Thursday, 8 September 2016

Main Range 102. The Mind's Eye/Mission of the Viyrans by Colin Brake/Nicholas Briggs (November 2007)

102a. The Mind’s Eye by Colin Brake
The Mind’s Eye starts off with a trio of openings in medias res, the Doctor, Peri and Erimem getting one each: an amnesiac Doctor being shot on an unnamed jungle planet, Peri (now with boyfriend and stepson) sitting down to watch a soap, and Erimem the ruler of distant-sounding New Cairo on planet Kandoor. A pleasantly disorientating way to start the story, although not entirely unguessable; we grasp early on that it will either be a sequel to an unseen adventure that saw them all in different times and places, and now they all have to meet up, or, as turns out to be case, some or all of them are dreaming, and these are elaborate dreamscapes. The title and the jungle planet signal that there must have been a bit of Kinda in the back of Colin Brake’s mind as he wrote this, and sure enough there’s a similar feel to some parts of the story. It’s not quite Doctor Who’s most thrilling take on dreamscapes (it suffers from being more literal than Kinda), but it’s got some great ideas, and gives us, and the characters, a sufficient drip-feed of information so that they gradually realise the falsehood of their invented worlds; the different dreams also give the story a bigger, more expansive and less by-numbers feel than “jungle planet” might otherwise have. In purely narrative terms, the trick with dream-worlds is to make sure the dream-events really count for the characters involved, make sure they really matter, and Brake is careful to do this: not only do the individual scenarios feel plausible, but they are real, in a sense, and to die in them is to die in reality, so the stakes are sufficiently high (that’s why the Part Two cliff-hanger is so good). In many respects what The Mind’s Eye does with dreams is horrific and disturbing.

Furthermore, each dream tells us something about the dreamer, and their usage allows Brake to build very nicely on Three’s a Crowd. In that story, he did good work on the dynamics of the TARDIS crew in light of agoraphobia, but here goes one better by placing them in their own separate milieus, giving each character a wholly independent world and/or adventure of their own. In a sense, Peri and Erimem are like the colonists of Phoenix in Brake’s first story - needing to escape the “crowd” and carve out one’s own niche, one’s own space… and, in dreams, one’s own story. I’m no expert on oneirocriticism, but where better to begin than Sigmund Freud’s Die Traumdeutung/The Interpretation of Dreams (1899): we might be tempted into a Freudian reading of Peri’s dream (“the royal road to the unconscious”), given she finds herself landed with a stepson who resents her and a partner who seems to be ‘having an affair’ with her best friend - has she come to see that the male figures of her past have failed her (Howard Foster, if we believe one novel; her childhood crush Nate monstered into a Cyberman) and even those of her future will do so too (the Sixth Doctor, Yrcanos)? At heart she wants to dream a complete family again because that’s what she never had, but even her dream family is suburban nightmare.

For her part, Erimem dreams of herself as ruler again, basically Daenerys Targaryen complete with handmaidens, first ministers and political prisoners. It is worth remembering that the Ancient Egyptians saw dreams as oracles or messages, which is more of a Jungian archetype than a Freudian one; compare her role here with the status she ascends to in Son of the Dragon and I think one can safely guess that when she does leave, as she soon will, it will inevitably be to stretch her wings and finally become part of something bigger than the TARDIS is - to have a higher status, to rule. The Doctor needing to enter Erimem’s dreamscape and wake her up from it (very Last Christmas) adds an interesting dimension to the story’s second half: he has to come and ‘invade’ her personal private sphere, wake her from her “living in the past”, an action of his Erimem finds increasingly tiresome and restrictive (“this can’t be happening!” she insists when she sees him, stubbornly refusing to believe that the empire she rules is not real). As before, Brake finds inventive ways to reflect the psychology and character interactions of these three people via a science-fiction milieu; it’s a bit less “theme as text” and pacier than Three’s a Crowd, too, with a touch more subtlety.

I have some complaints: an unconvincing performance from Richard Laing as Ukarme means the pre-titles sequence of Part One and most scenes with him in fall a bit flat. There’s slightly too much technobabble, and for my money the story could tip into being more surreal than it is. Although she’s a big name, Rebecca Front is also a tad unengaging (I’m not convinced she’s *that* good at drama rather than comedy) but on the plus side Owen Teale (so terrifying in Torchwood, great on Game of Thrones) gives a marvellous turn as Professor Darrius Hayton, effectively the Simon Rouse in this Kinda lookalike. Thomas Brodie-Sangster, fresh from The Family of Blood, is good casting as the surly Kyle, too. Furthermore, Brake does good work on reversing what we might expect of Ukarme, Takol and Hayton, all of whom are not what they seem. All told, The Mind’s Eye may not be ground-breaking, but is a pretty solid story, with clever plotting, good twists and nice imagery. And a rather good title to boot.

