Monday, 28 September 2015

Main Range 036. The Rapture by Joseph Lidster (September 2002)

I have to say I was immensely dubious about the prospect of a Doctor Who story set in a nightclub. The one boost I had going into The Rapture was that it really, really signals the franchise spreading its wings in terms of what kind of stories it can tell where. We’ve just had a sci-fi origin story for the Cybermen and an anti-poststructuralist take on language. Now we have… clubbing. For all that the Sixth Doctor was best suited to a lexicographer convention, the Seventh (with Ace) is a savvy choice to hit Ibiza in the late 90s: a Doctor who out of all the classic Doctors can sell those more down-to-earth spaces best of all, being both the most alien and the most empathically human, striding across both worlds at once (as was covered in The Shadow of the Scourge), and a companion who grows out of consciously anarchic urban environs.
The cold open is one of the most disconcerting and meta starts to a Doctor Who story, ever. Tony Blackburn (one of their more impressive coups!) emerges out of a babble of inane radio noise and declares, over a techno beat, “first some tunes, starting with one we haven’t heard in round about a month, and I know you’re gonna enjoy it.” I mean, it does take some gumption to write a line like that and follow it up with a theme tune remix, but the writer gets away with it.

Joseph Lidster is an interesting beast, because I’m most familiar with his TV work, but outside of the TV series proper – having seen his Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures episodes. From those it seems he has a Buffy-esque knack for expressing down-to-earth concerns in strange and supernatural form, which was something I was keen to see him replicate here. He’s not quite Joss Whedon – no one has that man’s gift of dialogue – but his MO is similar. I stand by this assertion after hearing The Rapture: it’s one of the more Buffy-like stories BF have produced, unfortunately hampered by that clunkiness one can find in Buffy at times (pushing parallels between certain characters too far, etc).

Sophie Aldred gets quite a bit to do here (and there’s a nice bit of continuity carried over from Colditz and the horror of Kurtz’s death, not to mention Dust Breeding). Ace’s early critique of the Doctor marks one of the strongest moments for Sophie Aldred in the audio range thus far; I feel like Lidster gets the duo far more than Mike Tucker, for instance. Taking her to Ibiza to try and cheer her up after the terrors she’s witnessed is the sort of thing Eleven does with Amy in Vincent and the Doctor: a nice detail. Furthermore, some interesting additions to Ace’s backstory are made in the form of her younger brother Liam, and Sophie Aldred acquits herself well with the scenes this demands of her (But I still don’t like that they’re going with this “Dorothy/McShane” nonsense, and I’m tiring of how BF portray Ace; I think it’s in part because she was actually quite a well-developed character on TV in her own right, and so their attempts to emulate that success while simultaneously adding in new backstory fall a bit flat).

The hints at Cat’s depression, and the solace she tries to find in mindless hedonism and in the escape music provides, in the aid it can bring, are surprisingly mature territory for Who; her train of thought, hating herself for feeling awful when others (the homeless, for example) have it worse than her, rings regrettably true. And yet her scenes with Gabriel are bizarre and make for warped, hokey listening. Both Liam and Cat are unengaging, frankly, and not all that well performed, and the Liam/Ace v Gabriel/Jude duality is a bit forced.

More problematically, the whole key concept is flawed. Combining religion with 90s club culture might in some ways be a heady if somewhat hackneyed mix, but the pseudo-“religious nutter” stuff (Rapture, Gabriel, Jude, Great Tribulations, Satan’s Disciples) is pretty naff, as it tends to be in sci-fi, and I was growing pretty tired of it by the end. It’s not innovative, it’s not especially smart, it’s hardly biting satire, it’s not entertaining, and to be honest it’s not all that interesting. It feels like a botched attempt to introduce something “adult” into Doctor Who, but in paradoxically a too aggressive yet all too restrained manner. There’s none of the beautiful adult truth of Love and War here, for instance, which doesn’t play up its “mature” credentials in the way this self-consciously does by having the story involving promiscuous pill-popping teens. But the reality would be much crazier than it is here, to the extent that trying to capture that feels like it’s too in your face, and so like most artistic attempts to try and portray nightclub craze (with the exception of the Arctic Monkeys’ frankly staggering debut album, it must be said) in The Rapture it comes across as both laying it on a bit thick and watering it down – too rapturous and not rapturous enough. I’m glad it exists, because it tries something different. It just doesn’t quite pull off.

Then again, it might be it’s not my cup of tea because I’d rather go to a lexicographer’s conference than a nightclub in Ibiza...

Other thoughts:
As an aside, is the last time we saw a club on Doctor Who 1966 – in The War Machines? I think it is.
What an evocative cover! Gorgeous.
“I’ve bit of a thing when it comes to fascism, but I can’t go through my whole life letting it eat me up.” Don’t most of us have a “bit of a thing” about fascism? I suppose Lidster is trying to suggest she has more experience than anyone else alive, but the line doesn’t quite pull off.
Director Jason Heigh-Ellery and composers Mortimore & Elphinston soak the story in dance music, and… it does kind of work. In fact, it’s arguably the story’s Unique Selling Point and lends it a really distinctive tone.
The Doctor bartends! He can make Sofrit Pages and a good sangria, apparently.
“In my many, many years of experience, people claiming to be angels are quite the opposite.”
“Go out there, Gabriel, spread the truth and love of the Lord, and play those kicking tunes!”
Hooray, Big Finish hires ethnic actors to play ethnic roles! And Carlos Riera is great as Gustavo, particularly with the great scene in which he recalls Franco’s soldiers and bewails that the young don’t seem to have a cause any more these days, but lose themselves in pleasure. His death scene is a clunker, though.
The Doctor meeting a bouncer is one of my highlights: “Sorry, mate, but I think you’re a bit past it for this sort of thing.”/“Past it?” It’s the baffled/miffed mix of his line that gets me! McCoy also really sells the quiet beach scenes in Part Three, as he and Ace discuss the symbolism of the sea, but the Doctor is a mostly ineffectual and indeed irritating presence here, with McCoy turning in one of his weaker performances. That said, his speech about addiction in Part Four works reasonably well.
The eerie moment where the music carries on but all the people fall silent is terribly effective.
“Please don’t scream! ... God rest your soul.”
The strange cuts between scenes mid-sentence feel very forced.
The reference to the next story, The Sandman, is a bit bizarre and out of the blue.
“Without an enemy to fight, you create one. You call it depression, you call it schizophrenia.”
“This whole situation has been caused by people not thinking.” So, a night out, then.
“Smooth, sleek, with lovely contours. This really is one of the better ventilation shafts I’ve crawled through.” That’s, what, the sixth BF ventilation shaft gag?
“If only you were all here to see this…” says Tony Blackburn, another nice nod to the audio medium.
There’s a nice moment when the Doctor tries to speechify to the club-goers and Ace resolves everything by just playing club tunes: time to start living.
I do rather like the little coda after the end titles.
Did I say I love the remix? No, really. I love the remix.

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