Thursday, 16 April 2015

Death Match written by Matt Fitton and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What's it about: The Death-Match is under new management. The Hunt Master's Champion has been installed. All regular players are welcomed back to the Pursuit Lounge to observe the contest in luxurious surroundings. Privacy is assured. For this reason we ask our elite guests to abide by the strict security protocols. Please note, the house has no limits. In the Gallery, your combatants can be observed on the orbiting Quarry Station. A purpose-built environment filled with deadly traps and hidden dangers. Prizes are offered for every kill, with bonuses for rogue elements. Only an elite hunter can survive the End-Game. Do you have a worthy champion? Kill or be killed: the only rule of the Death-Match...

Teeth and Curls: Without Leela in the TARDIS to act as a mediator, the Doctor and K.9 are getting on each others nerves. It is clear that they both miss her terribly but neither one them is going to be the one to say it. Isn't it wonderful that in this season the Doctor is the spanner in the works to all the Master's plans rather than the Master turning up to ruin the Doctor's day. It really suits Tom Baker's cheeky, irreverent Doctor from this period. Not so much the Master's friends but his nemesis, similar interests but different approaches (too embarrass the Master completely he tells one of his guests that he was always a rotten cheat as a child and always picking his nose). It's only once he understands Leela's role in the Death Match that the Doctor drops his sarcasm and starts making demands. The Master sees them striding the cosmos like Gods, making moral choices, deciding who rules, who serves, who lives and who dies. I'm sure the Doctor just does it for a laugh. He looks at stars and he wants to visit whereas the Master looks at them and wants to snuff them out. It's fascinating to listen to the Doctor and Master attack a moral debate with such vigour without the threat of death to either of them. It breaks down their relationship and their different moralities to its rawest. For the Master his schemes are just a distraction, a diversion from the oncoming victory of death. The Doctor warns him that however many victories he might score he is still stuck inside his putrescent head with his madness. The Doctor's reaction to K.9 attempting to answer his question of how long is a piece of string is an absolute scream.

Noble Savage: Her reunion with the Doctor and Leela is a triumphant moment. He has missed her savage colloquialisms and she has missed his rational science. You realise in their absence from one another that they teach each other a great deal. I enjoyed Leela's romantic subplot because it made some in roads into revealing that she does have a loving side which sets up her (sudden) departure in The Invasion of Time. I think of all the Doctor's companions, she is the one that feels every emotion the strongest. Especially passion. So to see her behave in such a tender way is a surprising development and the gentle sequence where the Doctor comforts her even moreso. How better to honour his memory but to keep travelling and keep fighting.

Standout Performance: Did I hear John Dorney killed horribly at the beginning of this story?

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Is that a new rotting cowl?'
'I find the question of morality fascinating. How far can it bend before it breaks?'
'Why trap ten mouthfuls when you can secure a feast.'

Great Ideas: Straight off the bat there is something quite engaging going on in this story and it has to do with the range in general at the moment. Finally there seems to be some kind of innovation bleeding into the 4DAs, even if that means a dominating presence of the Master and the kidnapping of Leela. They aren't hugely imaginative ideas but they are different from the norm, not just more nostalgia kicks and standalone bits of fluff. There is an attempt to build up some kind of excitement for the range that is admirable, an ongoing story that is paid off from one adventure to another. The Master's involvement in this story is assured by his appearance on the cover but I rather like the way he is being treated as a regular character like he was during the Pertwee era rather than a (not so) shock villain of the piece. A touch of Marinus, this is set on an ocean world with the majority of the surface covered by acid seas. Like Requiem, the Master has insinuated himself into the setting with ease and it is a pleasure to spend time with him when he is simply going along with his normal activities rather than him popping up as the grand villain of the piece. One because Geoffrey Beevers is a great actor that is too good to waste on melodramatic posturing and two because this damaged Master is quite an interesting character in his own right. The Death Match is a pass time for rich and despotic, military leaders and fascist dictators need somewhere to relax and unwind. K.9 is used in a very amusing way too, trundling along and chatting to himself and attempting to puff himself up when he is in danger. John Leeson sounds like he is having a whale of a time. The Red Giant is built up as the most formidable champion but that just makes his combat against Leela all the more exciting. I think we all know what his ultimate fate will be in her hands. The Master is so deliriously evil that he will destroy a star system if he is just passing through, not for any particular reason.

Musical Cues: I recognised the musical signature of Jamie Robertson long before I looked on the website to see who was scoring. His themes have become indicative of the range and his uplifting bouncy soundtracks one of my favourite features. He takes what is an already amusing tale and elevates it to something even more entertaining.

Standout Scene: No matter how silky smooth the Master behaves around Kastrella you just know there will come a point where he will turn on her. It shows Geoffrey Beevers at his most diverse, from seductive charm to vicious malevolence. Scenes of the Master and Kastrella getting off on the chaos and destruction around them are just sublime, finally he's found himself a bird who can revel in all the death and destruction with him.

