Monday, 28 September 2015

Main Range 021. Dust Breeding by Mike Tucker (June 2001)

I can’t say I was particularly enthused about the prospect of another audiobook from Mike Tucker – whose earlier effort The Genocide Machine was uninspiring – but the intriguing title (taken from Man Ray’s 1920 photograph of Duchamp’s Large Glass) gave me a little confidence. I think my ultimate verdict on Dust Breeding would be that it is clearly soaked in similar flaws to Tucker’s previous play for Big Finish, but as with TV writer Steve Thompson, he is (marginally) improving as he goes along.

Clearly, Dust Breeding is full of good ideas. We open in Berlin, 1893, with the nightmarish background to Munch's The Scream. Quite different for a Doctor Who opening, but given that art is hardly conducive to the audio medium it’s nice that it focuses on a painting with which the audience will all be familiar. "An infinite scream, passing through nature." The best lines here come from Munch's own journal descriptions. Then as all good mash-ups do, we transfer with minimal fuss from Munch to outer space. Duchamp 331 is well-realised, and Tucker writes the Grimy Future akin to the original Star Wars trilogy – burnt out hyperspace drives and so on. The Outhouse is a great concept, as is the Dust and the screaming Dalek voices; not to mention the Warp Core trapped within the painting, the Krill, dust sharks, etc. There’s a lot of good material here, and Tucker is obviously at home writing in the space opera genre.

He’s just a very workmanlike writer. His scripts feel as though they’re ticking off a checklist and characters’ dialogue is almost exclusively there to advance the mechanics of the plot (a criticism I levelled at his previous audio) – you can almost hear the cogs and gears turning as he manoeuvres events into place. Tucker's characterisation tends to be thin and transparent - it's so obvious the lighter motif is building to something as it's the only trait Guthrie possesses amid a laboured backstory. It’s not a particularly strong story for Ace or the Doctor either (despite the evocative cover). He has great ideas, certainly, but doesn’t weave a particularly interesting tapestry (that’s my bad pun out of the way for this one) around them; and the story doesn’t really have anything to say – again, a fault shared by The Genocide Machine. Doctor Who doesn’t always need to be high art or profound, but that this story touches on art without really making it about the intrinsic value or danger of artistic nature is a bit disappointing, to say the least.

The story’s biggest selling point, of course, is the return of the Master, here played by Geoffrey Beevers (Mr Seta, yes, very clever, blah blah. How many more anagrams of the Master can there be?) Beevers is excellent, downplayed and sinister, and it's great to see him given another crack at the whip. His voice is measured and sophisticated, rich and resonant. That he's wearing a mask is minimal surprise for a character like the Master, but does reflect the central theme of art. Binks is "putting on a performance" when he attacks, Damien has an "audience" which "doesn't want to be kept waiting"; the other characters on the Gallery are all masked by their wealth and titles, such that Salvadori has been taken in. Unfortunately, I do feel Tucker underuses the Master amid all his other elements; the Doctor doesn’t know the Master is involved until the end of Part 3, for example. Still, it’s nice he’s back and loose in the world of audio, and I look forward to seeing him again.

All told, this is perfectly adequate, but a bit frustrating as it could have been a lot more. It’s not offensively bad, but it’s nothing special either.

