Monday, 21 January 2019

Planet of the Drashigs written by Phil Mulryne and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it About: When the TARDIS lands on an alien planet, the Doctor’s intentions to show Ann Kelso an advanced future society are thrown into disarray. Because they have arrived on DrashigWorld - a park where every known species of the terrifying predators has been gathered together to entertain and thrill the public. The familiar wetland Drashigs, the albino burrowing Drashigs of the desert, and deadliest of all, the tiny Emerald Drashigs of the rain forests. And it’s not the best day to have arrived. The park has been shut down due to a visitor fatality. A Galactic Attractions inspector is on site meaning everyone is extremely tense and under pressure. It’s exactly the right circumstances in which someone might make a mistake. And on Drashigworld, mistakes are deadly.

Teeth and Curls: This is the sort of race against time material that doesn’t allow Tom Baker to overindulge in quirkiness and forces him to drive home the severity of the danger. There’s a forcefulness to his performance in the second episode that could be taken for granted but when it’s Baker telling you things are deadly dangerous, you really pay attention. He might have tinkered about with K.9’s original spec and made a few improvements but he doesn’t like to boast. Does the TARDIS often deposit him in some mystery destination? Of course it does! That’s part of the fun! If you are going to have a companion quite this grumpy then you need to make it much funnier than this otherwise it would appear that the most irreverent of Doctors is choosing to lumber himself with an old sourpuss for no particular reason. Why would you do that? To put a constant damper on your day? Is this the only story where the Doctor admits that he is extremely tasty. This Doctor always was complimentary about human beings and so his speech at the climax about controlling instincts and being the best you can be really strikes a note. His solution is clever and humane, allowing the Drashigs to claim the world they were exploit on as their own to thrive.

Bobby on the Beat: She’s a bit grumpy, isn’t she? I can’t help but make comparisons with previous companions but I do recall Hex, Erimem and Evelyn all finding their first trip in the TARDIS quite a jolly one and that they were all very excited about where they were going to end up. Ann Kelso in comparison has a bit of a moan that they are hovering in space and like a petulant child asks why they haven’t arrived anywhere yet. The Doctor asks if she is always this pernickety because the first thing she does when she sees where they have arrived is to moan about how damp it looks. Just because you’re a police officer it doesn’t mean that you have to have a downer on the universe. I suppose travel with Ann Kelso will prepare him for his adventures with Romana I, Tegan and Peri. She asks a lot of questions but she does have a good excuse, she is a police officer.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Your park, Lord Braye, is complete insane!’
‘Bad idea? It’s up there with those Trojans who thought a great big wooden horse would be just the thing for the towns square!’
‘Does a Drashig have a conscience?’

Great Ideas: Big Finish have plundered so much of Doctor Who’s past in the past 15 years that we are getting to a point where no classic Doctor Who story has gone untouched. I understand the draw of nostalgia (that is after all why we watch our old DVDs over and over again) and their ability to tap into the style and tone of certain eras of Doctor Who has been transferred into a very lucrative business for the company. When it comes to something like the Drashigs I find my self in two minds about their inclusion. They are without a doubt the best feature of a brilliant Doctor Who story and in a time when wobbly dinosaurs and CSO maggots were the order of day they were a technical triumph. Not only that they were used creatively by both writer Robert Holmes and director Barry Letts in Carnival of Monsters and for once the Doctor Who disaster that bigger is better (I say disaster because of the Skarasen, the Myrka, the Creature from the Pit) works a treat. However, on audio you are losing their stunning visual impact and have only an animal roar to represent them. That’s not to say they couldn’t be used creatively on audio too, just that you are having to use your imagination to do most of the work. Like the Angels, how effective is it to feature a visually impactful monster in an aural medium? The Doctor and Ann stumbling on a landscape littered with skeletons, not a complete one among them, might encourage them to hop back to the TARDIS lickety split. The Drashigs tend to hunt in packs and dine together. What a social species. You can admire that in them whilst they are eating you alive. It’s the finest collection of Drashigs in the universe, every species brought together for the first time. Safety is paramount, every visitor has a personal energy shield and there are teleport pads at every corner.

Audio Landscape: The roar of the Drashigs is as terrifying as ever. At least they do have a great audio hook. Ambient planetary sounds that are suddenly punctuated by a screeching roar. I’m surprise more suspense wasn’t generated given the advantage this story has.

Isn’t it Odd: The cliffhanger was always going to be the Doctor and co being menaced by Drashigs. I was rather hoping that the writer would shy away from anything that obvious and go for a plot twist instead. Perhaps something about one of the guest characters abusing the creatures or experimenting on them. Something like that. Instead of ‘ROOOOAAAARRRRRRRR!’ ‘RUNNNNNNNNN!’ On audio that’s terribly unsatisfying. An intellectual approach to the pause in action would have been preferable. As soon as Vanessa was devouring her dinner in the first episode it was clear that some obvious link between her and the Drashigs was being made. It’s the sort of signposted plot twist that the TV series was keen to point out in the 70s (But Sarah Jane doesn’t like ginger pop…?).

Standout Scene: How does John Leeson manage to make K.9 such a sympathetic figure? When the Time Lord and his human companion are in danger I couldn’t really give two figs but when his metal dog is powering down after saving their asses I was sticking out my bottom lip in sympathy.

Result: Fun, with a big goofy premise. Let’s get this out of the way first: this is no Carnival of Monsters. Anybody expecting something as subversive, as original as clever and as witty as that hasn’t been paying attention to the 4DAs properly. This is Doctor Who’s Jurassic Park with Drashigs, a tourist attraction that has turned deadly. Pleasingly, Mulryne chooses to add some detail to the species by creating some sub species and having one of the characters talk about of their different abilities like the David Attenborough of outer space. Robert Holmes would have had them running amok when the park was open and munching their way through the visitors. He always had a dash of mischief about him. Instead Mulryne assembles a small group of characters and has them menaced by the slavering beasts. Where this has a huge advantage over The Sinetran Kill is its energy and pace, the built-in danger of its grisly foes and an impressive guest cast who elevate the material considerably. This is a two-part story that I wouldn’t mind giving some extra time to. Having one character have an affinity with the Drashigs is a brilliant because it manages to give the creatures a voice and it allows us to sympathise with the most fearsome of Doctor Who monsters. That’s not something I thought I would be able to write about this tale. Planet of the Drashigs could have been a much more substantial four-part adventure with more time to indulge the (interesting) guest characters and more of a chance to study the Drashigs. Even so, it manages to entertain and surprise and skips by at a fair lick. It’s certainly one of the more enjoyable of run-around 4DAs. I’m still not sure about Ann Kelso though. She’s practical in a fix but I was getting an early Tegan vibe from her, always grumbling rather than enjoying her adventures: 7/10

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