Monday, 28 September 2015

Main Range 001. The Sirens of Time by Nicholas Briggs (July 1999)

For a first production, The Sirens of Time is a good, solid slice of Doctor Who. It’s certainly heavily flawed (similar to how The Armageddon Factor or The Invasion of Time are heavily flawed), but most of that lies in the reach of its concepts and ideas. It’s a very, very ambitious way to begin your audio range, and the narrative pyrotechnics, the timey-wimeyness, the flashbacks, the delay to cliff-hanger resolutions, is all wonderfully experimental and bold, but not quite reinforced by structural or narrative beats being in the right places – not yet (I’m sure Briggs et al. refine this later on). Ironically given this is basically a nostalgia piece (three classic Doctors reunited – how could it not be?) I felt the pace should have been more classic-series if anything, not less. It was a pacey story, but we could have done with more world-building to let things digest, somehow. Part 4 in particular is let down by being both a long time in coming but also pretty exposition-heavy. The overarching plot is certainly a decent sell – the Sirens being painted as interesting mirrors to the Time Lords – but it’s hard for it to fully engage.

That said, if my biggest problem with it was that its reach exceeds its grasp, it’s still a fairly solid story. The audio medium works well and the soundscapes they create are for the most part pretty lush. There’s the occasional teething problem – poor Sylv having to talk to himself at the start of part 1 does grate – but even over the course of this single story it feels like ways to give the audience information convincingly on audio are being addressed e.g. ships’ logs being read out.

Part 1 probably works the weakest of the individual Doctors’ adventures. McCoy gives a fine turn, and we get to see his warm, quirky charm very nicely, but he doesn’t suit audio as much as the others (not on the evidence here, anyway). And from someone who loves his TV work, it needs his enigmatic, quiet presence, his mysterious face, for a lot of these lines to totally sing. The alien locale is also difficult to realise, and I have to confess Maggie Stables’ character grates a little, though Sancroff is wonderfully judged (his speech in part 4 is great).

Davison fares better; Part 2 is pacey and tight, and it’s a well-realised historical setting. Gatiss plays Schweiger pretty nicely, too. I’m not sure quite what it is that the years have done to Davison’s voice – I think it’s richer and rounder, somehow – but he sounds much more commanding here, with a wonderful sardonic edge, that has a bite he somehow never quite had on TV.

Colin Baker in Parts 3 and 4, however, is a revelation (as I’ve heard people say countless times before of Six on audio). Well, they’re right. He is instantly and effortlessly much more likeable than in the TV scripts he was given. I don’t completely buy that this is because we can’t see the coat(!) but there is an important point to be made here. Six works well on audio because Colin Baker is an actor who has a tremendous vocal presence. Can you imagine Eleven, whose performance is so bound up in his physical comic timing, or Twelve, whose facial expressions are so nuanced and convey so much, working anywhere near as brilliantly here? Baker knocks it out of the park because that’s the kind of expressive voice he has, warm and rich tones layered with booming determination and fierce compassion in equal measure. He’s quite, quite wonderful.

On a final note, kudos to Sarah Mowat for such variety of performance!

If this is only a fledgling work in a long, long range, I can tell I’m in for a treat.

Other things:
“I think you’ll find I’m hardly ever mistaken.”
“Just the three, it would appear.”/“Well, we must be thankful for small mercies, mustn’t we?”
“For someone so short you’re taking up a lot of room!”
6 breaking 7’s fall, 6’s description of 5 as “tediously noble” – there’s some great interplay between them.
The Doctors interrupting each other (you first etc).
“Three Time Lords for the price of one – a tempting offer.” (That was WRITTEN for the trailer!)
Doctors speaking for each other – as though they ARE of the same mind.
The trio is defined as thinker, compassionate, impatient.  Interesting.
“You know yourself better than that.”
Sixie is wonderful! “Crocodile tears” is so well delivered.
I thought it was a little weird that they all say “Doctor” to each other, mind.
“Do you know, talking to yourself is often thought to be the first sign of madness?”/“Ah yes, but a little madness helps, don't you think?”

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