Result: The most blatant Blakes' 7 rip off I have ever seen in Doctor Who is pulled off with spectacular style. I thought Chris Boucher returning to his roots (both the 4th Doctor and Leela and the combat scenario that played out in the Blakes' 7 episode Death Watch) in the BBC Novel Match of the Day felt congratulatory and self plagiaristic but this takes things a step even further. If it wasn't all so deliriously enjoyable to listen I would probably take more of an exception to it. This is a range that is finally starting to deliver on a regular occasion (that's three strong releases in a row) which makes me very happy for Tom Baker, Louise Jameson and Nick Briggs who I am sure have figured this is the kind of success they have been achieving since day one. Death Match sports some delicious Doctor/Master dialogue, which Baker and Beevers relish like a fine wine and it provides some new insights into the relationship of the two rivals. The story is fast paced, set on a gloriously Terry Nation-esque world (acid seas and testosterone fuelled competitions) and features a terrific score courtesy of Jamie Robertson. Listening to this story was effortless and I had a smile slapped on my face throughout. This is a little longer than your average 4DA too so you'll get a little more enjoyment for your buck too. Matt Fitton deserves some recognition as one of the breakout talents of the last few years, he's delivered again (The Wrong Doctors) and again (The Fall of House Pollard) and again (Equilibrium) and again (Return of the Rocket Men). Give that man a pay rise, he's approaching the Dorney's and Morris' of the company. If you want to take this as Requiem of the Rocket Men as a four parter there is an argument to be made for that...but they are equally strong standalone stories too. The usual suspects will tell you that this is undemanding fare but it is hugely enjoyable and in this range that is a valuable commodity: 8/10

The Last Sontaran written by Phil Ford and directed by Joss Agnew

The story in a nutshell: Shamed by a failed campaign, one lonesome battered, bloodied Sontaran plans the revenge of his people…

Until Next Time…Ms Smith: Elisabeth Sladen enjoyed a massive success with her first year in her own series and you can see how ready she is for more. Sarah Jane has always loved the night’s sky and as a child she used to lie in bed and count the stars and dream of what might be out there. The look on Sarah’s face when Maria tells her she might as well get a lift while she can speaks volumes, she is preparing herself for a whole world of hurt. I really like the fact that she can react in completely the wrong way sometimes, it makes her a far more interesting heroine. Her cold reaction to Maria’s news (‘I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful life in America’) makes her quite unlikeable for a moment (considering how much Maria is hurting) but it is totally understandable. Sarah’s horrified reaction to the Sontaran ship is a glorious moment having connotations right back to her very first appearance in Doctor Who (and again completely logical considering she was tortured in The Sontaran Experiment). She met the Sontarans many years ago and in some years to come. Sarah cannot sacrifice Maria for the sake of the Earth; one life is as sacred as an entire planet (yeah, Jack). Her quiet admission that she feels as though she is losing her family is very touching…don’t worry Sarah, Rani is on the way. 

Sarah’s Gang: From the first scene Maria is supporting her dad in a time of big decisions and she makes his life so much easier but treating this huge news so positively. ‘Look UNIT!’ – is that the best you can do to create a distraction, Maria? I really like how although Maria is going to miss everybody so much (and isn’t it so much more poignant that it is underplayed by everybody?) but she can still see what an incredible opportunity it is going to be. Maria gets to save the world one last time, which is lovely. 

Luke’s science expertise is brought to the fore once again but what I love is his overriding need to protect his mum. In just one year Tommy Knight has grown up so much and this would pretty much continue until he departs in series four. Luke is devastated that Maria is leaving, she has been there since his birth and I think he has a teeny crush on her. Can you see the flaw in Einstein’s theory of relativity? Luke can.

Oh Clyde let me count the ways I love thee! In every way he fulfils the needs of the series in a way that Kelsey didn’t and it was an extremely savvy decision to write her out so quickly and to bring in Daniel Anthony. He is an extremely fine actor, capable of moments of great depth and sensitivity but he also works brilliantly as the joker in the pack. In this story he manages to diffuse a lot of the tense stand offs with his gags (although Sarah does try to make him understand how seriously dangerous a Sontaran is). He’s pretty brave too wanting to search some creepy woods against Sarah Jane’s instructions. I’m glad somebody has finally noticed the resemblance between Sontarans and baked spuds and had the gall to say it to their faces. His ‘Sontar ha!’ never fails to make me smile.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Your veins run with starlight. Astronomy is science gone rock’n’roll.’
‘I reckon that is what you call a toad in the hole!’
‘Do you want some squirrel moving into the most Des Res in the forest?’
‘Try my size fives Humpty!’

The Good Stuff: The Sontaran drones look fabulous dancing about in the night sky. Tycho is a modern day Pharos Project (their mission statement to seek out alien life is exactly the same). Silent windy forests always make for great locations. There are quite a few clever innovations to the Sontarans that are made throughout this story which I hope aren’t ignored if they ever return, I love the fact that they can make themselves invisible and the helmet that slices open looks great. The cloaked Sontaran ship proves that once again SJA is at the cutting edge of modern special effects. Whilst the make up is pretty good, Kaarg’s scar gives his face a far more interesting look than those in Helen Raynor’s two parter. I love that SJA can pick up threads from a Doctor Who episode and give them added depth. The flashback scene justifies this whole approach, giving a whole new dimension to the conclusion of The Poison Sky and featuring some blistering special effects as the escape pod leaves fiery trail through the forest (plus Kaarg screaming with blood oozing down his face is surprisingly nasty for CBBC). Kaarg wants to bring down the satellites and destroy the Earth, one lonesome alien gaining revenge for his species. The music as Kaarg pursues the kids down the gloomy concrete tunnels is fantastic; this really is the cutting edge of children’s television. Getting Chrissie in on the act is the best idea ever but it is such a shame it means it is the last we will see of her character. Alan’s quietly embarrassed ‘Mr Smith…I need you’ makes for a chucklesome moment. Don’t treat Chrissie like a fool, she is intelligent enough to realise her daughters life is in danger. For a couple of minutes it becomes Dawson’s Creek for kids as Maria tells Luke she is going but it is beautifully played and scored. The drones that pursue Luke and Maria through the forest are filmed with dizzying dramatic handheld camerawork. Kaarg is such a great Sontaran, wanting to clear his name and wiping the Sontaran defeat from history. The ship taking off is another exemplary effects shot. Seeing Alan and Maria go is sad but giving it a more thoughtful twist is Chrissie keeping mum about what she knows and giving her family a new start – that’s typical Sarah Jane Adventures, giving these characters some depth that makes them so much more than stereotypes. 

