Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Boy That Time Forgot written by Paul Magrs and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: A lost world. A prehistoric civilization. A dark secret. The Doctor and Nyssa find themselves transported from Victorian London back to the dawn of time, accompanied by debonair adventurer Rupert Von Thal and no-nonsense novelist Beatrice Mapp. Together these unlikely heroes must brave primitive jungles and battle ravening insects as they make their way to the city of the giant scorpions, ruled over by... The Boy That Time Forgot.

An English Gentleman: Considering his exile on Earth during his third incarnation it is odd that I have come to rely on the TARDIS so much to recognise the show as Doctor Who and to the point where having a story that bypasses the ship completely feels very fresh and original. To see the Doctor having to rely on his wits with no chance of escape and to find new ways to travel about is very refreshing. I wouldn’t ever extract the TARDIS from Doctor Who permanently - it is the most wonderful plot expediency that has allowed to visit all manner of places and times - but as a diversion from the norm The Boy That Time Forgot offers an intriguing alternative.

When the Doctor says that some of his best friends have been human beings Nyssa comments that she has never understood that (but then I guess her only example of long term exposure to humans is Tegan and that would be enough to put anybody off the species). The Doctor considered Adric headstrong, argumentative and loyal (hmm I’ll go with the first two but I’m not so sure about the last…perhaps the Doctor chooses to remember him that way after their painful parting). Telling Adric to grow up must have been extremely satisfying for both the Doctor and Peter Davison! There’s a lovely moment when the Doctor bowls out one of the scorpions. He wonders how he makes such a mess of things sometimes and Nyssa sympathises, saying she knows how hard it must be just being him. Listen to Davison as the TARDIS appears – he sounds absolutely overjoyed like a kid who has been told he can go into a sweet shop!

Alien Orphan: Nyssa objects to being called a maid or an assistant. She has spent a little while in the Victorian period and she is glad to be out of it because they pretend to be civilised and yet they enslave and exploit the rest of the world. Filling it with foul smoking fumes, creating wars, revelling in inequality. Poor Nyssa has to put with the thought of this decrepit Adric lusting and longing for her after all these years. He always thought that they had so much in common, both so young, orphans and dependant on the Doctor. Nyssa did love the awkward, frustrated, pig headed boy. Nyssa’s ‘stop touching me!’ is unbelievably creepy.

Boy Genius: A lot has been said about the madness of continuing Adric’s tale after his shocking and dramatic departure from the series. The idea has split the audience into two camps, those who find the whole thing tasteless and a waste of time and those who welcome a chance to find some redemption in the character. I’m somewhere on the fence (look, just there…I’m waving) because whilst nothing pleases me more to see fan boys getting in a tizzy when continuity is well and truly trounced for the sake of a good story (something that the master craftsman Robert Holmes was never afraid to do and something that I whole heartedly approve of but then I have never had to have everything fit into one conforming universe – adhering to a set of plot details limits the imagination and that will never do!), Adric’s death was such a gob smacking moment to leave the character on it kind of blunts the impact to think that he survived after all and that Tegan was right to want to go after him! Big Finish and Paul Magrs must have known that they were opening a big slimy can of worms when they fronted this idea and I respect them for going with it even when it would cause such a uproar from the anally retentive malfeasance quarter. However despite my reservations as to whether this story needed telling the very idea of poor Adric (and I never thought I would put those two words together) being abandoned in such a harsh wilderness is a pretty dramatic idea to explore and considering he always was pretty emotionally challenged (‘Why isn’t he here! Why is he never around when you waaaant him!’ etc) the resentment this abandonment has bred makes for some pretty juicy scenes. All this discussion and I haven’t even mentioned Andrew Sachs who gives a wonderfully convincing, snivelling and aggrieved performance as our favourite Alzarian and pretty much wipes out any memory of Matthew Waterhouse playing the role by actually bringing him to life with a degree of skill. Sorry Matthew, but this is how its done. What I really love about this insanity is that Magrs has taken all of the characteristics about Adric that were just bubbling under during his time on the show – his affection for Nyssa, his resentment of the Doctor’s likeability and intelligence, his inability to connect with people and his penchant for working for the enemy and lets those qualities run wild with a delicious dark edge to them. It’s a controversial take on his character for sure but one that is well observed and thoughtful. A barmy idea then but one that is pull off with some style.

