Friday, 19 October 2018

Harvest of the Sycorax written by James Goss and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it About: In the far future, humanity has a remedy for everything. Whatever the problem, Pharma Corps has the answer and a designer disease tailored to every human’s blood-type. Zanzibar Hashtag has no need to be sad, scared, stressed, or depressed ever again. That is, until vicious aliens arrive on her space station intent on opening its Vault. What will it mean for the human race if the Sycorax take control of what’s inside? And when the Seventh Doctor arrives on the scene, can he convince Zanzibar to care about her life long enough to help him?

The Real McCoy: ‘You get a sword? I have an umbrella!’ Apps on pads… as far as the Doctor is concerned this is sounds like one of those self-centred periods of human history. Listen to how McCoy asks ‘where am I?’ – it’s the perfect example of how he can sound so unrehearsed and uncommanding at times. He tends to just pop out of nowhere and be rude. He loves it when monsters hiss out ‘Time Lord!’, it probably gives him a sense of importance. Really, he’s just a nice little man in a silly jumper…or that is what he would like you to believe. Would the Doctor use the deaths of innocent people to lecture somebody? You bet your ass he would. The Doctor warns that the Sycorax should get out of his mind because they might not like what they find. McCoy is generally okay in this story but he sounds as unconvinced as the script at time whether to play the story up or to try and try and play it deadly seriously. At times it feels like the Doctor is doing all he can to mock the characters and at others he is quite condemning of this society. It’s an uneasy mix that has been pulled off much better elsewhere.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You may be able to control humans but you will never understand them.’
‘The worst people in this universe are the ones with no sense of humour.’

Standout Performance: Nisha Nayar is playing our identification figure and our way into this world. It’s a very irritating performance, hysterical and overly emotional (not helped by a script that makes her moany and sarcastic) and someone I was hoping would snuff it relatively quickly.

Great Ideas: Human beings deliberately infecting themselves with viruses that deliberately infect their immune system? Just because it is fashionable to do so? A period where humanity is controlled through medication. Emotions, appetite and the need for sleep, there are hypo sprays for everything. Human beings may be cruel and cowardly but they are also capable of great charm…the Sycorax have never done anything charming in their lives. They’re fierce and frightening but half of it is just magic tricks. They can take over half a planets population like that but it isn’t voodoo, it’s blood control. Decades ago PharmaCorp decided that it made sound financial sense if the medical samples of everyone in the human Empire were outsourced to an off-site facility. A sample of everybody’s blood would give the Sycorax control of every single person in the human race. How appalling that love is now decided by an app that will test whether you are compatible or not. A computer that analyses your future, rather than you simply exploring it. It’s a curious thing, blood control. You shouldn’t be able to make a species go against its own nature.

Isn’t it Odd: I fail to comprehend the point of the (potential) same-sex relationship that is inserted into this story because it is certainly adds nothing that would have happened during a seventh Doctor story on television. It is definitely something that would happen during Russell T Davies’ era on television. So, the inference is that this isn’t a classic Doctor Who story featuring new monsters but a Seventh Doctor story set during the Russell T Davies era, which is a very bizarre and wanky thing to try and attempt. But then coming from a Company that shoved random Doctors and companions together for no better reason than ‘wouldn’t it be fun’ (the Locum Doctors trilogy) is it very surprising? They will milk the New Series for everything they can regardless of a decent creative reason or not. It’s an especially odd addition given one of the women is murdered shortly after their attraction is revealed.

Standout Scene: The twist about PharmCorp selling out humanity to the Sycroax feels like it should be a huge revelation but it is delivered in a very predictable way. And to be honest, it’s a revelation that feels unearned.

Result: And the Classic Series, New Monsters box set crashes and burns with an unusually poor script courtesy of James Goss who fails to do anything innovative or interesting with the Sycorax, a race who probably did deserve a second crack at the whip but in a story that utilised them much better than this. As far as the Sycorax are concerned essentially a re-run of The Christmas Invasion without any of the style, charm and imagination and the voodoo inspired creatures use exactly the same bag of tricks as they did last time. As The Widow’s Curse from DWM comics proved, this is an alien race that relies on a visual presence and if you are going to consign them to audio you need to make sure you have something original up your sleeve to keep them interesting. To have them spouting out threats in their own language is about as much fun as it sounds. They use their electric whips, they utilise blood control, they act in a relentlessly macho way. In every way this is a faithful recreation of the monsters from The Christmas Invasion but when that is all you get and there isn’t any effort to add anything to their mythos you have to wonder why they bothered. There’s a cynical portrayal of humanity in the future, a world where we are reliant on medication and apps (hmmm) and Russell T Davies would have gone to town with a murky notion like that but James Goss (uncharacteristically) fails to exploit the setting to it’s dark potential. As a result of it’s short running time the story is far too abbreviated and reliant on exposition, so before this world is set up it is time to put the toys back in the box again. The performance of the Sycorax characters is tiresome too; shouting, one dimensional characters who exist merely to threaten and kill and because of the constant screeching this could be quite an unpleasant listen at times. Even McCoy is bellowing his head off by the climax, which is hardly his forte as an actor. The Doctor is the only character I found remotely likeable, which was another problem because all of the guest characters were either unpleasant or unrelatable. I felt at a distance from the characters, the story and the monster. Pretty unengaging because of that: 3/10

1 comment:

Christopher Brown said...

"crack at the whip"...I see what you did there ;)

I haven't listened to the stories from this set and I enjoy James Goss's work but I will say, regarding this story's reputation for an anti-medication message: thank god for the anxiety medication that keeps me functioning and able to find stability in an environment as challenging as the US college system, and for the ADD medication I took for thirteen years which helped me just to stay awake in school and pass. I took two years of neuroplastic training which means I don't need the ADD meds just to function, and I would love to someday in the future function without medication for my anxiety, or have to take natural supplements for my sleep problems. But you know what? I do require those latter two to function right now, and in the meantime I don't need a patronizing pat on the head from a (very good) writer who isn't me about how medication is a current fad I'd be better off without.