Monday, 28 September 2015

Main Range 023. Project: Twilight by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright (August 2001)

The names Cavan Scott and Mark Wright came rather out of left field; I’d never really heard of them although I think I vaguely remember they did the Who-ology book that was relatively popular a while back. On the basis of this particular outing, they make a strong debut in the world of Who audio – as dark as Robert Holmes, but similarly with plenty of strong jokes – and I’m pleased they’ll be returning to pen some more stories, especially as (as with Storm Warning) this feels rather like a set-up for a larger story arc – in this instance, that of Nimrod and the Forge.

The opening is a chilling prelude to the story as a whole, a top-secret organisation born out of the dire straits of World War I. Typically for a Big Finish audio, we segue into somewhere completely different, this time the sleazy casinos of London in 1999. Not for the first time over the course of the last ten releases or so, I’ve been reminded of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is fairly natural given its dominance over the sci-fi landscape at this point. However, this is the first time I feel it’s been properly successful, running with Buffy’s best ideas rather than plundering them for the sake of a pale imitation (I’m looking at you, Minuet in Hell). The inner-city setting, seedy and sordid, and the inclusion of vampires in particular (though it’s not just that) put one in mind of that excellent series, which is no bad thing at all. The scene where the Doctor and Evelyn discover disembowelled creatures in the back alleyways of Bermondsey is a beautiful slice of Gothic horror relocated to the present day.

Jane Elphinston and Jim Mortimore make a strong debut as composers with an effective, moody score, complete with plenty of sinister electronics. Together with the new writing pair, this feels fresh and different, injected as it is with a new bunch of talent. Scott and Wright, and the story’s director Gary Russell, keep up an excellent pace, particularly in the gripping first episode: there’s a lovely cut from Eddie’s scream to the Doctor and Evelyn jumping into the fray. That the four parts of this story are each much shorter than many Big Finish audios keeps the pace nice and tight, too. The Doctor is quick to get himself involved: “Mysterious deaths and bizarre situations are exactly my kind of business.” Part 3 is a great cliff-hanger: the stakes are genuinely high, and with the Doctor imprisoned and helpless, one has no sense on how Scott and Wright are going to resolve things. There’s a wonderful action-movie moment as the Doctor and Amelia plunge into the Thames together while grappling for the vial.

Rob Dixon’s Reggie Mead and Holly De Jong’s Amelia Moore are both instant triumphs, and creepy as fuck. Really strong, memorable human villains as opposed to crazed aliens with odd voices; it’s no accident they resemble Spike and Drusilla. The scene in which Reggie breaks Matthew’s fingers in the name of “this little piggy” is about as dark as I can think of in Doctor Who – how wonderful that the Sixth Doctor gets some more of these moody, edgy stories on audio in which to thrive. Additionally, Stephen Chance gives an equally solid, if more enigmatic, performance as the creepy Nimrod. If there’s a weak link, it’s probably Rosie Cavaliero as Cassie, though her parting scene in the Norwegian wilds is rather affecting.

“It’s days like this, Evelyn, I feel every inch my age.” The Doctor is truly wearied and disgusted by the developments of this story: “Helping those creatures out there goes against every fibre of my being! They hunted down my people wherever they fled, enslaved entire worlds, and why? Because we were fool enough to free them from their own dimension! We unleashed their evil into the universe! It is the duty of every Time Lord to ensure that when they’re found they’re hunted down and destroyed!” That it’s the Great Vampires who are involved lends the story a personal aspect for the Doctor whilst avoiding the more clichéd villains like the Daleks. The Sixth Doctor and Amelia have a wonderful chemistry, and the latter, punctuating the Doctor’s apparent prejudice, is given a wonderful pathos despite the atrocities she perpetrates. Their last scene together looking out over the twilit Thames is tremendous. Scott and Wright have a good gift for characterisation.

Nice that the Doctor knows to rely on “the old Smythe charm”. She is as good as ever, and particularly caring and motherly here, looking after both Eddie and Cassie within the first couple of episodes. Her resourcefulness comes into play as she examines the coded book, too. The moment where she chides the Doctor for being so Gallifrey-centric is a wonderful scene.