The Bad Stuff: The huge satellite looks so cumbersome atop that tiny building! I’m glad that Sarah Jane and Maria realised something was wrong because the returning Professor is clearly a total zombie! A role-playing game? Come on Alan, you’re as bad as your daughter at this! We could have done without Lucy the sleeper agent; one zombie is more than enough thank you.

The Shallow Bit: A totally shallow observation but I really don’t like Sarah Jane’s season two hairdo! Astonishing how a haircut can make you look older. Thank God Daniel Anthony is in his 20’s or I would find it highly disturbing (potentially illegal!) that he is so hot. Another attractive dad, Skinner is a not your typical scientist on this sort of show!

Result: The characters are growing up and the show is moving on, The Last Sontaran is beautifully directed and scored and proves a fine coming of age story. It is a far better Sontaran story than the series four epic because there is something far more effective in encapsulating the species through one character as exemplified in The Time Warrior. Phil Ford manages to write Maria out with some style, give Chrissie a great role and innovate a well-known Doctor Who species within his script. Given all this and some good old fashioned running about and quips, The Last Sontaran is quietly masterful and an excellent way to kick of series two. What strikes me as particularly impressive about The Last Sontaran is that it isn't one of SJA's big hitters and yet it is still very, very good indeed: 8/10

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Big Finish CDs in bundles for sale

Morning folks,

I am having a mass clear out of items in my collection of late (and if I'm honest I have access to these stories from various friends and could really do with the space) and am selling most of the first 100 Big Finish CDs on Ebay. There has already been some interest but if you are interested in purchasing the first century of main range audios then you might want to take a look at these links, the auctions of which finish on Sunday afternoon.

Have a great day, guys and gals. - The Pirates autographed by Colin Baker

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Random Shoes written by Jacquetta May and directed by James Erskine

This story in a nutshell: Gwen investigates the death of a man whose dreams have all been shattered…

Jack’s Crew (Gwen): It's really interesting to see how outsiders look at the Torchwood crew because they seem to look at them in precisely the same way as the audience, a bunch of selfish, narcissistic, ill moraled creeps. At least Gwen says hi to Eugene when he tries to contact Torchwood, all the rest just push him away and drive off. It almost feels as though Gwen is trying to make up for how she treated Eugene and it is to her credit that she responsibly wants to investigate his death even though all the others think it is a waste of time. Owen turns on her and shouts out that she thinks she is the only one with a heart – I’m really glad that somebody has pointed this out because a pulse is what is so often lacking in this organisation. Owen tries to convince that the rest of them are human as well but there is little evidence of that in the first season. It's really rather lovely that a romance plays out between Gwen and Eugene without her even realising it and as such it doesn’t leave an ugly taste in the mouth like her casual shagging with Owen does. Her reaction when Eugene saves her life is so exquisitely performed by Eve Myles it gives me goosebumps every time I see it.

Geeky Genius: Speaking as somebody who has disappointed by his own father and lost him because of it I found the scene where Eugene fudges up the maths contest on film with his father bellowing ‘Don’t let me down boy!’ deeply uncomfortable. Paul Chequer gives an outstanding performance in what turns out to be an unprecedented move in Torchwood, a character that is completely likeable. Eugene is a dreamer, he looks to the stars to make his own dreary life more exciting which is honestly what a lot of us do but wont readily admit it. When Eugene comments that life can be such a let down and his discovery that his father isn’t the powerful man he thought he was but a complete failure and that he wanted nothing to do with him I wondered if this script had been drawn entirely from my experiences. He’s very keen on Gwen but cannot touch her which makes his quiet obsession all the more touching. The eye has given him the chance to look back on his life and see it for what it really was. He realises his dad wasn’t superman, just an ordinary bloke. His last message to the audience that life is amazing and that it flies by so quickly is even more magnificent than Elton’s summary in Love & Monsters because it is being relayed by an even more subtle character. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘All those cars. All those lives moving through space.’
‘The average life is full of near misses and absolute hits, of great love and small disasters. Its made up of banana milkshakes, loft insulation and random shoes. Its dead ordinary and truly, truly amazing. What you’ve got to realise is its all here, now. So breathe deep and swallow it whole because, take it from me, life just whizzes by, and then, all of a sudden its…’