Has an affinity with spiders and all creatures with an ability to weave timelines through mathematics. Adric has been languishing here in this prehistoric wilderness for many years and his indignity at being abandoned by the Doctor has changed his perspective on their meeting. He no longer considers that he chose to leave with the Doctor but that he was kidnapped. All this time in a place like this can turn your thoughts bitter and they can turn to revenge. Adric throws the Doctor into his pets lair to ‘give him a little scare’ – have no doubt about it, the nasty little git is capable of exactly this sort of menace. Adric needs Nyssa to love him and she wants to stay here and be his Queen. He might be an old man but he is still a child at heart. When he escapes his world he feels a terrible guilt that he has abandoned his friends but the desire to be amongst people again after 500 years it was just too strong to resist escape. He’s completely deranged by his experiences after so long and starts talking to every day Earth insects and trying to get them to talk in binary. Adric tells Brewster that if you don’t belong anywhere, in any time then the best thing is to stay with the Doctor.

Standout Performance: There wasn’t a performance that really stood out as being more impressive than the others but there isn’t a weak link here. It’s a very strong cast that work very effectively together. Certainly Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton continue to do fantastic work together and you have to bow down to Davison’s idea that the fifth Doctor and Nyssa would have been strong enough to carry the series.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘My blade simply bounces off its chitinous hide!’
‘My what big eyes you’ve got!’
‘He’s a glitch in time. An abomination.’
‘I was a brat, wasn’t I?’
‘A sticky cobweb in time with me at the centre.’
‘Did you say Teegarna?’ ‘It was the name given to me by His Excellency. In his language it means ‘mouth on legs.’
‘Pike off!’ – the latest version of ‘Spack off!’ but it sounds much ruder!

Great Ideas: It might sounds like absolute madness but the Doctor gathering a crowd for a séance and having them each saying a different binary sequence not only achieves transference when the TARDIS is absent but also proves to be a highly atmospheric sequence of overlapping voices. Block transference is never that quick which is a huge clue as to is behind all of this. Naturally the assembled Victorians think it is some kind of meditative fakir chant. Take the references of St Paul’s Cathedral and a giant termite hill and mix the two together in your mind and fill it with oversized scorpions and you have one of the most intoxicating audio images since the city made up of Dalek casings in Renaissance of the Daleks. A bridge made out of spiders silk. Based on the Logopolitan method of block transfer computation, Adric has the scorpions whispering computations to keep this reality alive. The catacombs are the crashed and burnt remains of the freighter. Dinosaurs never evolved in this version of reality because they were eaten by the scorpions and as the Doctor walks into a charnel house he realises he is being led straight into a trap. When the scorpions devouring the brains of each other they absorb the sentience of their meal. The Star that controls this world is the untutored intelligence that was at the heart of the Cyberman computer on the freighter. It was the Doctor’s unconscious guilt that saved Adric from his death on the freighter – he reached out from the séance and gave him the computations he needed to survive and to create this reality.

Audio Landscape: Jungle wildlife, drawing a machete, moving through foliage, tapping a glass to make a speech, ticking clock, shaking tea tray, creatures scuttling about at the back of your mind, flies buzzing around the crackling flames, the mixture of a strong wind stirring up crackling flames and scorpion mandibles and clacking makes for a discomforting scene, there is a pleasing flashback to Adric’s last moment on the freighter, the humans talking from the scorpions POV is very nicely done (sounds like they are underwater), we actually get to hear Teegarna being eaten which is as uncomfortable as it sounds (especially with all her screaming), church bells, walking on gravel.

Musical Cues: The music in this story drives the pace forwards, there is a constant feeling of momentum to the tale thanks to Steve Foxon’s encouraging music.

Standout Scene: I really loved how Magrs made time to give his guest characters a moment to surprise and shine and Rupert’s admission that he is the great traveller of repute is a lovely moment (‘A day trip to Folkestone was my limit and even then I cam over a bit jippy.’) His sacrifice is a surprisingly poignant moment.

Notes: Was an Adric-centric tale included in this tale to highlight his differences to Brewster in the stories that precede and follow? Remember my discourse on unsatisfying audio cliff-hangers? If you two examples of how it should be done (ie not just moments of danger but actual clever plot twists that change the direction of the story) then episodes one and three end on great examples.

