Doctor Who: Minuet in Hell

Minuet_in_Hell_cover

Synopsis

“The twenty-first century has just begun, and Malebolgia is enjoying its status as the newest state in America. After his successful involvement with Scotland’s devolution, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart has been invited over to Malebolgia to offer some of his experiences and expertise.

 There he encounters the charismatic Brigham Elisha Dashwood III, an evangelical statesman running for Governor who may not be quite as clean-cut and wholesome as he makes out. One of Dashwood’s other roles in society is as patron of a new medical institute, concentrating on curing the ills of the human mind. One of the patients there interests the Brigadier – someone who claims he travels through space and time in something called a TARDIS.

 Charley, however, has more than a few problems of her own. Amnesiac, she is working as a hostess at the local chapter of the Hell Fire Club, populated by local dignitaries who have summoned forth the demon Marchosias. And the leader of the Club? None other than Dashwood, who seems determined to achieve congressional power by the most malevolent means at his disposal…”

A few months ago I mentioned that there were two serials that I did not finish; the first was The Apocalypse Element, a serial that I think I fell asleep during the first time I tried to listen to it. And now we have the second one – and this one was rough. The story is great, the sound design is great, the brigadier is also great; so what went wrong? This serial takes place in America, vaguely set to be in the “Bible Belt” somewhere, in this part of the country most people have very little accent – so much that this part of the country is usually referred to as having a “general American accent”. Like “BBC English” this is the version of the language spoken in many TV shows and movies. I’m bringing this up because this play employs what I like to call “old prospector English” a variant in our language not heard since the film The Apple Dumpling Gang graced our screens all those years ago.

Dear England: I know you guys hate how many Americans talk like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins when doing bad community theater renditions of your manner of speaking, but talking like you crawled from a “Wild West” themed historical park is not good revenge.

After hearing Mark Gatiss do this exact thing in The Mutant Phase, it makes me wonder if this is a common misconception on that side of the world. Morgan Deare is the chief perpetrator here as he fleshed his character, Senator Waldo Pickering, out in this very manner. After hearing a whole string of “Jed Clmapett-isms” I turned to play off.

Well, I’d like you guys to know that I got over it and ploughed my way through the play once again. Waldo tried very hard, but I was not broken this time. I was strong and persevered through the terror. Upon completion I figured out that this play was actually very good, if not one of the best ones conceptually that they’ve done. It takes on very mature subject matter in a way far more fitting of what I feel is typical Doctor Who. Some of the Virgin New Adventures stories (plays or books) try to do the same thing (Adult Doctor Who), but end up with foul language, sex, body horror, drug use and other things more in line with an episode Torchwood. Instead of resorting to shock, this play talks about religious extremism, far right politics, and other topics usually left out of the show. Really, the only risqué thing in the entire drama is the fact that Charley is forced to be a serving girl in the Hellfire Club, and is too naive to realize that she is basically supposed to be a prostitute. The play doesn’t dwell on this, and by the time we realize this, she’s already out of there.

While, not the best episode for me, mainly due to the accents, I will say that this is one of the better plays that Big Finish has done, and a real step up from the previous play. Paul MGgann does a great job, especially when he is questioning who he really is due to having amnesia for a while. And let’s not forget that The Brigadier is here in his full glory, meeting the Eighth Doctor for the first time. All these positives tip this to the plus side for me, and I’m glad I listened again.

Doctor Who – The Apocalypse Element

A few weeks ago I mentioned that for whatever reason, I had failed to finish two of the Big Finish audio plays that I listened to way back when I originally ran through the first thirty or so. In the case of the Apocalypse Element, it had to do with the fact that I initially listened to these before I went to bed, and found this one really boring as I fell asleep during it. On a second listen, I realized that I didn’t recall much of the story (thus assuming that I did in fact doze off a bit) but I don’t believe I ever listened to the whole thing! While there were a few problems, I’m glad I gave this a second shot, as it is a solid drama, and another great example of why the sixth Doctor really works if the writing is really good.

“When the planet Archetryx is threatened by a Dalek assault squad, the Doctor and Evelyn become embroiled in an ever-deepening mystery. What has become of President Romana, missing for twenty years? What lurks in the vast gravity wells of Archetryx? What is the secret of the ancient element the Daleks are synthesising – and how does Gallifrey feature in the plans?

The Doctor finds that if his oldest enemies cannot conquer the universe they will watch it go up in flames…”

It’s easy to dismiss this drama as nothing more than pure act of fanwank, as it basically exists to fill in plotholes ravaging the Doctor Who canon for years. I honestly think that this view isn’t very fair at all.

First of all, this play contains the first Big Finish, and more specific, Doctor Who appearance of Lalla Ward since her departure in the TV serial Warriors Gate. This Romana is different from the Romana that we are used to; she’s been imprisoned for the last twenty years, and it’s not evident if she’ totally trustworthy after her ordeal. Ward does a great job showing a more emotional and even fractured side to Romana, a far cry from her chipper know-it-all personality from the show. I may be in the minority, but I never did like Romana in some of her appearances with Tom Baker. This is because I dislike companions that constantly try to outsmart the Doctor. Much like Adric, Romana always knew everything and came across like a jerk sometimes. Don’t forget that she was there when the show was slowly turning into the “Tom Baker comedy hour” so we had The Doctor being a goof, followed by Romana rolling her eyes in each episode.

So yeah, about those plothole fillers – we have many occurrences where this drama attempts to “fix things” that may not have made sense in the show. To be honest, this can be a bit too much at times, and almost seems like the writer had an agenda with the story (I’ll fix all the problems!). These problems that are “fixed” in the play include the use of a human retinal pattern being used specifically without explanation to open the “Eye of Harmony” from the 1996 TV movie. This agenda clutters the story of the play, and makes it obvious that too much is going on. We have the return of Romana, the Daleks Invading Gallifrey, the Daleks eradicating another planet, a zany Dalek scheme etc. It would have worked better if it was longer.

Doctor Who – The Apocalypse Element is a good drama albeit one that tries to do far too much. While the story is exciting, it seems a bit cluttered with returning characters, subplots, and various other problems. With its problems, I honestly enjoyed the play, and continue on my Colin Baker reconciliation tour!