Other things:
Beautiful stuff from quickly-becoming-my-favourite-director Barnaby Edwards and post-prod-man Steve Foxon, in whose hands the jungle world of planet-with-no-name YT45 comes to sparkling, vivid life: chirping birds, whirring insects, the rustle of foliage.
“Where’s the fun in theft if it’s so easy?”
“The Ego has landed.” I don’t know why I find this joke so funny.
As in Three’s a Crowd, some solid world-building: cute lemurs (‘Jekylls’) which turn lethal at night; the kyropites, parasitic flowers that cause complex neurological dreams and memory loss; and finally then the way the kyropites feed off the brain waves of the lemurs in a symbiotic relationship.
“It’s the 25th century! The pyramids would be dust by now if they were not encased in plastic!”
“You’re serious?”/“Most of the time.”
“Dream on, my friend.”
“Mind over matter!”
Paraphrasing Clarke’s Third Law: “How else can you be in my dream but by magic?”/“Magic? Nonsense. I’m using some advanced alien technology.”
“Is this … death?” Neat.
Leaving the vid-link active whilst spouting treacherous plans is such an uncharacteristically farcical moment in quite a serious story. It feels a bit like a Curse of Fatal Death joke… oh wait, it is.
“What happens after dark?”/“The monsters come out.”/“I take it that’s not a metaphorical statement.”
“This whole thing, your hospital, your boyfriend, your son - none of it is real.”/“What kind of a doctor are you?”
“Look at me. What do you see?”/“A chubby man with glasses and a nasty case of acne.”/“…really?”
“I’m sorry, Doctor, but my son has just had a brush with death, and I’ve been hit by a car and then proposed to! My life is complicated enough right now without you trying to tell me it’s not real!”
Ukarme’s end fate might just be the play’s darkest scene: his “join the TARDIS!” triumph is actually him getting devoured by carnivorous plants.
Extras: interesting discussion on the nature of 3-parters vs. 4-parters, and how the former lends itself to the classic ‘3-act structure’ whereas 4-parters are always a bit tricky. I also rather like how cavalier Peter Davison is about the whole thing, admitting how he doesn't normally prep the scripts too much beforehand and doesn't really know where each adventure slots next to which in chronological order! He just turns up and has a blast. Well quite, that's what matters in the end.

102b. Mission of the Viyrans by Nicholas Briggs
This time round, the one-part release is technically as unrelated to its mother story as it gets: not just a different scenario and setting, but there’s no Erimem at all, it’s set after her departure, and it isn’t even by the same author. What it is related to, however, is this strange and rather vague little “virus” arc running through Urgent Calls, Urban Myths and The Wishing Beast/The Vanity Box, tying them together by unveiling a new alien race: the Viyrans. I actually do remember these creatures debuting in a Nick Briggs short story (No One Died was the title) about a decade ago, but had no idea that he put them in his audio dramas too, making this tiny little oddity a landmark in that, given the ambiguity of the northern chap with big ears in The Kingmaker, it’s the first Big Finish product to overtly use something created for the revived series (though obviously still copyright: Briggs).

Mission of the Viyrans is a weird, experimental little piece - Briggs in real Creatures of Beauty mode - that is more of a prequel-y foretaste of further adventures with the Viyrans (who I’ve seen on the covers of other audio dramas!) than it is a self-contained short story. The entire thing more or less rests on the shoulders of Nicola Bryant, who rises to the occasion magnificently, playing a number of characters as well as Peri and always commanding the listener’s attention. Despite the apparent lack of connection, it’s a good fit with The Mind’s Eye in that both deal with memories, perception, dream-worlds and mutating viruses taking over one’s interior landscape. Briggs piles up strange vocal distortions and repetitions on top of one another, deliberately seeking to unsettle us by odd cuts and non-linear storytelling (and he’s at his best when he’s trying to unsettle rather than be comfortingly familiar). The Viyrans themselves remain mysterious things in their “flying glass coffins” rather than out-and-out villains; they appear to want to fight malicious viruses rather than any more insidious aims, even if their methods leave a bit to be desired.

Not exactly easy to follow at this stage, but Mission of the Viyrans does a decent job of whetting the appetite for more stories with the Viyrans. Already the first significant seeds of early Briggs-era BF arcs are coming into play.

Other things:
“Anybody feel like turning a light on?”/“There is no light.”
OK, so this is clearly set after Erimem’s departure in a couple of releases’ time (“we’ve had enough heartache lately” does not bode particularly well for her).
Weird echo in that Peri is hit by a car in the 3-parter, then here hits someone else with her car in the 1-parter.

Next: Charley Pollard bows out in 103 The Girl Who Never Was by Alan Barnes. Bloody hell, that’s an even bleaker title than The Girl Who Waited or The Girl Who Died.

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