Result: Sometimes I think Paul Magrs has gone stark staring mad and I’m often extremely glad that he has because he adds a welcome touch of the fantastic to a series that can so often get bogged down in the formulaic. You certainly couldn’t say that The Boy That Time Forgot conforms to any of the rules; it has a unique setting, a disparate bunch of characters, it shits all over continuity and it writes the TARDIS out of the equation completely in a way that feels rather permanent. For the most part these innovations conjure up a feeling of originality that is very refreshing and I found my enjoyment fuelled by the thought of fan boys weeping into their Tom Baker underpants and stamping their feet at the thought of continuing Adric’s story. That alone makes the exercise worthwhile. This is easily the darkest of Magrs’ plays by some stretch and benefits because of it, all the evocative fantasy elements are as you would expect but skewed by a sense of the macabre which makes the experience pleasingly disquieting. On the strength of some heated viewpoints I didn’t expect to like this very much and to my delight it turned out to be far more agreeable than the button pushing failure some of repute. It just goes to show – don’t read to reviews before you have heard something. Not even this one. Make up your own mind and mine says this is a worthy coda for Adric with some real bite: 8/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/110-Doctor-Who-The-Boy-That-Time-Forgot

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

THE all time worst Big Finish story ever, just second to that horrible ZAGREUS

Anonymous said...

Poor Fivey, first he encounters a resentful, bitter bitch Tegan in The Gathering, and here a more bitchy Adric.Is not surprising that Peters favorite companion was always Nyssa, LOL

gowelles said...

Well I quite like moments in Zagreus so...

Anyway I thought The Boy That Time Forgot was superb. The Doctor telling Adric to grow up was sublime. As for shtting over continuity? I too enjoy the thought of rigid fan-boys weeping sweet sweet tears. Brilliant.

Anonymous said...

This story made me distance myself from the Fifth Doctor stories until the return of Tegan. Although, I confess that I never liked the stories of the Fifth Doctor with only Nyssa. These are very depressing and Sarah Sutton's voice makes me sleep.

The story sucks, awful in every way, Paul Magrs disappoint me with this story.

Hatred towards Adric, as well to Moffat, I consider it sick and irrational ... Ironically, Adric is a reflection of the current fandom.

Anonymous said...

This is worse than anything Moffat has written. How you might like this piece of shit?

Estro.

Joe Ford said...

Discourteous, grammatically incorrect and ill informed. The most retarded comment I've had in many a month. Congrats :-)

Anonymous said...

Use the Google Translator, that's why. I am Chilean, have any problem with that?

Sorry but I, and many others in the Big Finish forums, consider this story as "The Twin Dilemma" from Big Finish. Others consider it as the "unspeakable" and prefer to pretend that never existed.

This story shows why I do not like the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa, both are weirdos. Prefer the Sixth Doctor and Peri in Big Finish, they show more believable and human emotions.

Anonymous said...

My God. And I thought that Moffat was a real bastard by his rectons and not respecting the RTD continuity.

Dalek Master Planner said...

Putting aside personal tastes, there are only two stories that Big Finish never should have made, over the course of their long history. This is very much number one on that list.

A truly awful idea, horribly implemented. Spiteful, mean spirited trash, that seems to have been made exclusively by and for those who revel in sticking the boot into Matthew Waterhouse and/or the character of Adric, and largely only championed by that self same elements within fandom who always hypocritically see themselves as superior to other fans. This isn't just a poorly forced piece of hollow drama, riddled with cliché and shoehorned full of bad ideas and ineptitude, it's snide, disingenuous, and obnoxious right to its very core. It's like a really awful piece of fan fiction that somehow got made by a bunch of professionals, legitimising it in a way that it frankly never even remotely deserved.

Everyone involved in this should be, at the very least, utterly embarrassed, and those who created and pushed for it, downright ashamed. Though given some of those involved, and their own prior form, I'm sure that is very much not the case.

As it was when originally released, this remains a permanent stain on Big Finish's legacy,

Tango said...

I would like that Moffat make a remake of this story but with Danny Pink as the Scorpion King. He is really an annoying and useless character who I want to see him suffer.

Evan Dawson-Baglien said...