The Good Stuff: I absolutely love the juxtaposition of David Bowie’s Starman and our whizz through the solar system from the point of view of little Eugene. If there is a better example of a child staring in wonder at the universe (outside of a Paul Magrs book) I have yet to see it. The scenes of Eugene’s mum grieving are heartbreakingly observed and her line ‘that’s his tea, there’ is the most devastatingly normal thing a mother with a broken heart could say. There is a scene where Gwen visits the café and Eugene realises that someone that he sees everyday doesn’t even know who he is, an eye opening moment realising how selfish people can be. Josh is such a vile bit of sleaze who is always looking out for himself regardless of anybody’s feelings and lacking charm or subtlety, I’ve met plenty of guys like him. It's funny that the two episodes where Gwen takes on a personal mission, Random Shoes and Adrift, are two of the most profoundly moving in Torchwood's canon. The story of how the Eye was sold in Ebay is wonderfully done (the music is phenomenal here)… so good Psyhcoville nabbed it for one of their more blackly funny moments. The scenes where Eugene realises his friends have been preying on his desire to meet an alien and shatter his dreams so cruelly just to make some money are unbearable. Imagine if the last time you saw a friend they looked into your eyes and realised you had betrayed them? The funeral scene really chokes me up, it's never played sentimentally (like, say, the excesses of Father’s Day), it just feels real. The last scene in Random Shoes is easily the most uplifting an eurphoric moment I have seen on television in a long time, I can watch it over and over and it will always make my eyes prickle.

Result: I was thinking of giving up on Torchwood and Random Shoes single handedly restored my faith in the series, at last producing something I considered to be exceptional drama. It dwells on the moments that make life worthwhile whilst at the same time exposing the utter banality of everyday living. The performances are of an extremely high standing and Paul Chequer is far more likable and pleasant to watch than any of the Torchwood crew. Random Shoes is capable of moments of choking depth and this episode makes extraordinary comments on family life and obsession. So many emotions beats hit home for me in this gentle, heartfelt episode, easily one of Torchwood’s quietest efforts and one of the best. The ending never fails to make me want to hug the TV: 9/10

They Keep Killing Suzie written byPaul Tomalin & Dan McCulloch and directed by James Strong

This story in a nutshell: Suzie is back...

Hunky Hero: John Barrowman somehow manages to out-camp himself in each successive episode in season one. Every time they try and make him look butch or like a leader I just walk away with the impression that he is some kind of pantomime baddie, jumping on stage in tights with his hands on his hips. It's so peculiar because I never got this impression at all during any of his appearances on Doctor Who. It is the extremes of characterisation they give him on Torchwood, I think. 

Jack’s Crew: It takes Gwen who seems to be the only character this season to have a couple of brain cells at her disposal (no morals mind) that these murders are because of Torchwood and so the organisation is responsible for doing something about them. Jack saying ‘Torchwood’ one last time to set the psycho off again for no reason isn’t clever or funny. It's like he honestly doesn’t give a shit about any of people they come into contact with in the world. The fact that the writers seem to think that that is some kind of punch the air moment goes to prove who badly they misjudged this episode. When Gwen calls him on this issue and suggests that he never bothers to get close to anybody or figure out how they might feel about being given access to such incredible technology is valid. They’ve taken a charming, rougish character from Doctor Who and turned him into an arrogant, one dimensional bully. I’d hardly say that is a step in the right direction. Barrowman gives an exceptionally weak performance here, stressing every word as though it was his last and growling and snarling at the oddest of moments.

What is all this nonsense about Ianto and his stopwatch? Because he likes and instrument that measures time does that replace any need for him to display any character? Once RTD took a good long look at Torchwood and realised it had a hugely dramatic birthing trauma and decided to pull it into shape, the Jack/Ianto relationship would turn out to be one of the more satisfying relationships on the show but there is no escaping that at this point, given what we have been told about these characters that the relationship lacks any believability.  Ianto has been set up as the token straight man in this series, he got angry with Jack when he flirted with him earlier in the season and had a nervous breakdown when the love of his life was turned into a Cyberwoman and eating by a pterodactyl (no I’m not joking). He even told Jack he would get his revenge on him for trying to force him to kill her. And now all of a sudden Ianto is bisexual and wants to go down on the very man he was swearing bloody vengeance on a few weeks ago? Are they making this up as they go along? I refuse to believe that everybody in this ludicrous organisation has such loose morals that they can jettison any feelings they might have had for a lost love so quickly and change their sexuality in a heartbeat. It is just more farcical titillation that might appeal to those who want to use this show as cheap softcore porn but for those of us who think with the brain in our heads it doesn’t make any sense and lacks consistency.

The Good: The massive hole in the back of Suzie’s head is as preposterous as the rest of the episode but it is the one moment when the episode made me smile – it was a touch of black humour that actually worked.

Dreadful Dialogue:
‘If it's someone we’ve pissed off that narrows it down to…ooh four or five million!’ ‘And that’s just the humans.’
‘Ee’s got Retcon in his blood!’
‘Hey what if they all become psychotic?’
‘Life knife!’
‘Like you said…I’m the boss!’
‘You’re locked inside your own base!’
‘I’m going to kill you Suzie Costello! Once and for all!’ ‘But would you do that? When there’s a part of me that’s her!’
‘How much more of this do you want?’

