Thursday, 18 October 2018

The Quantum Possibility Engine written by Guy Adams and directed by Jamie Anderson

What’s it about: The Doctor and Ace are locked up. The TARDIS is gone. Things just couldn’t get worse, could they? Of course they could. Things can always get worse — the new President of the Solar System, Josiah W Dogbolter, didn’t get where he is in life without learning that. That’s why he has a Quantum Possibility Engine. It’s a wonderful machine, creating a wonderful Solar System. And with this wonderful device, he can bring happiness and peace to all. Possibly. Either that or tear the universe to shreds, it’s hard to be sure which.

The Real McCoy: Placing McCoy’s Doctor in the role of a naughty trickster trying to wind up Narvin as much as possible really suits him. There’s always been something of the mischievous imp about him. He has copyright on sonic screwdrivers. He always has to fight for an explanation from the CIA. The Doctor is rebranded as a down and out (but pretty chipper considering) cleaner living in social housing. Narvin treats him abominably in this timeline too. I loved the interface Doctor, always ready to help in a tricky situation. McCoy is clearly having a great deal of fun playing his multiple parts. I enjoyed the Doctor and Ace coming together and deciding that they aren’t terrorists and claiming their identities. It’s nowhere near how touching I have seen it done elsewhere but it’s cute how they instinctively trust one another. Once the Doctor emerges at the climax, he sounds more commanding than ever like McCoy has been gagging to get back to some good old-fashioned Doctoring. It’s akin to Matt Smith’s climactic speech in The Pandorica Opens but with more of an emphasis on ‘oh why don’t you just fuck off.’

Narvin: Interference is his job. I don’t think we’ve had a story featuring Narvin in the main range for ages and I cannot think why since Sean Carlsen is a bloody good performer and the character spars wonderfully with whichever Doctor he happens to stumble across. He will do whatever he can to safeguard the universe. Mr Narvin always did have a superiority complex. Ultimately do we need Narvin in this story whatsoever? Not really, but he’s such fun it doesn’t really matter. Having a writer tie together various spin off characters is more fanwank from a company that forces it down your neck on a monthly basis but it’s still a really fun idea.

Aiieeeeeeee: What could possibly have possessed Mel to sell the TARDIS to Dogbolter? He contacted Mel a while ago and her debt with the Speravores was still outstanding, she was classed as a toxic debtor and placed under a judicial death sentence (what Mel?). Because she was perceived as being harboured by the Doctor and Ace there was a death sentence on all three of them. Dogbolter bought the debt and said the only way he would call off the assassins was if Mel handed over the TARDIS and the operational manual. Her interaction with Hob is delightful, mostly because Mel gets to be all bossy and nasty, it’s a side of her character that we don’t see very often (she certainly has a way with spitting out threats). I love seeing her think on her feet this much, apparently making up so much on the spot and using her intelligence. She really is the Doctor in this story. She suggests that she needs him to get out of this mess but she does really well on her own.

Oh Wicked: Did Ace really think that Mel had turned rogue? Surely, they have been travelling long enough to give her the benefit of the doubt. It’s no terrific surprise that it is Aldred who let’s the side down in the ‘playing another part’ department because she pitches it as a slightly bemused Ace and little more. McCoy genuinely embodies a new role in comparison.

Standout Performance: I’m not as massive fan of the comics as some but I did have a period where I bought all of the graphic novels and read them through avidly. I’m fully aware of what an impact Dogbolter had on the strip, a larger than life comic businessman with some very grey morals and a cigar never far from his lips. He was a funny character and one who was particularly adept at kicking off a decent plot because he had his froggy fingers in so many pies. The man of a million voices Toby Longworth provides his voice again and does a fine job of capturing the humour and dangerousness of the character, all wrapped up in a hint of the hearty aristocrat.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘There’s no point in beating about the…Bush.’
‘Who would vote for him?’ ‘The majority. Obviously.’
‘Besides people are easy to control. Most of the time we just massage trends, beliefs, perceptions. People will believe anything you’re willing to tell them as long as you couch it in terms they are willing to accept.’ Ahem, Brexit.
‘War? But that’s so expensive!’
‘Well today really has been the most rubbish day’ – possibly my favourite Big Finish line in a few years. I howled with laughter, especially given who it came from.

Great Ideas: The entire solar system has become a closed temporal system that even a TARDIS cannot enter. Dogbolter has a control station right on the periphery of the bubble. The Speravores entire business empire is built around their ability to understand futures. Combining that with Time technology and Dogbolter has built a bubble of sealed programmable reality. You predict certain events and then ensure the most beneficial decisions occur. The solar system is now entirely under his control. When something happens that he doesn’t like he activates the machinery, rolls back time, re-runs events so they come out in his favour. It’s a closed system, border control insists that nobody is let in or out without his knowledge and permission. Everything within should be possible to control because it is being manipulated entirely from the outside. Scenes being repeated and played out again to Dogbolter’s design from within the scene itself are delightful. Once that idea has been set up Adams can have a lot of fun with it. . Dogbolter trumping the Regent at the climax proves to be a defining moment for his character, always in control, always in charge, always coming out on top.

