Doctor Who: Dust Breeding

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Synopsis

On nineteenth Century Earth artist Edvard Munch hears an infinite scream pass through nature. Centuries later his painting of that scream hangs in a gallery on the barren dust world Duchamp 331. Why is there a colony of artists on a planet that is little more than a glorified garage? What is the event that the passengers of the huge, opulent pleasure cruiser ‘Gallery’ are hoping to see? And what is hidden in the crates that litter the cargo hold? The Doctor’s diary indicates that the painting is about to be destroyed in ‘mysterious circumstances’, and when he and Ace arrive on Duchamp 331, those circumstances are well underway.

Written By: Mike Tucker
Directed By: Gary Russell

Anyone keeping up with my Big Finish Audio reviews will recall that I generally feel that the Seventh Doctor stories based on the Virgin New Adventures line of books are …. not my cup of tea. I worried that this one was in that particular series, but was pleasantly surprised that it was not. Luckily I’m glad to report that this particular entry in the monthly line of audio dramas is in continuity with an earlier entry called The Genocide Machine and not The Shadow of the Scourge, the former being an entry that I quite enjoyed; the latter not so much. Containing The Doctor as played by Sylvester McCoy (soon to be in a Hobbit film near you!) and Ace, as played by Sophie Aldred, this adventure seems just like a continuation of the original show, just if it lasted a bit longer.

One of the major strengths of this drama is the great cast within. There are a few questionable choices, as is usually the case with a lot of these early plays, such as a weird accent used by Caroline John, but the direction here is usually spot on. McCoy does great as The Doctor here, playing the role in such a way that it lines up far closer to the way the role was performed on the television show, not the yelling angry style found in the aforementioned “New Adventures” plays. Louise Falkner appears here as a Captain Jack-esque tertiary companion named Bev Tarrant, a character that previously appeared in The Genocide Machine.

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Above and Beyond, the highlight of this play (for me at least) was the return of the Master as played by Geoffrey Beevers. Beevers previously held the role for a short time at the end of Tom Baker’s tenure on the main show, and was portrayed as somewhat of a walking corpse teetering on death at the end of his regenerations. Fairly early on, we are introduced to a wealthy man named Mr. Seta who wears an extraordinary jewel covered mask and is a bit less than trustworthy. Of course “Mr. Seta” is just another one of The Master’s playful anagrams of his own name, a fact that The Doctor should really pick up on at some point. Granted, his plan is ridiculous, and his regression back to his previous iteration (Anthony Ainley was very ill at this time and did not want to participate) is not very well explained, but it was nice to see Beevers do the role for a bit longer than he did in the past. I’m no Ainley hater, but the role was a tad silly when he was playing it, and Beevers adds the darkness back that was originally there with the first Master as played by Roger Delgado.

Many of the best dialog segments where by Mr. Seta / The Master, such as this gem:

‘You’ve spent your life looking at masks Madame Salvadore, without ever wondering what lay beneath them. Would you like to see beneath my mask..?’

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The plot has some silly, or convenient moments, and the main villain of the piece wasn’t all that spectacular but all in all this was a good listen. Little touches like a droning noise that sounds like a screaming Dalek in the background really makes Duchamp 331 a planet to be truly feared, and helps sets this play above merely “average”.  I loved the Master in this, had he not been present I’m not sure if I would have liked the final product nearly as much. For me, Big Finish dramas with the McCoy Doctor have been hit or miss, but this one was a nice surprise.

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Doctor Who: Minuet in Hell

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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.