...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Day 2219: DOCTOR WHO: Phobos



Look at these lovely gifts that I have bought for you: JAMES BOND! AND CARS!

Now you can buy all the rest for ME!

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Humph: Daddy seems more excited by finding this gold “Battles in Time” card

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It’s only some daft woman who’s stared into the heart of the TARDIS!

Meanwhile, Sir Mr the Merciless showed no FEAR today – spot the daytime TV link – facing Mr Andrew "Ice Warrior" Rawnsley in MORTAL COMBAT. Not the computer game.

Mr Sir M has been taking my advice!

On Iraq, he said we need STRATEGY in order to withdraw with honour, and that we SHOULD meet our moral obligations to the people, but through DIPLOMACY and the UNITED NATIONS. Just like I did!

On Lord Blairimort, he said it was time he was GONE! Just like I did.

Now, if only I can get him to take my advice on STICKY BUNS!

Meanwhile, Daddy has been listening to more Doctor Who on the Digital Radio 7. Mr Barnaby Edwards is in one of the BBC's "do you do digital" adverts for that, I mention just in passing!

Daddy can tell you about it while I go and read my his magazine!

Listening afterwards to the "Doctor Who Confidential"… sorry, that should be "Beyond the Vortex", Totally Different – sorry, not "Totally…", either, er… listening to the "making of", Big Finish associate producer Barnaby Edwards was telling us how this was the "high octane" one.

Hmmm. Bit less "high octane" bit more "lo cal" I'm afraid Barney.

For a story about terror, there really weren't so many actual scares in it. Apart from the predictable (but satisfying) pre-title sequence, there were few if any moments that were unnerving or disturbing at all.

Most of the characters seemed to spend their time getting irked, rather than frightened out of their wits, whether it's Lucie annoyed that the Doctor can't park, Farl the non-copyright alien infuriated by the semi-racist gossip, or the Doctor just generally fed up.

The setting is an adventure park for thrill seeking adrenaline junkies (no: "drennies" is not successful fake slang) on Phobos, the second moon of Mars. It must have sounded like a great idea inside writer Eddie Robson's head. But, I suspect that the excitement of throwing yourself into a white water flume or bungee jumping "the wormhole" comes from actually doing it, not from hearing someone try to describe it by making whooping noises in a South London recording studio. Big Finish have always had this problem: using a great deal of sound to try and substitute for the lack of visuals, and it never works.

There was some enjoyment to be had when the seeming thinness of the plot is revealed to be covering something a little more substantial. I would say I enjoyed that the superficial plot was somewhat "Scooby Doo" (good lord, the "monsters" haunting the theme park are really robots and it's all being faked by, essentially, the kindly caretaker…) except that Robson has Lucie declaim the old "you meddling kids" line and, really, we had in fact got the message already by that point.

Timothy West and Nerys Hughes both get to underplay charmingly, and there is a rather sweet gay romance subplot (well, one of them is gay, anyway). The parallel inter-species marriage breakdown/coming back together though is rather heavy handed.

On the other hand, oh dear it all turns out to be another "terrible thing from another universe", and guess what, it eats fear. Ho, very been there before, hum. And, in confusing twist, fear also kills it – it needs to be thrill-seeking fear, euphoric excitement that the beastie feeds on; full on terror is poison.

Well pardon me but how the hell did that evolve?

It is interesting to hear the Doctor dwell on some of the fears that he contains – fears of the past and the future (and if you wonder what that could refer to, just listen to that Dalek choir rising). But there isn't enough of this to build the story around. The Doctor talking about "ooh, these fears that I've got" would work if fear had been developed as a theme throughout. Instead it comes across less as a theme of the play, more just a plot device to wrap it up, more talking about the idea of fear and less about the experience of it.

And, although it might be trivial in comparison with the big picture, everyone – and yes, that includes the Doctor – seems to forget that the attempts to scare people off have escalated to the odd little murder. The presence of a bigger monster does not – or should not – excuse these killings. The "kindly caretaker" is actually a deranged serial killer and needs locking up, not leaving in charge to explain to the authorities that it was all down to an extra-dimensional deity.

Actually, that might just be the thing to get him locked up!

So, in spite of some nice production and quality acting, it all just felt a bit going through the motions.

Next time… will we finally get some answers about Lucie Miller? Will they reveal what the mysterious Headhunter is after? Believe what you like, there'll be "No More Lies".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Elephant - enjoying reading your entertaining blog very much. Just wanted to make a small correction - the studio is actually in West London.

Hope you enjoy next week's programme.

Tim Sutton