Monday, 28 September 2015

Main Range 003. Whispers of Terror by Justin Richards (November 1999)

Well. That was a real gem. The Museum of Aural Antiquities is a WONDERFUL concept. Go Justin Richards. The shadowy murk of a babble of voices rising at the start of the adventure is a truly iconic beginning, and there’s a lovely circularity about the way in which the story closes in the same way. The premise is so, so different, unique and mysterious. It’s very refreshing after the traditional nature of the previous adventure, and as the story begins one has NO idea where it’s going. I think I’d genuinely put this down as one of the show’s all-time great concepts: a sound-creature. But it’s not just a great idea, it’s really rather wonderfully and atmospherically executed. Without doubt this story would work well on TV – hell, the great scene where Dent and Fotherill hear whistling that’s not part of the tape they’re listening to is basically the same gimmick as one used in The Doctor Dances in the Empty Child’s room – but the unique nature of this particular medium means Richards is able to exploit audio for all that it’s worth.

What’s particularly effective about this is summed up in the story’s creepy thesis: ‘Intriguing, isn’t it? A murderer that could be hiding in any sound, however quiet…the low hum of the air conditioning…the distant hint of a conversation…a foot tapping out the rhythm of a popular song’. Any sound we, as listeners, hear could be a threat (even the extremely mid-80s synth score, which I personally find rather effective). The threat literally extends out of the medium itself, a wonderful layer of meta-fictionality you only really get with Moffat-Who in the form of the Angels and the Silence. See the wonderful orphanage sequence in Day of the Moon in which the camera edits what we see such that we, like Amy, are seeing an unreliable sequence of images. This does the same for audio. Sounds can be tampered with, filtered, sped up, replayed, edited; and this isn’t just a good scary premise, but it ends up saying something really rather interesting about rhetoric – its flexibility and unreliability, the ways it can manipulate us, or we can remember it falsely. That an episode starting off as a high-concept sci-fi idea about a soundwave creature becomes a political thriller encapsulates what’s so good about Doctor Who.

Colin and Nicola are incredibly 1985 in their opening scenes (“I did think that was a rather redundant question, even from you”, Six says dismissively). Their rapport is pretty good throughout. That said, I don’t think Peri comes off particularly well here; whether it’s the character as written or Bryant’s unfamiliarity with audio I don’t know. Colin is, once again, really rather fantastic: by turns excited and enthused, passionate, fearful, angry. He gets lots to do and veers from the intrigued detective to anarchic force on the side of freedom come the story’s end. His grilling of Purnell early on makes him come across very shrewd behind the bluff veneer, and his rage over her sly politics in the final part is great too – “yours is not a world in which I would want to live!” The guest cast is interesting in that it turns over a stone to reveal the ugly underbelly of humanity, by and large, but without the nasty taste in the mouth that this would have if it were genuinely Saward-era. Curator Grantman is a wonderful sympathetic character, too, gifted with the melancholic “Sound is all I have left now. Sound and memory.”

All told, I’m very happy with this. Very happy indeed. A slight case of the sagging middle in part 3 gave way to a strong thematic closure in the final act, and left me thinking – this is what I want from this new range of stories. Very Classic Who, but very different, and very, very unique to its particular medium. A triumph.

Other things:
“Leave? LEAVE? You mean, go away and never know? Wander for all eternity and never know where we were? What might have been, what was to come? … SHOUT? I don’t shout! People who have to resort to shouting to get what they want are merely demonstrating the inherent paucity of their argument!” – oh Colin.
He gets a nice Macbeth quote in part 4, too, apt given his on-screen love of poetry.
“I have a better sense of direction than a homing pigeon.” Great Colin delivery.
“Boisterous? Must mean you, Peri!”
“Something grand and theatrical from the old school of acting, no doubt! Loud and bombastic… not my sort of thing, really.”
The end of part 1 is stunning. So so surreal. Very Face of Evil.
“There’s more to this than meets the ear” – oh so sly, Richards.
“A morally justifiable way of doing nothing. Procrastination made politic”: a neat description of democracy.
Peri’s best line: “We can’t stay. The Doctor’s clothes are too loud for this museum.”

No comments:

Post a Comment