Sunday, June 09, 2013

Recent CDs

Catching up again with some recent merchandise which arrived at Howe Towers and here are some thoughts on some recent CDs which have kept me entertained on some long car journeys.

First off, a Big Finish Companion Chronicles release, The Scorchies, which is read by the lovely Katy Manning, and aided and abetted by Melvyn Hayes (if you're wondering who he is, then cast your mind way, way back to a show called Here Come The Double Deckers on Saturday morning telly, and realise that he played Albert the street cleaner ... and also to a show called It Ain't Arf Hot Mum! in which he played Gunner 'Gloria' Beaumont - recently I see from IMDB he's been in EastEnders and was voices in Budgie the Helecopter and SuperTed, as well as appearing in the 'TV Miniseries' of Shada - not sure what that is, not aware there ever was a TV Miniseries of Shada. Looking closer I see it's Big Finish's Paul McGann version of the story ...)

I was looking forward to this release as the PR said it combined together the horror of kid's animated puppet shows with Doctor Who, and thus it does, with a cast of characters, all voiced by Hayes, who seem to have been ported in from other shows: thus we have Grizz Fizzle (a Muppet); Cool Cat (a pink cat reminiscent of Bagpuss); Professor Baffle (probably Professor Yaffle, again from Bagpuss); Hamble an ugly doll (from Play School but which wasn't 'alive' in that incarnation) and the Magic Mice (again from Bagpuss).  Unfortunately, and unlike many other reviewers I note, I felt it all fell flat.

Manning is brilliant. She doesn't really tell the story as perform in it - basically Jo is kidnapped by the Scorchies who are actually alien life forms which take over a world by being cute on telly - a little like the modus operandi of the Nimon - and she does it with aplomb.

Unfortunately the puppets don't work for me. Hayes' voices, while good, are all wrong. The main voice for Grizz Fizzle sounds so much like a comedy yorkshireman character from The League of Gentlemen or a million other shows, that it ends up being grating rather than entertaining. Cool Cat does nothing but say 'cool', and Professor Baffle, while starting out well (and having greater significance than the listener might thing at first) says he is baffled *every* time he opens his mouth. It's all too repetitive and samey, and not really reflective of similar characters on these shows. It's like James Goss has taken the basic characteristic of these characters and then presented them just as that - as one-dimensional tropes rather than as believable threats.

I also hated the musical numbers - all the same/similar beat and rhythms, and with unimaginative lyrics. Sorry guys, but this one showed so much potential in the idea, but the execution killed it. I suppose that's what you get when the Big Finish chaps, by their own admission in the sleeve notes, come up with an idea in a pub one night!

Moving on to the next three in BBC AudioGO/Big Finish's Destiny of the Doctor range. I looked at the first three in an earlier post here (http://howeswho.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/the-merchandise-keeps-on-coming.html) and so here's my thoughts on the next three.

The Fourth Doctor's era is represented by Babblesphere by Jonathan Morris, who seems to write about three Doctor Who scripts a month at the moment!  This is read by Lalla Ward, who does a very good job indeed in telling the story of a world taken over by it's mad computer, with a nice line in irony pointed at the current online trends for Facebook and Twitter, where every mundane thought is made available to the masses to see. This takes the idea to the limit, where participation is mandatory, and people are chipped to put them in constant contact with the hive-mind computer.

I enjoyed this one a lot. Morris managed to capture the fourth Doctor's era well, and the story was interesting and well told. There were quite a few clich├ęs though in the writing, and the Doctor tended to come across as a walking pastiche of his own era - less is more in telling a tale, and perhaps Morris shouldn't have tried quite so hard to reference and namecheck all the tropes which have come to identify the era. Not quite as good as the Second Doctor entry, but certainly in second place for me so far.

Next up is the Fifth Doctor's entry, Smoke and Mirrors by Steve Lyons. Here we have Janet Fielding reading, and the immediate problem is that she can't do the voices! Tegan, as an Australian, is fine, but she retains her Australian twang whoever she is speaking as, and as the script doesn't identify the speakers well enough, it all gets very confusing as to who is talking and when. The exception is when she does the Master, and here Fielding manages to get over the menace and pomposity of the character. The idea of Houdini being involved is interesting, but somewhat falls flat for me, and the story is too complex for the space. I didn't really enjoy it that much I'm afraid.

Part of the trouble is that in this era, there are just so many characters: the Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa, Adric, the Master ... having Houdini there as well, and also a pile of circus Carny folk too makes for a complex adventure, which is hard to pull off well on audio - the story needs to be structured to split everyone up and for everyone to have things to do all the time ... complex!  This would perhaps have been better to have been a straight 'Tegan narrates' adventure, seen through her eyes only. This would play to Fielding's strength as the voice of Tegan, and play down the issues I mentioned above.

Finally, the Sixth Doctor, and Nicola Bryant reads Trouble in Paradise by Nev Fountain. Unfortunately this is a real stinker of a story. Unimaginative and boring, Fountain takes us on a trip to the old world where Christopher Columbus is busy discovering America. Peri comes over as a walking encyclopaedia about the man and what he did - convenient - and the Doctor speaks nothing like the Doctor. This is not helped by the actor playing Columbus - Cameron Stewart - who actually sounds like sixth Doctor Colin Baker so much, that I again on occasion thought that Columbus was the Doctor ... very confusing.

Then we get time-travelling buffalo people called the Bovine ... please. If there's one thing I dislike about science fiction, it's when the names of a people or their planet reflect the main identifying attribute of said race or planet. So when spider people are called Arachnoids from Arachnia, or if a planet is dry, it's called Aridius; or when all the females are bald, they are the Alopecians ... that sort of thing. Sorry folks, just didn't work for me. It's basically a timey wimey adventure where our Bovine chum goes back in time to try and stop himself ... yup, we're also in City of Death territory.

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