Monday, 11 February 2019

The Hunting Ground written by AK Benedict and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: The Doctor arrives in present day Iceland and receives a frosty reception from Inspector Yrsa Kristjansdottir when he becomes the chief suspect in a murder enquiry. But the Doctor knows that the real killer is of extra-terrestrial origin. Joining forces with Yrsa, the Doctor goes in pursuit of a ruthless alien that is hunting humans for sport. Yrsa unearths a dark conspiracy which reaches back into her own past. Determined to expose the truth and prevent further deaths, the Doctor and Yrsa soon find themselves running for their lives, prey on the hunting ground.

Softer Six: The Sixth Doctor is seldom travelling on his own so it is always a bit of a novelty when he is. This is a story that wants to introduce you to him from the point of view of the guest cast, or more specifically Ysra, and he’s an immediately mysterious fellow. Turning up out of the snow in the guise of a hiker who found a body. All the best mysteries live in the forest. He doesn’t go out of his way to pretend that he is a regular person, banging on about imps and trolls, but then perhaps this (one of the most alien incarnations of the Time Lord) has simply forgotten how to blend in (that coat). On the patchwork planet of Algernom he can blend in with any surroundings. Why would he report a crime if he was the main suspect? He’s never drawn attention to himself in this life or any other (pants on fire). He doesn’t always have to have the last word but it is so very satisfying. Yrsa only has to spend an hour with the Doctor to know that he is a world class expert in trouble. Leave him alone in a police station and he’ll tinker with the printer until it starts singing. The Doctor really enjoys the vistas of Iceland, a place where the strange and the wonderful are not only believed in but welcomed. Forbidden knowledge is the most tempting of fruit and he cannot wait to savour it.

New Recruit: I find it very strange that a new bolshie police officer should be introduced and handed to the sixth Doctor as a companion when he already has one who has been waiting in the wings for some time; the wonderfully dry and witty DI Menzies? People have been lobbying for more Menzies for some years now and just as she is about to make her reappearance along comes a carbon copy of the character. I’m not saying that Amy Beth Hayes gives a bad performance, it just feels like a substitute when her character spec is so similar to Menzies. The more Yrsa knows about the Doctor, the less she feels she knows about the world. Wasn’t it a bizarre idea to set Yrsa up as the sixth Doctor’s latest travelling companion and then feature a story where, first episode aside, they barely interact?

Standout Performance: Colin Baker struggles to make his parts of this bearable. Yep, that says a lot.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Everything and nothing is alien in Iceland.’

Great Ideas: Valen is a frozen world in the anchor arm of the Syphello galaxy. Surely across the breadth of Doctor Who we have populated the universe a few times over by now.

Audio Landscape: The first cliffhanger cannot help but make an impact because it is an assault of sound as the wolves attack the Doctor and Yrsa.

Isn’t it Odd: The first episode is very strange in that it gets off on precisely the right foot; a great setting, a cheeky Doctor and a murder but then it fails to do anything of note for the next twenty minutes? There’s an entire subplot surrounding Yrsa and the secrets that her father kept from her but I couldn’t have been less interested. It’s not built into the story in a particularly compelling way (indeed at times it felt as if two completely different stories were taking place). You’ve got to hand it to the Doctor, he certainly likes to be prepared. The Hunting Ground achieves the impossible. It manages to feature a villain who apes but is even more inept than Tim Shaw. At the point where he admitted that he took away a trophy I thought there was some serious plagiarising going on…until I couldn’t figure out which was released first. The sixth Doctor is collecting companions like stamps these days. Is this really the time to be indulging in another (let me guess, those at Big Finish loved working with Amy Beth Hayes) when there are the adventures of Older Peri and Constance & Flip to get back to. Skipping from the snowy wastelands of Iceland to a bog-standard alien planet was a fatal error, it’s not a shift in the story’s favour. Colin Baker used to star in stories such as The Holy Terror, Jubilee, Doctor Who & the Pirates and Davros. Now he ends up in Lure of the Nomad and The Hunting Ground. This makes me very grumpy. There literally could not be less tension in the last episode if they had tried. Imagine if the Marfick’s had hung around in the TARDIS at the end too. What a TARDIS line up that wouldn’t be.

Standout Scene: People say that McCoy was the one who set up his adventures before they had even begun but Sixie has him beat here with a get out clause ready to bonk all three cliff-hangers on the head. Which rather leaves his reaction to them a bit baffling. Why would you be anxious if you knew you had the solution to hand?

Result: It’s a shame that the atmosphere that was conjured up in the first few minutes couldn’t have been maintained for the entire story, this would have made a very nice wintry detective story with extra-terrestrial undertones. Instead it becomes something a lot less compelling, a bizarre science fiction tale that relies heavily on the character of Yrsa and her backstory and unfortunately it just isn’t up to the task of pulling me through. It’s one of those stories where it feels like a companion is being set up (think The Rescue or The Bells of Saint John) but there aren’t enough interesting things going on away from that to make it interesting. The most bizarre aspect of this story is just how little mood there is to the piece because I thought the Icelandic setting would be ripe for scares getting lost in the snowy wilderness. Instead it is an extremely wordy piece, with little suspense when things are discovered, lots of treated voices and some very noisy action set pieces. There’s a pair of comedy administrative alien heads that fail to raise a laugh and yet we spend and inordinate amount of time in their company. It’s hardly a Holmesian double act. Or even a Sawardian one. It’s more of a Dominators sort of double act. They get less appealing every time they appear and yet the story never stops offering them up. The Hunting Ground caps off another year of main range stories on a disappointing note. Disappointing would be a good way of describing the main range titles this year, which seem to have started fairly well but haemorrhaged interest as time went on. There doesn’t seem to be any real passion or inventiveness in the range at the moment, nothing to mark it out as the flagship range of the company. Head over to the Early Adventures or the companion chronicles or spin offs such as Gallifrey, Torchwood and the Novel Adaptations and you’ll find all manner of standout storytelling and excitement. Sure, we get the odd bright spot like Ghost Walk or Muse of Fire but the standard seems to be lolloping great husks of stories like Lure of the Nomad, The Dispossessed and Warlock’s Cross. For those of you who hated series 11 be warned, I’m about to say something nice about it. This has elements of both The Woman Who Fell To Earth (the hunting plotline) and It Takes You Away (starting with aspirations to Nordic Noir) but it has about a tenth of the colour, imagination and enjoyment of them. Crushingly dull, this review is a poke in the eye to those of you who say I excuse any Colin Baker story and dismiss any Sylvester McCoy one. Two stories came out together this month and I know which is the stronger of the two: 3/10


Christopher Brown said...

Is there a part of Iceland that isn't depicted as a snowy wasteland? Having lived there for three very influential years of my life, I feel obliged to point out that it's really very green there, in a muted sort of way.

Mr. Jordan said...

Reading this review was cathartic. The third or maybe fourth time The Doctor was threatened by wolves and escaped in exactly the same way I was ready to riot! Terrible writing.