The Bad: Even the pre titles sequence seems unbelievably ropey in these post Children of Earth days – ‘Outside the government, beyond the police…’ – oh fuck off and have a penis reduction already because the autonomy the government allows you is clearly going to your head. Hilariously Torchwood turns up in the first scene in their gigantic SUV with big, bold music wearing ray bans and long flowing jackets and parading up to the police in slow motion. I have honestly never seen a more ridiculous, overblown, cartoon bunch of regulars in my entire life. How the actors took this at all seriously is beyond me. I am almost willing to bet that they thought they would wind up coming across as the ultimate expression of cool...until the rushes started coming in. Finding the word Torchwood smeared in blood on the wall by a pair of corpses with their throats slit is a gruesomely memorable image but all the pomp and circumstance around it blunts the impact. The episode should have begun without Torchwood even present, panning across the room slowly, past the bodies and onto the wall to reveal the message.  ‘Your name written their blood…you did this Captain Jack Harkness!’ - the sublety bus missed this town. As soon as it transpires that murders are being committed in their name the government should have immediately have shut down this operation, in season one that would be no great loss. An amnesiac pill called ‘Retcon?’ Really? Of all the names at their disposal couldn’t Davies and his team come up with something less fanwanky than that? All the shitty dialogue about naming the resurrection gauntlet belongs in a school playground. Did this dialogue really go through an editor (‘What about the risen mitten?’)? It feels as though resurrection is dabbled in purely to upset the religious aspect of the audience (probably a very small percentage) rather than for a creative motive. It always seems to be raining in Torchwood, have you ever noticed? Jack suggests that Gwen’s whole life will be packed away and go unnoticed after she dies because she was a part of Torchwood? Why? What a horribly cynical point if view. How could she possibly be any danger after she has died? What about all those assistants of the Doctor’s walking about having witnessed all kinds of aliens and advanced technology? Why doesn’t the Doctor retcon them? Oh yeah because he isn’t a complete moron trying to pretend that the life he offers them is something so powerful that they cannot be trusted with the knowledge. It shows little faith in your employees. There’s this massive drama about bringing Suzie back to life but she wasn’t exactly scary in the first place…merely a mild annoyance but this is Torchwood so WE’VE GOT TO TREAT EVERYTHING SERIOUSLY. I’ve seen Indira Varma in other programmes (she took part in a dramatisation of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls and she was astonishing) but saddling her with the character of Suzie gives her nothing to play about with. It's a dreary performance for a dreary role without a hint of charisma or screen presence. I could feel my lust for life ebbing with every second I spent with the character. Apparently a nightclub full of hot sweaty kids dancing is the height of cool. Not on my watch. The beefy bloke that goes nuts in the Torchwood cells is beyond funny, what a truly dreadful performance he gives. Owen only discovers that Suzie is leeching life energy from Gwen because he checks the revivals recordings…why exactly? There’s no logic behind any of this. Scenes of the police laughing at Jack and his idiot staff locked in their own base was written with such a puerile sense of humour I was banging my head on the desk. Suzie suggests that there is ‘nothing, just nothing…’ after death which is about right for Torchwood’s bleak look at life. ‘If words caused the lockdown maybe numbers reverse it! Try the ISBN!’ – what the hell? Where is the logic in that? Where does Jack get his staff from? I’m not sure how but despite being so overblown throughout the race against time conclusion that this episode sports manages to lack any drama whatsoever. Putting Eve Myles in daft contact lenses doesn’t convincingly suggest she is being shot in the head slowly. It goes from night to day in about two minutes. Of course Suzie can’t resist giving Gwen a kiss on the lips before she goes because everybody is bisexual in Torchwood. Jack pumping bullets into Suzie is a horrible ending to a horrible episode.Hang on, hang on, hang on…Suzie set all this up from beginning to end under the assumption that she might die at some point and would need some kind of method to get herself brought back to life? She set up a revenge plan for somebody who she hasn’t even met yet? This script is such mouldy old dick cheese. It is so badly written it has me physically attacking my keyboard. Apparently if she dies and doesn’t see Max for three months he becomes a ticking time bomb and her orders kick in…he follows Suzie’s programme and starts killing and the whole chain of events forces them to bring her back from the dead and then she escapes. All so she could kill her abusive father. How does Suzie know that death is such a terrifying concept so she has to set up this bollocks if she hasn’t died yet? It's the most convoluted load of fanny fluff…it is so full of holes and implausibilities it isn’t even worth discussing. I give up.

Result: Another season one disaster; a stupid, camp, specious mess of an episode that lacks any conviction or style. It's not a script that follows logical narrative progression but one that takes massive leaps, either ridiculous (bringing someone back from the dead to get the next clue, Suzie’s impossibly brainless plan) or so painfully simple it is cringe-worthy (the code that stops the Torchwood shut-down is an ISBN of Susie’s favourite book). The Keep Killing Suzie leaps from one illogical set piece to another, drowning in melodramatic dialogue, abysmal characterisation (don’t get me started on that last scene again), lacking any kind of morality or decency of tone and poisoned with a depressing, moribund, almost unwatchable atmosphere. I’m not saying it’s not quite the nadir of televised drama (because that’s Cyberwoman) but if you had to point at something and say it is as bad as TV gets at the moment my finger would be heading towards this episode. I remember when I first watched this with my hubbie and we were both on the verge of giving up on this terrible show that promised so much and had delivered so little. This was almost the last straw. Had Random Shoes not been as good as it was I doubt I would have continued to have had a relationship with Torchwood:1/10

Monday, 13 April 2015

Countrycide written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Andy Goddard

This story in a nutshell: A cannibal community has begun their harvest in the Brecon Beacons…

