Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Better Watch Out written by John Dorney and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: The Doctor hopes to take Liv’s mind off recent events by treating his companions to a traditional European Christmas. But not everybody is full of the spirit of Christmas when a wave of misery follows the Krampus as they run through the streets of Salzburg.

Physician, Heal Thyself: An enthusiastic Paul McGann is the most enthusiastic that the Doctor can be but not in a Tenth Doctor and Rose ‘I want to murder them both’ kind of way. His infectious attitude drags you along with me and makes you want to be a part of the adventure. When he delights in Christmas at Salzburg and crunch of snow on the ground, I want to grab his hand, laugh, and leave big deep footprints in my wake as I explore the city. This is the Doctor of The Stones of Venice, of Other Lives. This is the 8th Doctor before he got all brooding and steeped in the Time War. And with Helen and Liv by his side this is the smiliest introduction to a Doctor Who story for an age. The Doctor has a brilliant way of choosing food in the myriad of places he visits – just choose the one with the silliest name. He flatters himself that he can be extremely helpful in almost every situation. Is this what the Doctor does now? Heading around the universe and paying the rent of those who cannot afford it? Unbelievably the Doctor describes Liv and Helen as a few of his favourite things. He’s not armed, well except for a sharp wit and a cunning mind. He’s the baddest boy of the lot and he has killed hundreds of thousands. It’s been a long time since he’s seen a gateway to Hell.

Liv Chenka: There is no Christmas on Kaldor and so Liv is brought up to speed on all the festivities. Initially she is a bot of an old Scrooge about it but she soon slips into the festive spirit. Rather wonderfully Liv tries to pick apart the Krampus myth and ask how the monster and St Nicholas decide who is naughty and nice, whether they have a list that they check between them.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Very chocolate box. Very biscuity.’
‘Traditions are largely baffling if you’re not used to them.’
‘Which one of use hasn’t been bad at some point in their life? Eaten too much cake, told a white lie. I think it’s operating a zero-tolerance policy!’
‘Time to burn!’

Great Ideas: The Krampus only comes for the bad children. The lazy ones, the violent ones, the ones who tell untruths. Santa will bring you presents but the Krampus will steal you away. He steals into the dark to drag the naughty children away, taking them to Hell. This is Doctor Who’s first attempt at a Grinch style Christmas story and it immediately gets off on the right foot by turning the idea of the Krampus into a dark myth to scare children with. The story of the Krampus coming for the little girl in the middle of the night is automatically scarier than anything the TV series managed in any of their Christmas specials (except maybe the Dream Catchers from Last Christmas, but they were pretty much a bog-standard Doctor Who monster and not Christmas themed at all). Every December 5th people dress up as the Krampus and take to the streets giving nuts and sweets to the children. A monster that is behaving like the mythical Krampus rather than one from its historical origins.

Audio Landscape: The squeaking footsteps of the Krampus approaching. Brrr. The Doctor calls Christmas in Salzburg perfect and if he is referring to how it provides the sound designer with a chance to provide a stunning audio backdrop then he is not wrong. With a swelling seasonal soundtrack and lots of activity and a hive of expectation and excitement, it is the most enticing 8th Doctor audio environment for some time.

Musical Cues: A terrific score, bright and cheerful and full of Christmas cheer.

Standout Scene: ‘He rises!’ With all this talk of the Krampus throughout, I was waiting for the moment when he would finally make an appearance. Dorney saves the best to last and it’s an astonishment that something that is anticipated throughout is not a disappointment but a memorable emergence.

Result: ‘It’s time for us all to go out and meet monsters!’ Believe the hype that will surround this release, it’s a Big Finish Christmas special that delivers on it’s promise and out Noel’s the TV series by getting the atmosphere right, the imagery right and the dark thread of scary Christmas myths right. It’s a story that has a tangible sense of Christmas without ever descending into tweeness, and it uses its lightness of tone to contrast the nasty idea of the Krampus against and provide a truly memorable Christmas nasty. This story addresses my main issue with A Christmas Carol (a story that I still cannot bring myself to review because I had such an allergic reaction to its central idea that I found abominable) and turns the Doctor into a man who tries to bring some Christmas cheer to a right old Scrooge but he doesn’t do it by perverting his timeline but instead simply talking to him. If Paul McGann came a knocking a Christmas and started enthusing about festive cheer I think it would melt the heart of even the greatest sourpuss. And he gets the most wonderful reception in the wake of his celebratory exuberance. What’s the worst Halloween film of all time? To my money it’s Halloween III Season of the Witch and there is an air of that film in this in the grisly idea of the Krampus masks melting onto the flesh of the people playing monster and having them embody his spirit. Fortunately, that is where the comparisons end. How the story goes from seasonal merriment to chaotic horror is effortlessly achieved and by the end of the story you’ve got apocalyptic madness descending on Salzburg. John Dorney provided the best standalone adventures in the Doom Coalition series and he’s outdone himself here. Again, I question what the hell any of this has to do with the Ravenous (maybe this will all turn out to be a massive misdirection and that all these apparently unlinked stories have a great deal in common) but who gives a flip when you can generate as much atmosphere and chilliness as this story does. Dorney taps into a creepy angle on the traditional Christmas tale, and Ken Bentley executes this story with more verve than anything he has directed in yonks. It’s an absorbing, simple tale that takes one grand idea and runs with it and uses its time to indulge in its setting and its regulars. More please. Oh wait, there is...: 9/10

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