has developed over the past seven series spills effusively into the story, whilst they both remain perfectly in character. Whilst I love it when these two characters clash (their ideologies seem naturally predisposed to do so at times), I don’t think they ever reached this level of positive communication on television (aside from their first three stories together) and it is glorious to see Big Finish realising the potential of a truly dynamic Doctor/companion partnership. Amusing temporal and spatial jiggery pokery (see Mr Moffat it doesn’t have to be all smugness – waits as several people comment at that dig), kooky characters, fun music and a feeling that this a chance to let rip and have some real fun before the two-part finale. This is like The Unicorn and the Wasp of this season, in tone. More from Starkey please: 8/10

1 comment:

Jude H said...

I agree that this is a highly enjoyable story, with almost a 'City of Death' feel to it due to how fast-paced and full of timey wimey temporal shenanagins it is. The characters are all greatly performed and you can hear the enthusiasm put into these utterly bizarre but brillaint roles. I remember how I saw lots of negative reviews on this story, and I wasn't honestly expecting much from the story, but I was blown away. If Dan Starkey is able to write like this in the future, I'll be picking up all of his work.

P.S. Can't wait for your reviews on 'Kill the Doctor!' and 'The Age of Sutekh'. I'm also interested to know if you'll be reviewing 'The First Doctor Companion Chronicles: Volume 2' which consists of the stories: 'The Fields of Terror' (a sequel to the slightly draggy 'The Reign of Terror'), 'Across the Darkened City' (my personal favourite as it's a 2-hander between Steven and a Dalek), 'The Bonfires of the Vanities' (in my opinion, an utter load of crap) and 'The Plague of Dreams'(one of Big Finish's more experimental and format-bending pieces of drama).