Monday, 28 September 2015

Main Range 039. Bang-Bang-a-Boom! by Gareth Roberts & Clayton Hickman (December 2002)

Gareth Roberts, writing in DWM on City of Death, claimed that to really, properly nail light and fluffy and fun well, rather than to aim for mediocre angst and maturity, is true genius. It seems lightning does not strike twice in the case of Roberts’ Big Finish audios.

I dislike negativity, and it’s really rather rare I rate a Doctor Who story as being too silly for my liking, so I don’t want to be too harsh on Bang-Bang-a-Boom!. I’m not convinced that Big Finish are taking the Seventh Doctor in the right direction at the moment; his releases very rarely fulfil the promise of his last few TV stories. Only The Fearmonger and The Shadow of the Scourge truly feel like they capitalised on Season 25-26 (good though The Fires of Vulcan was). With its bright and colourful cover, the presence of Mel, and the Intergalactic Song Contest, Bang-Bang-a-Boom! distinctly continues the trend of fitting into Season 24 rather than the latter two seasons – which is wholly appropriate for a Christmas comedy release, of course, but one can’t help feeling it’s a bit of a Seventh Doctor wasted opportunity and a somewhat second-fiddle attempt to follow up on the success of The One Doctor the previous Christmas.

Dark Space 8 (kudos to the people at DiscCon for pointing out this is a pun on the recording studio), with its spacey opening music, is a pretty fun setting, but the Logan/Wogan spoof is a bit irritating and trivial. And when all this is coupled with Star Trek parody (Star Trek never being something I’ve been hugely familiar with, so perhaps I don’t get most of the jokes) it just ends up being rather tiresome, at least for me. At points this is Roberts and Hickman at their most irritatingly juvenile. For Christ’s sake, they gave the queen who’s constantly on heat a name that’s an anagram of ‘vagina’. Sigh. The seduction scenes are excruciating to listen to, and where a Doctor romance was handled as fun romp in The One Doctor and heartbreak in Loups-Garoux, it’s just flat-out daft here. “I am not like the other boys!” and “Oooh, my little man!” are the two worst offenders.

Sylvester McCoy gives this light-hearted script his all and comes out of it reasonably. He’s very much the Season 24 Doctor here, isn’t he? Right down to the misquoted aphorisms (“fit as a tree”, “fools rush in where horses refuse to drink”, “we’ll both be as happy as sandcastles!”, “softly, softly catches the worm”, “it takes two to foxtrot”), and of course the presence of the infernal spoons, McCoy is playing the earnest clown as much as possible. And much as I love his brooding persona, it has to be said that he does play the clown well; he’s pretty good in the murder-mystery denouement, too. Bonnie Langford doesn’t get nearly as good a script as she did last Christmas but does a decent job with some poor material.

BF might have got some talented actors in but I don’t think much of the parts they’re landed with, neither finding them especially memorable nor caring much about their fates. That said, Professor Fassbinder’s death is surprisingly touching, with its marvellous skewering of technobabble – the revelation that he is a drunk charlatan is actually the story’s finest moment (and I wonder if it inspired the charlatan Mr Copper from Voyage of the Damned?). It’s then rather ruined by the over-dramatic chords again, but still, credit where it’s due. And if we’re discussing strong points, I was quite impressed with the Part 3 cliff-hanger revealing that the peace conference has been taking place on Dark Space 8 the whole time – it’s a twist that I didn’t see coming.

Additionally, I do think the story got stronger as it went along, and Part Four was actually pretty enjoyable; the revelation of Geri’s true nature and the telepathic nature of the song contest are both clever ideas. As we build to the Contest itself, and the more Agatha-Christie-esque aspect of the story (one it’s easier for me to appreciate than Star Trek) becomes more prominent, I found myself wrapped up a little more comfortably in Roberts & Hickman’s comic vision, and felt some of the daftness of what they were trying to achieve actually coming off. The murder-mystery aspect, particularly the moment in which the Doctor accuses various people of secrets other than murder, bears a strong resemblance to The Unicorn and the Wasp, and it’s almost as good the first time round. The interweaving of Loozly’s plot and the Song Contest itself is done with a beautiful elegance, as we cotton on right as the characters do that the next performer to sing in front of billions has just ingested a superweapon, so by the time the end titles rolled I was grinning rather broadly. Of course the Seventh Doctor was going to perform for Earth in the Intergalactic Song Contest: how perfect for the actor who initially trained as a circus performer.

There’s a bit too much flat comedy in this for my liking, but I do admire Roberts and Hickman for trying this, and their vision of nutty comedy will remain something distinctive about 2001-2 Doctor Who in my view. Overall: decent, but not as strong as The One Doctor.

Other thoughts:
The opening red-alert switch gag is…not great. Neither are the over-dramatic chords following the phrase “He’s dead!” (“da-da-daaaaaaaaaah!”).
“It’s a real pity I’m doing this broadcast on sound only, cause if you could see her, you’d all have a laugh.”
“For many centuries they’ve been at each other’s opposable organs.”
Why in God’s name is Nick Briggs (really badly) recapping each part?
Geri Pakhar is yet another “What were they thinking?” element of the story. Shudder.
“Ever since we met I have felt something inside me, stirring.”/“You should go to the sick-bay.”
“With Angvia? After 700 years of celibacy that’s an odd place to start up again.”
I wonder if Mel’s constant “Professor” references were an Ace nod. If so, it didn’t really work, it just made me miss the more mature Seventh Doctor story we could have had in place of this.
“This is the denouement, Mr Loozly. I’ll take as long as I like.”
Andy Harwick has to puncture the story with a variety of garish sounds and tunes, and he rises to the task, though I could have done with MORE daft songs like that in The One Doctor rather than creeping around trying to work out the plot.
Nice little Ice Warrior cameo.
“Real life has a habit of being stranger than fiction.” Perhaps not this fiction…
“You can be a myth and still be real. Just ask my friend Clytemnestra.” These last two quotes are a nice gesture to the self-awareness that characterised the previous audio by this pair, but it doesn't work quite as well here; perhaps it's Colin Baker who really made that last release? Or maybe Roberts & Hickman get a bit too bogged down in riffing on things other than Who in this one, whereas The One Doctor felt like a love letter to the show itself.

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