Monday, 28 September 2015
Main Range 033.5. The Maltese Penguin by Robert Shearman (November 2002)
As reasons to leave the Doctor go, Frobisher’s “you cramp my style” motive is actually quite a good one: he wants to be the lead character in his own story rather than playing second fiddle or anything. And he makes a good lead, worth following: not a hero – that’s the Doctor’s role – but still a brave figure doing his best. I have to admit I saw the Francine reveal coming, but it’s still a rather cool way to round off the story, even giving Frobisher his own mini-character arc. “We were just two penguin-shaped shape-shifters with eyes only for each other.”
Darlington’s music is great, sleazy lazy saxophones and low piano chords with a real underground speakeasy feel. The harmonica at the end is beautiful. Such dark and dingy environments really suit the Sixth Doctor and his coat, lending things a sickly and technicolour aspect alongside the horror trappings – just like the Victorian Matrix fantasy in The Ultimate Foe, the castle in The Holy Terror or the moor in The Spectre of Lanyon Moor. I think it’s because the coat and the colourful personality clash too much with colourful environments but work well with more gloomy ones.
Everyone here is a vividly drawn pastiche, from the “dame with a capital DA” Alicia Mulholland to the piggy-faced Arthur Gringrax to the half-frog mafia boss Dogbolter (performed with great relish by Toby Longworth). Dogbolter’s modus operandi is very nicely conceived – “We don’t make things well. There is no real market in fulfilling demand. Our bottle-tops are likely to cause the milk to dribble out into the fridge, and our cruise missiles are likely to explode on the ground. Mediocrity, Mr Frobisher. The mundane. The unimaginative. That’s where the big bucks are.” The planet that doesn’t make anything, such that Dogbolter maintains the status quo whereby every employee is in an endless, pointless cycle, is the idea here that most resembles Shearman’s work elsewhere. Out of all this nothing, a “something” has been created, and it terrifies the janitor of nothingness – who knows what somethings, anythings and everythings it will inspire? The method of his defeat – via his own curiosity, indulging his own imagination – is a laugh-out-loud little nugget. Once again, imagination beats tyranny, in time for tea.
And of course, Frobisher and the Doctor sail off together: “Some philosophers say that on these mean streets of life, friendship is an illusion; where death lurks around every corner, the only man you can trust is yourself. But I say what the hey, some philosophers just don’t know how to have fun… You know, Doc, I think this could be the continuation of a beautiful friendship!”
In short: a joyous little pastiche that doesn’t outstay its welcome and gives us a host of fun characters. It’s not as stunning as Shearman’s more intrinsically serious Doctor Who stories, but that’s not the remit here, and on its own terms this is a cracking yarn.
“I’ve got nothing against the odd bit of decency every once in a while, and morality is fine as a weekend hobby, but neither of them are gonna pay my rent, you follow? Not on the mean streets where I do my job, buddy.”
“The Case of the Absconded Feline” – chortle.
“I had employed the Doctor as my assistant on numerous occasions. He might not look like much, but underneath the unruly curly hair and the garish multicolour coat there is a mind with a deductive skill nearly equal to my own. I strictly work freelance, but I was so impressed by his potential that I had many times considered offering him full-time employment.”
“Things usually get interesting when I’m here.”
Colin Baker’s “turn” as Frobisher, complete with distinctly dodgy accent, is terrific fun. The actor is obviously enjoying himself so much it’s infectious as anything.
“If you need anything, anything at all, just quack. You know how to quack, don’t you?”
Frobisher’s description of humanoids – “all those weird little appendages hanging there, which as far as I can see don’t do anything at all.”
“I dived out of sight into an alleyway, gracefully.” (Cue clatter of rubbish bins, the yelps of a cat)
“I thought about packing a gun, but it ruined the line of my multi-coloured pockets.”
“I forced the door open with my shoulder, and remembered once again how much more painful that is than it is in the movies.”
“Holy Mackerel!” is Frobisher’s go-to exclamation apparently.
“There was no murderer waiting to cave my head in. That was the good news. There was no body, either. Instead there was a huge pool of blood sitting in a thick mass on the tiled floor. Every few seconds the neon light advertising cheap liquor across the street illuminated it in all its thick red gore.” (Fantastically done detail).
“green with nausea and pale with fear”
“What am I charged with?”/ “We’ll think of something long and sticky.”
“This felt like the sort of carpet a dangerous man would own.”
“I might wreak murder, I might just wreak grievous bodily harm; we’ll have to see how the fancy takes me.”
“I had a go at giving a laconic shrug, and realised I couldn’t pull it off in a prostrate position.”
“Some men are so rich and powerful that they are famous throughout the galaxy and everyone knows their names… But then there are those who are so much richer and more powerful still that they can ensure that no one knows them.”
This is the first Doctor-lite release Big Finish have done, with Frobisher being the central character (although we still get a lot of Colin Baker thanks to Frobisher’s mesomorphic abilities) – and on the evidence of The Maltese Penguin it’s a format that can work rather well. I wonder if we’ll get any more…
“Mr Frobisher, please understand there are two types of people on this planet: those who work for me, and those who are going to do so in the future. I’d like to offer you some money so that you’ll transfer from the latter to the former.”
“This was one dangerous hybrid with a chip on his amphibious membrane.”
“I’ve just got to the part where people are trying to kill me.”/ “Oh, fair enough. That is the most interesting bit.”
“Maybe I should find someone who can broaden my horizons…?”/ “I was dying to ask her just how far she was prepared to have them broadened.”
“If I had any appreciation of the mammalian form I’m quite sure that I would be palpitating with desire.”
“We can talk man to man.”/ “Or man to reasonable approximation.”
“He was like a son to me. A particularly ugly and twisted son, but a son nonetheless.”
“only in science-fiction nonsense.” (cue TARDIS noise!)