Violence count: as a lover of body horror, Eddie’s death in part 1 is deliciously revolting. His skin steaming, blood boiling, body eventually exploding open. The stuff of nightmares.  Matthew’s fate is similarly gruesome, bursting into flame as he comes into contact with the water of the Thames. Nimrod breaks Nathaniel’s neck and the casino receives its payments in blood bags. Reggie beats Cassie, who is also stabbed by Nimrod and ‘vampirised’ by Amelia. The vampires keep a vast blood farm of suffering humans, much like New Earth in the revived series, though for a pretty different purpose. The aesthetic of the story is so violent and cynical, it’s almost non-Doctor Who-ish (though Season 22 comes closest). This is symbolised by the fact that the Doctor, with all his great compassion, is duped by the vampires’ duplicity. He simply doesn’t have the bitter suspicion capable to outperform such figures in such a narrative. The bestial nature of humanity is something that has always been at least vaguely implicit in vampire stories, and the theme of evolution here (cf. Cassie becoming the first of the new breed) naturally evokes the preceding tale: thus what we get is a pair of stories that show us – for all our supposed advancement and civilisation – the primal creatures, one might say animals, which lie within. The blood farm (within which humans are seen as cattle and by extension mere animals) is common to both Bloodtide and Project: Twilight, too. It’s a staple horror idea, perhaps, but one Big Finish seem to explore rather well and indeed rather frequently (of course, it’s at the heart of Loups-Garoux as well).

Another solid entry for Colin Baker in the Big Finish audio range, whose run is shaping up to be the strongest and most consistent. I don’t know if it’s necessarily that he always gives the best performances, but he’s as good as ever.

Other thoughts:
The vampires in the casino: like Silurians and Darwin, some ideas just scream classic Doctor Who. I could make some points here about the author trying to equate the money-grabbing of capitalism, the leeching on broken bank accounts of such dubious institutions as casinos, with the Gothic imagery of the undead, but some things are just cool because they’re cool, rather than because of any great literary pretence :D
Six isn’t the first Doctor I’d think of when picturing Chinese takeaway, but that makes his enthusiasm more memorably bizarre somehow.
I love Colin Baker’s pronunciation of “Kublai Khan”.
 “What are you?”/ “The future.” As a Who fan I’ve heard lines like this a thousand times, but they’re still wonderful.
“I wonder how many other families kneecap each other when they lose at monopoly.”
The Blackpool gag (cf. Revelation of the Daleks/The Nightmare Fair) made me chortle.
“One day it would be nice to have a meal that doesn’t end up in mortal danger!”
 “Excuse me, is this a private conversation, or can anyone join in?”
The Doctor’s fascination with the gruesome Nathaniel – “Interesting, he’s hunting you!”/ “Oh, you’re a great help!”
“Evelyn… If ever I ask you to leave that ridiculous bludgeon known as a handbag in the TARDIS… Ignore me.”
 “I can think of better role models than common hoodlums.”
“’Private: Do not Enter.’ Pity. Maybe I should tell them that’s Ancient Gallifreyan for ‘Come on in, Doctor, have a snoop round’…”
We get the car heading into the river seven years before Helen Raynor will do it in The Sontaran Stratagem.
 “In my considerable experience, homicidal maniacs don’t tend to knock.”
 “If I were being melodramatic, I’d call it a ‘blood-soaked dawn for the human race’, otherwise it’s just a syringe.”
“You’re inhuman!”/ “Shut up! You don’t know the meaning of the word…”
 “I could snap you in half in a second, Doctor.”/“Some of the best people in the universe have tried, and I’m still waiting for them to get it right.”
“Where has all the finesse gone in the universe?” – a nice line, given it evokes the Sixth Doctor’s famous “tact and finesse” moment from Terror of the Vervoids.
“The living dead feeding off the undead…People who’ve never heard a human voice, never loved or been loved. What a sad, sad waste.”
The 80s were “the age of opportunity” – even for vampires, apparently.
“Who am I going to shoot first? My saviour or my creator?”
“How do you think the Thames will look when it runs red with death?”
As Evelyn fishes the Doctor out of the Thames there’s a lovely nod to The Marian Conspiracy.
“I’m a monster. My dad always told me that monsters don’t exist. But they do. Don’t they?”

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