Sunday, June 24, 2012
Sorry for the delay in updates. I have been on vacation at the beach for the last week. I had grand ambitions on updating the blog while I was there, but oddly enough found that I preferred going to the beach and drinking beer to sitting in front of my laptop reviewing Doctor Who stories. However, while I was not writing about Doctor Who at the beach I was listening to it just about every day, so I am currently half way through "The Fearmonger". Schedule permitting, there should hopefully be some frequent updates this week. Onto this review....
Mark Gattis is pretty well known for his writing (and acting) contributions to Doctor Who, and is also riding high on the success of his co-creation "Sherlock" (which is awesome), but the first Gattis written Doctor Who I ever encountered is "Phantasmagoria". In Series 1 of the "new" Doctor Who in the Gattis penned "The Unquiet Dead", Charles Dickens name drops this story when the "phantoms" first appear with the line, "What phantasmagoria is this?" (or something close to that). I enjoyed the cute nod to this story. The idea for this story came from a sketch from The League of Gentlemen stage show involving people playing cards against the Devil.
This features the fifth Doctor travelling with Turlough, which puts it sometime after the bloodbath of "Resurrection of the Daleks" and before "Planet of Fire". Personally, I think it's a shame that Mark Strickson chose to leave the series when Janet Fielding (Tegan) and Peter Davison chose to. I thought having the Doctor travel with only Turlough as his companion might have been fun. The character Turlough in itself seems like a missed opportunity. The idea of an "evil" companion seemed good on paper, but it just ended up being silly with the writers having to somehow come up with reasons for Turlough to keep bungling the murder of the Doctor - yet also keep him from being found out as the Black Guardian's agent. It was also odd how as soon as "Enlightenment" ended and "The King's Demons" began, it just seemed like everyone had brushed aside the fact that Turlough had been trying to kill the Doctor, even if he did choose to side against the Black Guardian at the end. After that, Turlough was a pretty bland companion who had mysterious origins that never really got explored until his final story. His somewhat darker nature wasn't really explored in any way other than him mainly looking after his own skin.
This story takes place in London in 1702. The audio just drips atmosphere and the performances are teriffic. The banter (in the Diabola Club) between the gamblers Flowers, Cartaret, and Jeake (who is played by Gattis himself) is delightful and harkens back to the Robert Holmes era and the banter between Jago and Lightfoot. The first lines of David Ryall as Sir Nikolas Valentine just drip with menace and leave very little doubt as to who the villain of this tale is. Steven Wickham is great as old fuddy duddy Dr. Samuel Holywell who oddly has an interest in trying to contact dead spirits.
The plot does a good job of introducing seemingly separate but linked plot threads. Young men are being pursued and vanish (or in one case is killed) by "phantoms". There is a mysterious highwayman named Major Billy Lovemore who is robbing people in the streets. Dr. Holywell seems to be able to contact the spirits of the dead. A pair of aliens keep discussing a "client" who is hunting someone or something. A night watchman harasses Dr. Holywell's servant girl, Hannah, but then ends up murdered by the highwayman Major. All of these elements come together in a satisfying way with a nice twist to boot. Also, the Doctor performs some nice trickery to save the day.
Again with this story, it's the atmosphere that really makes it all come together. Nick Briggs' direction is top notch capturing the background sounds and the great performances of the guest actors. Turlough doesn't do much but run around with a couple of the gamblers, other than fleeing danger to save his own skin as usual. Davison sounds like he is having a lot of fun here getting a simple romp and not having to argue with several companions in an overcrowded TARDIS. If "The Sirens of Time" rates out on the high side of good, let's say this would be on the lower side of great.