The Torchwood Crew: This is more of an ensemble than we have seen so far and it is nice to see everybody working together (or should that be dying together) in such an effective way. There is the usual too much focus on sex (this really is the horniest unit ever to have been assembled on television) but I appreciated the effort Chibnall went to to separate them from all their usual tacky comforts and focussing on their core professional strengths. Plus it's nice to see the usually unflappable Torchwood crew genuinely frightened out of their wits for a change, they often belittle the drama of the piece by taking the piss out of everything but here they are really in risk of being pummelled to death with a baseball bat and eaten. Nasty. Everybody getting on in Torchwood is what we call in the trade a miracle and this week they are off on a team building exercise to the Brecon Beacons. They play who’s the last person you snogged and for Owen it was Gwen (which earns her a ‘didn’t take you long to get your feet under the table’ from Tosh) and for Tosh it was also Owen but last Christmas which shows that she doesn’t have much interest at the moment. Owen and Gwen almost have a clinch in the woods where he tries to chat her up with some of the ugliest lines you will hear a character on TV say. Clearly Gwen is tempted because her relationship with Rhys is cosy and yet with Owen it would be dangerous and unpredictable and it scares the shit out of her. Does Jack ever get scared? Ianto looks far less stiff in civvies, it's nice to see him out and about in jeans. Jack is the only character I can think of who would look this camp bursting onto a grisly horror scene brandishing a shot gun. Tosh is surprisingly calm in captivity and it appears she gets a high from the danger her lifestyle provides and thinks the dangers are worth the risk to protect people. Torchwood seems a little in denial about the evils of the world, always trying to blame the rift for horrors that are much closer to home. Jack knows how to torture people…he used to be the ‘go to’ guy for the Time Agency because he knew precisely where to apply pressure and cause the maximum hurt. Owen finally gets his way with Gwen and she proves what a weak woman she is after all. Alas, the only likable character in Torchwood joins the others in being selfish and self centred. What an ugly world these characters live in.

God-awful Torchwood sex talk: ‘Need a hand getting it up Owen?’
‘When was the last time you screwed all night? When was the last time you cam so long and so hard you forgot where you are?’

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Every ten years it takes us again. The harvest.’
‘We’re all just meat.’
‘Time to be bled.’

The Good Stuff: The teaser is a superbly directed horror set piece; driving through the countryside at night, a body in the road that turns out to be a fake to lure our victim her from the car, the tyres let down slowly, the keys stolen, scraping sounds on the roof when she tries to hide inside the car, dragged off into the hills…clichés all but only clichés because they work and directed this brutally it is a stark and terrifying sequence. The Brecon Beacons are moody and gorgeous and our heroes look dwarfed by the isolated, rocky backdrop. There’s a skinned corpse in the forest attracting flies and maggots, understandably putting two members of Torchwood off of their horny clinch. The SUV is stolen (it should have been the end of the camp as Christmas vehicle) which traps our heroes (and I use the term loosely) in the Beacon . I love how Chibnall builds this story as having a supernatural horror with unseen, growling POVs because it makes the truth that these are just insane ordinary people all the more disturbing. A bloody corpse in the kitchen, rotting food, an abandoned village, what a brilliantly unpleasant atmosphere this episode conjures. There are lots of shots of unseen characters darting across the camera out of sight of our heroes. Being locked up in a cellar is another horror cliché but this time there is a fridge full of human meat (and all the shoes and clothes of previous victims really sells how many people have ended up this way). The reveal of bloody meat hanging up in the kitchen in bloody plastic is one that always turns my stomach. It’s probably the sickest moment in Torchwood, so disturbing in its clinical directness proving that occasionally the shows lack of subtlety can yield the right results. When you realise these are just regular people (regular as in human beings rather than flesh devouring aliens from the rift, cannibalistic in-breds are hardly your average citizen in the Beacons) harvesting human meat the episode gets even more frightening. The meat has to be tenderised and they smack people to death with a baseball bat. Lovely. Tosh runs through the woods in true horror movie style and the music here is brilliant. Owen Teale’s Evan is the scariest thing I have seen on television in many a year, purring like a cat and licking his lips. It is an actor committing completely to a loathsome role. For once you feel that the gang is in real danger and there isn’t an alien in sight! Every generation this village harvest human meat, once a decade. Denying Gwen the answers she needs to understand why they have done this gives the end of the episode a little more frisson.

The Bad Stuff: ‘Does anyone know you’re here?’ – come on Tosh and Ianto surely you aren’t going to fool for that ‘I’m in the same boat as you and want to know if you’ve managed to call for outside help?’ routine. Gwen and Owen are just as stupid not realising that the policeman is one of them. Torchwood really is on the retarded side sometimes. This story seems to promote the idea that the Welsh are a bunch of primitive, violent, cannibalistic in-breds. Hardly the sort of attention the tourist board craves. What a shame the ending is so bloody and brainless, it makes Jack look stupid for not being able to think up anything smarter than driving through the wall and gunning everybody down. Mind you how else could an episode this bloodthirsty end?

Result: Countrycide is a mini horror movie, brainless but very scary and very nasty. It is full of clichés of the genre but staged with such brutal clarity it transcends the stereotyped nature of the script and is ultimately a very effective and genuinely frightening slice of horror. The cannibal community is a ridiculous idea that they somehow manage to pull off with some of the most disturbing nasties around  doing some very sick things to our heroes and denying them any sense of closure. It's interesting that it takes something this nasty to make us feel sorry for the regulars at this point, they are so vile themselves that it takes a bunch of people even more loathsome to revolt them. This wont be everybody’s cup of tea but as a huge fan of the genre I found it gripping, stylish and thoroughly enjoyable to watch: 8/10

Saturday, 11 April 2015

The Keeper of Traken written by Johnny Byrne and directed by John Black

This story in a nutshell: An Empire being held together by people just being terribly nice to each other...

