...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Day 2240: DOCTOR WHO: Human Resources


Lord Blairimort was on Mr Andy’s breakfast show, and was asked whether he was ever SORRY for all the people who were dying in Iraq. Lord Blairimort said how very DEVASTATED he was, but that it wasn’t British or American soldiers who were killing them.

Look Andy… clean conscience, carefree laughter, sociopathic twitch… not my fault, guv,

And then he got to sit on the comfy sofa with one-time credible anti-war songmeister Art Garfunkel and joke about doing a duet together.

I think I can suggest a song for them…

[tune: “Mrs Robinson” Simon&Garfunkel; lyrics Millennium Elephant]

Lying to the Commons on a Monday Afternoon
Would you like a Peerage with your cupcakes
Laugh about it, cry about it, if you’ve got to care

While the rest of us despair

What’s that you say
Mister Blairimort
Conscience says it wasn’t down to you
Woo woo woo

But people died
Mister Blairimort,
Abu Grahib just will not go away
Hey hey hey
hey hey hey

Or maybe we’ll stick to “The Boxer”

Lie la lie
Li la lie lie lie lie lie
Lie la lie
Lie la lie lie lie lie lie lie lie lie lieeeeeeeee

Meanwhile, I will get Daddy Richard to review another duet: the final two episodes of the (we all hope) first series of Radio Doctor Who.

Take "The Office", "The War Games", a soupcon of Monty Python and an army of Cybermen: stir liberally and serve. In spite of what you might think, the result is a spectacular and occasionally hilarious triumph, with special credit to Roy Marsden. Whoever would have expected Commander Dalgliesh to do such brilliant deadpan?

As you may have gathered, Big Finish's series of audio adventures for the eighth Doctor on BBC7 digital radio has come to something of a top conclusion. Nicely wrapping up the story arc concerning Lucie, the Time Lords and the Headhunter brings us back, most unexpectedly, to Lucie's first day at work. If that's not got you confused then the escalating sequence of ever more bizarre revelations will soon have you totally bamboozled. And yet also engrossed.

The Doctor's story begins completely separated from Lucie, with a meeting with a perfectly charming Time Lord called Straxus, but he swiftly weaves himself back into the tale, rather marvellously establishing himself in a position of authority while remaining fairly baffled as to how he's doing it.

The logic of the story actually makes it all seem to unfold perfectly naturally – like a well written Douglas Adam pastiche – and the pace and charm keep tugging you along, enjoying the ride wherever it takes you.

Between them, Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith really carry this story along, the repartee between them, the relationship that they have built over this series between the Doctor and Lucie, working like a pair of jugglers to keep the disparate and perplexing plot elements all moving and all in the air at once.

As the Doctor probes further, it becomes apparent that all the seeming oddness is actually a pretty dastardly plot by Roy Marsden's Mr Hulbert to exploit a lot of ambitious office workers as, er, unwitting interstellar mercenaries. With giant robots. Obviously.

Equally obviously, the Doctor decides to put a stop to it, just in time for the cliffhanger ending to part one: oops, Doctor, you should have checked to see just who Hulbert's mercenaries were fighting against! It's…

…no surprise to anyone who peeked at the cast lists for the CD releases! It's the Cybermen.

Having expected the cyborg baddies to tie in with the opening story – if you recall, the colony of Red Rocket Rising having just beaten off the Daleks were about to be rescued by saviours from planet Telos… no luck there then! – it actually was something of a relief that this story had no connection to "Blood of the Daleks" after all. Instead it's set in a previously unheard of by-water of Cyberman history, between the destruction of their first homeworld, Mondas, and their conquest of their second homeworld, Telos. Oh all right, third homeworld it'll have to be now.

The Cyber-voices are… er… interesting. Alex spotted at once that they were a blend of the Mondasian sing-song from "The Tenth Planet" and the bleeping deletes of the new series. (Points deducted for smugness when Nick Briggs said as much, in the same words no less, on the making of after part one!) Actually, they worked rather well, adding personality to what can be otherwise robotic villains. Oh and they've got the new series stomping march too – which is great as it really gives the Cybermen an identifiable sound and a presence that moves through the action, adding to the soundscape. We're not quite sure how it fits with their "we don't reference the new telly series" rules, though.

Having the Cybermen familiar with Planet 14 but not with Telos is a tiny touch naughty, too, as there's a reasonably good theory that they are one and the same planet. And the rowing and politicking between the Time Lords' High Council and the Celestial Intervention Agency is perhaps a little bit too comic given the dignity that the television series and the Time War has miraculously managed to restore to the Doctor's people post "Arc of Infinity". (Or you could say it plays into the idea that the CIA are going to do a runner, hiding out as the Celestis, as soon as the Time War breaks out.)

The all out warfare that breaks out during the second episode is remarkably effective, not least because of the excellent sound design and a real sense of how the Cybermen's strategy is working and advancing relentlessly. The resolution is rather delightful too – very Time Lord in its execution and (again it's Alex's thought) very satirical of the TV series' rabbit-from-hat endings. Basically, it's a machine that always pulls the right rabbit from the hat. Delightful.

Enough threads are left open at the end – about the Time Lords, the Headhunter, and just where Mr Hulbert got his technology from in the first place – to give a second series something to get its teeth into. Or not. There's no need if they've got other ideas as inventive and absorbing as this. Though I do rather hope that Mr Straxus doesn't end up having to regenerate – Nickolas Grace is always such a pleasure to hear.

I earlier accused this series of being rather up and down. I'm happy to say that I've been proved wrong: there are a couple of glitches early on – okay, really only "Horror of Glam Rock"; "Phobos" only problem was being just a bit average – but this ending (following on from "No More Lies") has really lifted the arc as a whole. And they've rapidly grown into the fifty-minute time slot. It seems so natural now; it's surprising how the traditional old four-parter, which we all loved so much, has so easily been superseded.

I'm very much warming to Lucie – she's just so bubbly you can't not like her, but she's shown increasing depth too, especially in the scenes here when she thinks her life has been totally messed with but would have been even worse if it hadn't been.

And McGann continues to give great Doctor: vivacious and wise, but also old and cranky, the characterisation Chris Bidmead wanted as early as the fifth Doctor: old man in a young body.

These radio adventures have really filled a gap, specifically that gap between the Christmas special and the start of the series proper (yes, yes, there's another month to go, but it's no longer so… impossible). Here's hoping they've been a huge boost to BBC7's ratings and that they'll commission another run to fill the same gap next year.

Wadda ya mean they've not announced next year's Christmas special and fourth series yet?!

Next time… meanwhile, in his tenth incarnation and with no Rose at his side, how will the Doctor cope? Enter Miss Martha. "Smith and Jones". 31st March.

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