I don’t necessarily hate the idea of undoing an important character death. I’ve liked similar efforts, like “Batman: Under the Red Hood” and “Captain America: Winter Soldier.” But “The Boy that Time Forgot” is a failure, both as a resurrection story, and as a Doctor Who story.

I didn’t like Adric much as a character either. I wouldn’t mind seeing a story where he got some kind of comeuppance for his annoying traits. But this isn’t a story where that happens. It’s a story where Adric is given a bunch of completely new cartoonishly evil traits. If you’re going to dump on a character for his flaws, you should dump on flaws that character actually has, not give them new ones. Making Adric so pathetic and evil is just spiteful and mean-spirited.

Adric would not try to feed the Doctor to a giant spider. He would not try to kidnap Nyssa and force her to marry him. And he would not be racist against an entire alien species. He says that the giant scorpions are too different from him to ever be his friends, but most of the giant scorpions are psychologically identical to humans in every way! Adric should know this, he’s a giant fish monster that’s evolved to resemble a human. The scorpions should have been perfect friends for him.

It’s also a character assassination of the Doctor. Throughout the various portrayals of him, the Doctor has been shown as someone who cares about everyone and will try to save everyone he can. Yet he makes no effort to save the giant scorpions, even though there’s a really obvious way to do it. All the scorpions know block-transfer computing, I assumed when the story began that the way the characters were going to get back home was talking the scorpions into helping them. And I assumed near the end that the Doctor would be able to save the scorpions by showing them how to use block-transfer computing to transport themselves to some other planet and time period where their existence wouldn’t interfere with history.

But, no, the Doctor doesn’t save them. He doesn’t even try. I wouldn’t have minded if he’d tried and failed, or come up with an idea to save the scorpions, only to discard it as impossible. But he doesn’t even consider the possibility that they could be saved.

Doctor Who is supposed to be a show about characters who win by being intelligent and figuring things out. It’s supposed to be a show that gets its awesome moments from when the Doctor and his companions save the day by being incredibly clever. It’s supposed to get its pathos from when the characters fail after trying their hardest. It’s supposed to have a sense of wonder, not just from the Doctor visiting cool places and times, but also from seeing him comprehend the rules and structure of those places and use that comprehension to save the day.

Paul Magrs doesn’t understand this. He writes stories that function on dream-logic and emotion, rather than science-fictional world-building. He’s used to writing literary fiction, but Doctor Who is pure heroic Golden Age science fiction. Doctor Who characters are supposed to be heroic, intelligent, and have agency, not be dim-witted, passive, and broken like literary fiction characters. Doctor Who plots are supposed to be the logical, science-fictional kind of fantastic, not the dreamy, Wonderland sort of fantastic.

This play does have some good things. Stuffy Victorians in science fictional situations are always fun, as are the giant bugs. The performances are good. A few of the ideas are interesting, the way the Doctor saved Adric is cool as an idea if not in execution. These make the play listenable. But at its core, this play is just rotten.

~GrAnT~ said...

I'm amazed by all the strong reactions here. Adric spent 500 years allowing his resentment to warp his memories of his time on the TARDIS. Of course he was going to be different! If you spent 500 years in similar conditions as Adric was, your personality is bound to change to some degree. And all this talk of Paul Magrs being mean spirited in his treatment of Adric seem to overlook the fact that Adric ultimately redeemed himself at the end of the story, proving that no matter how much he changed, he still had enough humanity to save his friends and apologize to the Doctor for his spitefulness by retrieving the TARDIS.

I don't always agree with Joe's reviews, but he's spot on here.

Evan Dawson-Baglien said...

~GrAnT~

I'm actually considerably more upset about what happened to the giant scorpions than what happened to Adric. Seriously, the Doctor just used Block Transfer Computing to travel in time, and it never occurs to him that he could show the scorpions how to use it to escape their time before it collapses. Adric already taught them how to do it!

And the Doctor isn't even sad about it! It's a far cry from when the Third Doctor had nightmares from failing to save a world from volcanic destruction. I don't expect the Doctor to always win, and to always save everyone. But I do expect him to try hard, and to be visibly upset when he fails. And I certainly expect his brilliant mind to be able to figure out a solution I figured out in the process of listening to this episode.

Anonymous said...

Not even Moffat have the balls to do something like this. This is a sick joke.