Teeth and Curls: Despite the fact that you can feel that both the series and the actor is winding down to the departure of the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker is still on fine form for his penultimate story. Witty and avuncular, intelligent and thoughtful and even surprisingly gentle in places, I don't think there is a single moment in season eighteen where the character falters. He doesn't know all the planets in N-Space, just the interesting ones. If he knew everything that was going to happen then where would the fun be? How gorgeous is his chemistry with the Keeper, especially when he sympathises with the aching passing of time on the body (very fitting in season eighteen). When the chips are down and Tremas does not want to give the Doctor the plans for the Source Manipulator the Doctor is at his most vicious and sarcastic. I certainly wouldn't want to be in his way when he gets like that. He laughs when dangerous thoughts pop into his head.

Pudding Bowl Haircut: It is bizarre how well Adric fits with Tom Baker's Doctor as he was originally envisaged, the cheeky monkey who would get a clout around the ear by the most acerbic of Doctors. It was when he was partnered with Davison's moderate Doctor where things started to go very wrong because suddenly Adric felt as though he could throw his weight around and betray the Doctor on a whim and still hop back in the TARDIS at the end of every adventure. He would try any of that shit with Tom Baker's sizeable incarnation or he would get a smack and a boot out of the TARDIS into the vortex. Yeah, it's surreal how well these two characters match because Baker and Waterhouse are two actors that probably should never have come together (it's like pairing up Laurence Olivier and Hayden Christensen). In the immense shadow cast by the fourth Doctor Adric is pensive, subtle and always trying to impress. Waterhouse rarely looks natural on screen but when he is with Baker, he is really trying and that is as good as it is going to get. Adric is being given opportunities that he never should have had and the Doctor reminds him of that fact. He spends much of the story sneaking about and behaving mischievously, something that cannot be helped given that he is cast into the role of a trouble maker at the Doctor's side. His rapport with Nyssa is very sweet, they probably be the most boring couple in the universe but I do think they would last the distance.

Alien Orphan: It is bizarre to re-visit Nyssa in her very first story because I feel as if I have written so many words about this character and her astonishing development over at Big Finish Towers. On the basis of her performance in this story, I wouldn't say that Nyssa was ideal companion material but that is mainly because for an introductory story she is on the periphery of the action for a lot of the time. Saying that I think Sutton acquits herself beautifully as ever. Like the rest of her tenure she might no always be given the spotlight but she makes sure she is always doing something in the background, quietly stealing the limelight. I like characters that surprise and whilst Nyssa is never going to be a candidate for Traken, Warrior Woman she sure comes in handy with an ion bonder when the Master's grip tightens on them in the latter episodes.

Hehehe: If you are going to complain about a spoiler that the Master features in The Keeper of Traken then tough shit, you're about 30 odd years too late to have a whinge. Now listen up because I wont say this very often about the character during the eighties...what a triumphant return for the character. It is expertly woven into the story and a genuine surprise when it is revealed and Bidmead and Byrne even go to the effort of ensuring that continuity is maintained between The Deadly Assassin and this (I'm not so fussed about continuity and canon but there are an army of Doctor Who fans out there that would happily strangle the two creative minds behind this story for messing about with either). The pullback to reveal that the statue is a TARDIS with the Master inside watching events is one of the most dramatically satisfying twists the show. Entirely unsuspected and fan pleasing but expertly built into the narrative. It's not until Utopia that the Master would make such a calculated and yet thrilling return. Episode four is the best of the lot because it takes the best of Traken society and twists the knife in, the Master perversely turning the planet to poison. Beevers matches the theatrical tone of the rest of the story and as a result he is nowhere near as terrifying as Peter Pratt was in The Deadly Assassin but he does savour the dialogue with some relish. It's a shame we never saw what else Beevers might have done with the part on screen because his elevation to the de facto Master over at Big Finish Towers (especially in stories such as Master) shows that he has perfected purring menace.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'A whole Empire being held together by people just being terribly nice to each other.'
'It's a pity about that poor chap having to sit in that chair for thousands of years but it is magnificent.'
'What can't be cured must be endured.'
'This types not really my forte.'

