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.

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Doctor Who: The Mutant Phase


After weeks, even months, of listening to the void of soundless boredom, I started taking my iPod to work this week in order to keep occupied for my long ten hour shifts. Since I do not want to listen to the same songs every day, I decided to load up on podcasts of varying topics, and a few Doctor Who audio dramas. As you may have noticed by a few earlier posts, I am attempting to listen to all of these Doctor Who Audio plays by Big Finish in order, and one would assume that I would review them as such.

I realized that I had gone far too long without keeping notes, writing things down, and generally getting ready to write any reviews. So guess what? I’m going to re-listen to a lot of these in order to keep these up rather than going off of memories of these plays that could date back to over one year ago. You never know, I may end up liking dramas I previously hated (there are actually two I never finished of the forty or so I have heard, I need to fix that). Luckily this drama did not make my “poop list” the first time I listened to it according to my iTunes star rating, and stayed just as enjoyable the second time around.

 

Synopsis

In the 22nd century, the Daleks have occupied planet Earth. By the 43rd century, only a handful of humans survive. Still further into the distant future, a Thal scientist must choose whether to betray his heritage, or see the universe destroyed.

When the Doctor and Nyssa find themselves trapped in this deadly chain of events, they must decide who their real enemies are. What is certain, however, is that no matter where the Doctor turns… his arch enemies, the Daleks, will be waiting for him.

What could possibly be worse than that? The Mutant Phase…
The Mutant Phase has an immediate bonus for me in that it is a re-visitation of my favorite Doctor Who serial The Dalek Invasion of Earth. For those unfamiliar with that title, said episode was an important episode for many reasons: it was Susan’s last appearance as a regular companion, it was the first serial shot on location, it was the second Dalek appearance, and it was so popular that it was one of two stories to be remade into a feature film starring peter Cushing. Going back to such a classic episode is a cool idea, and thankfully we get the setting as more of a “bookend” to the meat of the story rather than a “fanwanky” total revisit.

In that episode, the Tardis crew including Susan, Ian, Barbara, and the first incarnation of the Doctor, arrive in a bleak post-apocalyptic and Dalek infested England in 2167. What really made The Dalek Invasion of Earth stand out for me was the chilling use of vacated landmarks during location shooting, and the utter bleakness of the overall story. For a “kid’s show”, this episode had a lot of dark things like signs saying not to dump dead bodies in the river and humans turned into a slave work force.  What we have here with The Mutant Phase can be seen as a “prequel” of sorts to this classic episode as we see The Doctor As played by Peter Davison and his companion Nyssa arrive a few years earlier, to a time where Daleks have never met the Doctor and don’t meddle in time travel.

My only real quibble with the episode rears its ugly head in this introductory portion of the episode. The Doctor realizes pretty quickly that they are somewhere in the state of Kansas, which for foreign readers, is located in the United States. While looking through a field of genetically altered crops infested with wasps, The Doctor and Nyssa stumble upon a “Roboman” guardsman, a zombie-like policeman for the Daleks. By zombies I don’t mean the Romero-esque eating brains and rotting away living dead variety, but the classical use of the term as in brainwashed servant. Not to be confused with Cybermen, Robomen are just regular people with some sort of mind control device implanted onto their heads.

So anyway, this roboman gets America back for the dreadful British accent Dick Van Dyke used in Mary Poppins, by delivering his dialog in the worst, most overdone, American accent out there. This can partly be chalked up to the dronish manner in which the robomen characters talk, but behind all the reverb and monotone was a glimmer of a vocal style not heard since The Apple Dumpling Gang. I seriously hope that many in the U.K. do not think all Americans talk like 1890’s old prospectors, but I get the inclination that it may be the case. I think Mark Gatiss was responsible for the voice, as he is credited as such! All joking aside, this small slip-up was very minor, can be overlooked easily, and does no harm to the play itself.

This play has quite a few interesting characters, and chiefly among those are two Thal scientists, Ptolem and Ganatus, both forced to work for the Daleks to stop the mutant phase. We hear a lot of mentions of these guys before we see them interact with the Doctor, so their motives stay hidden for the majority of the play. Another nice addition is Karl Hendrick, a man that lives in the dark and studies old relics from our current history. He gets quite a few great one-liners and funny moments making him one of the better side characters.

Aside from a couple of minor things like over-done foreshadowing that Nyssa’s wasp sting may be important in some way, the plot of the Mutant Phase was well done, and revolved around some good ol’ fashioned “timey-wimey” stuff involving a temporal paradox. With any paradox based episode the resolution didn’t exactly wrap the whole thing up in a bow – a fact that is actually made fun of in the dialog. When the Doctor explains what has happened to Nyssa at the end, she tells him that it simply made no sense, to which he replied “paradoxes don’t make sense” or something vaguely similar. Admitting this, the play somehow jumped over any plotholes it may have obtained whilst jumping between a multitude of timelines. For me this was nice, humorous touch.

While not the classic of its older brother, The Mutant Phase is a competent audio drama that keeps one entertained throughout. Keeping in mind that the Daleks are the only race that the doctor has ever really considered committing mass genocide on, listening to him being forced to work alongside the horrible creatures is compelling and makes this a must listen. I’ve been lukewarm on the Dalek Empire Releases so far, but this one has really redeemed the series, can’t wait to hear what’s next.