Musical Cues: Like the other two stories in this trilogy, a mixture of some lovely new cues and Joe Kraemer’s music from Static. This is a story that needs its music on side because the plot is so insanely bombastic and silly it needs the score to support that. It’s mock drama all the way, the more melodramatic the better and it takes the mood of the piece comfortably into comic strip territory. Precisely the idea. Just listen to the music when the Doctor remembers who he is. Delightful.

Isn’t it Odd: I resisted from talking about the cliffhanger at the end of the last story because it was so discordant, so disconnected from the adventure that it polished off that it was barely worth considering as a part of that review. Mel decides to turn rogue, assault the Doctor and Ace and send the TARDIS to President Dogbolter, for a purpose that is completely baffling. I suppose it is an attempt to whet our appetites for this story but it is so entirely without context it just left me scratching my head. Remember when Klein stole the TARDIS at the end of Survival of the Fittest? That’s a riveting lead in to the final story of a trilogy. This bizarre moment of jeopardy at the climax to The Dispossessed is perfectly indicative of these 7, Mel, Ace adventures; feeling as though they are being made up as they go along. After presenting us with the brilliant idea of the locked solar system that can be manipulated by design, Adams fails to do anything truly spectacular with it, mostly resorting to some fun narrative tricks. The story is content to have fun with its ideas but I would suggest these ideas are big enough to run with over more stories, perhaps even a trilogy. It’s a shame to waste something this epic on a story that is so throwaway.

Standout Scene: If anybody wanted to know what a comic strip version of a Big Finish story might sound like then go no further than the end of episode one. With the most melodramatic cry of ‘Kill her!’, a companion who screeches at injustice and the Doctor and co popped off out of existence thanks to some ridiculous piece of equipment, it’s pitched at eleven all the way. Very season 24, in fact. Bonnie Langford has finally come full circle. Fortunately, this is directed with a lightness of touch that makes the material very knowing, and very cheeky. Gloriously Guy Adams doesn’t stretch his imagination at all with the second cliffhanger and we get to go through the same melodramatic schlock at the end of episode two. And Wayne Forester gets to camp it up to the point where he is shitting rainbows. Following that Mel gets to act like the Supremo again, practically abusing the robot, which is all for the good.

Result: Halleluiah! Let joy be uncontained! Break out the bubbly! Let’s have a party! A seventh Doctor, Ace and Mel story that doesn’t suck like an old woman who has lost her false teeth! For a start there’s almost 12 minutes before Ace appears. Okay okay…I’ll stop being facetious and get on with the review. The Quantum Possibility Engine works primarily because it is more like an episode of The Melanie Bush Adventures; where the plucky ginge takes on the scourge of the galaxy with her slightly annoying assistants, the Scots tramp and the Upper Middle Lower Before Hex, After Hex (depending on who is writing her and how Sophie Aldred chooses to play it this week) Bovver Girl. Bonnie Langford dominates and that’s fine by me because she’s as excellent as ever and she gets to do all those Doctorly things in McCoy’s absence (including stand up to the villain, outfox his henchmen and pretend to be a scoundrel) and is clearly having a ball doing so. This is a great daft run-around with lots of over the top characters, a chance to see the regulars in different roles, some tasty ideas that are applied in an enjoyable way and fusion of the many worlds of Doctor Who spinoffery. Dogbolter is a really delightful character, and expertly brought to life but it was his henchman Hob who I enjoyed the most, a robotic side man with delusions of grandeur and facing the full womanly wrath of Melanie Jane Bush. You can’t take any of this seriously but for once you’re not expected to (unlike The Dispossessed which was pitched at a similarly absurd level but was supposed to be a horror) and everybody is working to the same goal, to provide a rollicking good time with a few cheeky winks (the music is particularly on side in that regard). It’s a well-paced four parter with plenty going on and a plot that rests on terrific ideas that allows for some creative development in the latter half of the story (how certain stories replay really made me smile). There are always witty lines (‘What’s the point of having lots of lovely technology if you need several Doctorates to operate it?’) and comic reversals and while the whole thing is about as deep as a puddle, it’s so refreshing to have this TARDIS team get the chance to let their hair down like this, I’m not complaining. Think Time of the Rani, but good. Colourful, outrageous, stylish, clownish. The first story in this run that I would listen to again. One of those stories where the Doctor is practically irrelevant and it really doesn’t matter: 8/10

2 comments:

The Writer said...

I love The Maltese Penguin, and it was so great to see Dogbolter return to audio. This was such a fun romp.

Dovid M said...

I may consider picking this up, after this review. I've been cutting back on the number of Big Finish Audios I get in a year (so fucking pricey!) and the main doctor who monthly range has been kinda hit and miss recently so I've been avoiding it.

btw, I asked this on another post but thought you might be more likely to see it here- any chances of reviewing the post-Bloodlust Dark Shadows audios? They kinda set the stage for the upcoming Bloodline miniseries, which I'd also love to hear your opinions on as well. I got into it from your reviews and it's inspired me to check out other audios in that range and man are they good.