The Good:
* Traken itself deserves a great of discussion because it is one of the most full formed and realised worlds that Doctor Who ever presented. That's the interesting thing about the season that Chris Bidmead script edited, he wasn't really interested in dragging Doctor Who into contemporary times and plonking the TARDIS down on Earth every five minutes - he wanted to head out into the universe and see what was out there (in his own cold, calculated way). I don't think there is a single season that shies away from the Earth as much as season eighteen (and that is saying a lot coming off the back of the Williams era which populated Doctor Who with so many insanely colourful worlds), we get to see Brighton beach at the beginning of the year and London at the end but the heart of this season is beating for fairytale worlds bewitched by science. And Traken is perhaps the greatest representation of that. It is a planet with customs, politics, backstabbing, harmony, style, a class system, military, myths, has in every respect been thought through (with the design giving the details in the script an even greater boost). Despite it's fairytale leanings, I can believe in this world and there are plenty in the shows run that I don't (Aridius, Dulkis, Atlantis both times, the underworld, Galifrey (of Arc of Infinity), Karfel and Lakertya to name one from each Doctor). It has been built up to such an extent that when the flames die and the Keeper dies it feels like a palpable event that will fundamentally change the lives of everybody on this planet, despite the fact that we have only seen a handful of people.
* Roger Limb and I have a very unstable relationship. Sometimes we get along famously when a director reigns in his electronic excesses and forces him down an instrumental path (Graeme Harper mostly) but more often than not he is polluting a story with wall to wall synth that is unpleasant enough to turn make mould grow on your pubic hair, whatever sex you might be. I'm looking at Four to Doomsday, Arc of Infinity and Terminus in particular. However you can begin to understand why he was booked originally after you have taken a listen to the score for Traken, which is wistful, poetic and lustrous. Don't get me wrong it is still being produced by fondling with a computer until it bleeps with pleasure so there is no doubt that this synth city but within that remit it is remarkably atmospheric for the most part.
* I love the unusual structure to the story in episode with the entirety of the planet, its customs and populace being revealed to the Doctor (and the audience) before we even step forward on the planet. With the Keeper popping by for a cuppa we get a built in mystery and gloomy portents whilst he takes control of the ship and pilots them to the Union. 
* Isn't it melancholic to think that Anthony Ainley gives possibly his finest performance in his first Doctor Who story with countless appearances still to come. There are two times when I think he really rocks it as the Master (The Five Doctors and Survival) but I think his two memorable moments in the show are as Tremas and the Portreeve in Castrovalva. Tremas is your token nice guy and that is not an easy role to make interesting (think Kimus in The Pirate Planet or Gebek in Monster of Peladon) but Ainley makes him an engaging character, inquisitive and funny, a caring husband and father, politically savvy and confrontational. He's a great character and so likeable it almost makes me wish that he had hopped into the TARDIS at the end of the story and the Master had jumped Adric's bones (an evil Matthew Waterhouse...after what I heard in Dark Shadows that might have been worth seeing!).
* The Melkur statue is one of the most beautifully designed pieces of work to have sprung from the classic series; solid, stylish, fearsome and a little bit sexy. Watching a stature lumbering about the sets should be cumbersome and clunky (The Stones of Blood) but with the lighting down, the movements fluid and eyes aglow it is quite a visually stunning exercise. Add in the silky menace of Geoffrey Beevers voice and the disquieting effect is complete.
* The closing scene of Traken is entirely unexpected and exciting, the thought of a younger Master distilled from such a good man and corrupted, is really stimulating. At this point we had no idea that we would ever see Nyssa again so

The Bad:

* Sheila Ruskin doesn't give a bad performance, per se but it does take theatrical to a whole new level in television terms. It almost works within the confines of this story because this is the Doctor Who equivalent of 'shouting at night' (as Patrick Troughton would put it) but there is the odd occasion where her performance rockets to the stratosphere and you're left checking the door hoping that nobody walks in that isn't a fan and you blush down to your toes. 'The evil is here before you! Before your eyes!' she exclaims, hands fluttering before her face before she faints as if all this melodrama is too much for her. At least you can't say she doesn't go for it.
* I'm not sure why any director opts for the painted on eyes effect to suggest glowing orbs. It never looks convincing even with the addition of CSO.
* Science intruded on the series in a very profound way in season eighteen and took what could be some fun stories and made them a lot colder and more clinical than they perhaps needed to be. Sometimes it worked out well (Full Circle, Warriors' Gate) but sometimes it was like the elephant in the room, intruding when the series should be all about adventuring. The Leisure Hive, Logopolis and The Keeper of Traken would all be more enjoyable if the technobabble had been toned down a little. Frankly the show comes across as being a little pretentious because of it and I cannot think of another period, before or since, where I would point that particular finger at Doctor Who. When the Doctor is trying to find a way to defeat the Master and he is discussing prime numbers and computations to do so it isn't the most thrilling of methods to dispatch his arch enemy. Pertwee cut through all this nonsense by simply reversing the polarity each week.
* Tom Baker has a huge dribble of snot hanging out of his nose during one scene. How did nobody notice that?
* One point where the studio bound nature of the story is obvious is during the storm sequence as the Keeper dies. It looks exactly as it would if it were being conjured up on stage, a wind machine and some dodgy lightning lighting. It doesn't convince for a moment.

Result: 'They said the atmosphere was so full of goodness that evil just shrivelled up and died. Maybe that's why I never went there...'  Depending on what you are after in Doctor Who (cerebral or exciting, stylish or dynamic) The Keeper of Traken is either the most thrilling prospect or a theatrical snooze fest. Fortunately I like both approaches (I'm starting to wonder if I'm in love with ALL Doctor Who, whether it is good or bad) and so I can see a great deal to admire in this prosaic entry even if I wish it ditched the technobabble and the direction was tightened up. I couldn't decide whether it belonged under the good or bad column so I'm going to discuss John Black's direction here. He's cursed with the early to mid eighties static camera issue, making me wonder if they were just too heavy to budge about the studio (I jest) and leaving the actors to move around the set whilst he pops off for tea and crumpets. This is in no way a dynamic story or even a particularly imaginatively shot one. However where he scores massively is his collaboration with the design department, ensuring that the sets and costumes dazzle the eye and cheat the viewer into thinking that this has been realised far more stylishly than it in fact has. He would pull off the same trick in Four to Doomsday but the script is working against him there. With Traken he has a lustrously designed planet, rich in colours and baroque design which is tied to an intriguing narrative with some genuine surprises and drama up its sleeves. It's so visually decorative and dramatically satisfying, it's like a perfect magic trick. You've a number of towering performances from Tom Baker, Anthony Ainley, Geoffrey Beevers and John Woodnutt plus a wealth of memorable lines to savour too. With the advent of the return of the Master, Traken has possibly the best ace up its sleeve of the season, even more impressive than the Doctor's regeneration in the next story. I want this to be an absolute powerhouse but it is a little too slothenly for that but if every Doctor Who story was constructed with this much care the entire run would be elevated slightly. Theatrical, melodramatic but also detailed and surprising: 7/10