Other thoughts:
"He has despair as his religion."
The Dust...a definite post-His Dark Materials vibe (Pullman’s trilogy began in 1995).
The TARDIS has an art gallery as well as a library, both in Tucker's two audios so far. In these opening scenes he writes a good and warmly playful Seventh Doctor.
Nice nod to the Mona Lisa from City of Death: "well, it's not the one with "this is a fake" written in felt tip. That one's in the Louvre."
Of course the Doctor collects paintings! That is to say he "rescues" them. The rogue!
It's actually rather neat that there's a planet called Duchamp 331... Rather like we name our asteroids after famous artists etc. Much better than a silly space name for a human colony. 
Can't say I'm enthused by the return of Bev Tarrant, one of the less interesting things about The Genocide Machine. Though it's nice Big Finish is starting to build its own continuity. 
"Spit's a precious commodity on Duchamp. Everything's so dry, inside and out."
"Old before our time, and aged by the dust. No one young ever comes here...this is where they send you to die." A twisted inversion of JM Barrie's Neverland.
Madame Salvadori... The names aren't the subtlest tributes to famous artists, are they? Klimp = Klimt, and Damien too, ofc.
"You will clash with the hors d'oeuvres if you wear that particular shade of green, Madame."
This feels more like a televised McCoy-era story than Genocide Machine, a little more season 25 than 26 mind.
"What's that awful screaming noise?" A tad forced. 
J Binks... Yes, okay, I laughed. 
"That's the sound of Dalek madness..." A force so powerful it undid the Daleks themselves and sent them mad. It's also a very good background sound effect. 
"Check the hold, they say. Never check the bar, check out the cold buffet, or check to see whether the beds are comfortable. Always check the hold."
Lives aren't valued highly, as we see from Salvadori's reaction to Bootle's death. 
"All a load of Jackson Pollocks if you ask me!" - as someone who really dislikes that man's art, I loved this line.
Doctor doing medical incisions makes a change…
"I'm something of a perfectionist when it comes to time."
Russell Stone’s score for the Master is a great piece.
I like that Damien is completely and utterly nuts, with his plot for the greatest piece of art for all time, art as immortality, ... It helps that I have a strong dislike of Damien Hirst. The centrepiece of the gag, of course, is that he has wrapped them up in tanks “like fish in an aquarium”. Teehee.
"These aren't very aesthetic solutions to life's problems, I must admit, but they are very good at shutting the chattering mouths of critics."
Seven: "I'm afraid I do tend to stir things up a bit. It's a gift."
McCoy has a good chemistry with Tarrant, who's more likeable here, addressing her with the full "Beverley!" when irritated. 
"Guthrie knows what happens when the planet gets angry... There weren't many of us when we first came to Duchamp. Handful of us, barely away from our mother's arms, conscripted by the Duchamp Corporation to build the new world. It was no easy colonisation; damn planet falters every step of the way. The wind and the Dust got everywhere. In machinery we thought sealed, in throats and eyes and noses.... Wind and dust... Frontier life is hard on a man...the planet gave us something to rage against."
"The Dust rose up and became a living thing. A huge fist."
"And if you've been leading me chef will have such fun devising new fillings for the vol-au-vents."
The Mr Seta/Master reveal is as enjoyable as it is inevitable, as the Krill burst out of their eggs and assault Klimp. Nice to see "you will obey me" get a look-in, too.
McCoy’s performance as the possessed Doctor at the start of Part 3 is fantastically unnerving (“I frighten you, don’t I? It’s what I was built for. I am every death you can possibly imagine. I am blood and tongues of fire. I am the Scream of the madman.”)
Destruction wreaked through people’s misconceptions of art? Art and ideas can sometimes become free of their creators and twist and manipulate people to their own design. As Moffat writes in The Time of Angels, “What if ideas could think for themselves?”
“You’re just in time.”/ “I always try to be.”
“an unblemished canvas waiting for an artist to bring it to life – to turn it into a work of beauty…a living, breathing work of art! A planet-sized monument to my vision! I will be immortal!”
McCoy says “you need help” with beautiful compassion.
“Oh my dear Doctor, always the good Samaritan. Always stepping into other people’s misfortune.”
The Doctor on the Master: “I never really saw you as a patron of the arts, I must say.”
Salvadori in a panicked state yet still managing to get out her (lengthy) full name!
The Beevers Master has a face “like a dropped pizza”.
Part 4 is a bit of a plotless, anti-climactic mess. “Dangerous habit on a refuelling station” – yes, yes, it was signposted right from episode 1.

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