Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Escape from Kaldor written by Matt Fitton and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: Returning to a home world she’d rather forget, Liv reluctantly accompanies Helen to the grand opening of a luxury shopping mall. But when a glitch in the system sends the Robots of Death on a rampage, Liv’s past comes crashing down about her.

Physician, Heal Thyself: It’s amazing that the Doctor can hang around with so many humans and not really learn a thing. That’s not entirely fair, the Doctor has demonstrated a keen understanding of human behaviour over the years when the time is right (see his summation at the end of Vincent and the Doctor) but it seems that no matter how good his intentions, sometimes he can just get it wrong (his triple whammy of taking Ace to Gabriel Chase, to meet her mom as a baby and then back home in season 26 is quite an adept example). He’s always interested in new technology.

Liv Chenka: It’s interesting for us but weird for Liv to be brought back to Kaldor, where she belongs. It mirrors the beginning of the second Time War set where Bliss was taken for a homecoming but we have known Liv a lot longer so it’s much more involving and alienating. She doesn’t feel like she is from Kaldor, she spent most of her days looking at the stars and longing to be away. Liv has some unfinished rage towards Kit and pretty much anyone with a desire for wealth from the Founding Families stock. She lost touch with her sister years ago when Liv was barely out of college. Tula had her career to think of and wasn’t even there for their father’s funeral (she paid for it and thought that was involvement enough). The scenes between the two women feel very real, families are full of this kind of resentment and it’s very well brought to life by both actresses. Sometimes it is hard to believe that two performers who have never worked together before are siblings but I had no trouble buying Walker and Rushbrook. She’s never said sorry to her sister, and she has carried the burden of having to deal with her fathers’ death ever since he finally slipped away. Despite the fact that she hasn’t spoken to Tula in ten years, she doesn’t hate her. It hurt Dad that Tula never came back. He missed her. She was the favourite that Liv could never live up to. The backstory of Liv’s father has run through her adventures and has provided some of the most touching moments. It’s hard to believe that Liv has been a companion for 4 years now, that this is her 30th story and that she is still revealing new shades to her character. Whilst you have to credit the writers with this, Nicola Walker is a huge part of making it all count for something.

Helen Sinclair: Helen is enjoying the chance to spend some time with Liv after their recent exertions and given how many times Liv has been to London she is enjoying the chance to see where she comes from for a change. She says without apology that the Liv isn’t a friend to her but more like family. Helen is the voice of reason when the shit hits the fan.

Standout Performance: Which Paul McGann do you prefer? The lighter, more carefree one of the Doom Coalition and Ravenous series or the darker, more uptight version who is heading the Time Ware series? I listen to one and I think that is where his strengths lie and then I listen to the other and I re-evaluate. It’s fair to say he is simply a damn fine actor who is still finding interesting things to do with the Doctor after a huge manifest of audios under his belt. His scenes in Escape from Kaldor were the least interesting (because they were the least suspenseful) but by his mere presence alone he ups the interest levels and makes those scenes of exposition worth listening to.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We’re building virtual people. You can’t do this job if you don’t have some ego.’

Great Ideas: People like being surrounded by beautiful things on Kaldor. Some parts of human nature never change, and some descendants of the Founding Families cannot see beyond their privilege. The whole angle that the Robots are simply children waiting for the right instruction is a worthy one. How the Doctor considers them a new lifeform just starting to evolve is very sweet.

Isn’t it Odd: Talk about starting off on the wrong foot; Escape from Kaldor opens with several cardinal errors. We’re partway through a story with no idea of how we got to this point, it’s a particularly unconvincing crowd scene that sounds like three or four people trying to sound like a mob and generally it is a lot of ugly noise pretending to be drama. It’s hardly a massive revelation when the Robots of Death start killing people…when, you know, they are called the Robots of Death in the synopsis. I’m not sure if ‘Purify’ is going to catch on like ‘Exterminate.’ ‘Delete’ was bad enough.

Standout Scene: A brilliant coda to the story which plays the timey-wimey card (are we still doing that?) and scores big time with a use of time travel that is satisfying, a chance for a character to grow in the blink of an eye and leaves some unanswered questions about Liv’s absence and what she has been up to. Very well done indeed.

Result: What is it about these pauses in the eighth Doctor, Liv and Helen’s adventures that are so refreshing? It was magic when it happened in Absent Friends and again in Ship in a Bottle and the opening 15 minutes of Escape to Kaldor captures that sparkle between them again when Liv and Helen get to relax and soak in each other’s company. I think it is because their adventures are often so hectic and interconnected and lacking respite that when we get the opportunity to simply spend time with them talking as regular people that you get the opportunity to realise what interesting and engaging characters they are. I’ve never heard any of the Kaldor City audios but it’s a setting that intrigued me from Robots of Death and few Chris Boucher PDAs alone, and the two Doctor Who audios that have handled these themes (Robophobia and The Sons of Kaldor) were both fairly engaging. It’s where Liv comes from, so bringing her home gives us a chance to see how much she has evolved since her debut. The inclusion of her sister was a nice touch, giving the story a more personal edge than it otherwise would have. I was impressed with how scary they managed to make the Robots on audio, with some genuine jump out of your seat moments and scenes of high drama. Big Finish rarely makes me jump anymore, and you would think on audio it would be uniquely qualified to do so. I still have zero clue what the Ravenous are all about and I don’t think we are going to find out anything significant any time soon but like with the first boxset of this series we’re getting some decent standalone adventures before the arc kicks into gear. And when those stories are as entertaining as this, who can really complain? Don’t get me wrong this isn’t a revelatory piece that will blow the mind of a Doctor Who fan into a thousand tiny pieces of amazement, it’s a well-paced, well-made throwaway story about the Robots of Death that probably should have been the beginning of the Ravenous series (and we could skipped all over the pointless Helen is missing nonsense) rather than the opening story of the second set. Enjoyable: 7/10


Ryan Denyer said...

I liked this opening, probably just about the same amount that you did, and I'll be interested to know what you make of the box set. With James Goss writing the finale, I think the best thing for me was somebody other than Matt Fitton or John Dorney writing 'regular' 8th Doctor Adventure (excluding short trips and time wars) since Marc Platt's 'The Gift' in March 2016 as part of Doom Coalliton 2, and I can't help that thinking the declining quality of these box sets IMO may be because of that. Are Big Finish bleeding them dry? It seems there isn't a release they do without either of them attatched to it, it would be nice for a fresh take on this era of the 8th Doctor.

Anonymous said...

I'm just glad he isn't phoning in like the years of the dreary Divergent Universe where the guy almost quit doing audios. Either carefree or battle worn is good to me as long as he doesn't sound like he's bored to death

Anonymous said...

You need to listen to the Kaldor City audios ASAP. They're AMAZING!!!