Sunday, August 30, 2009

Companion Chronicles - The Drowned World

The end of the world is seriously nigh, and available for purchase, as I give you not one but two Audio Time Team sessions this weekend.

And watch as there be spoilers ahead.

It would only seem natural that if I did Home Truths yesterday I should do The Drowned World today. A direct sequel to Home Truths, The Drowned World brings the entire creative team responsible for one of Big Finish's most popular titles from last year back together for another go around. We pick up a time after the ending of Home Truths where Robert returns to the house and Sara Kingdom, giving us an info dump of the previous audio. Robert has returned to hear another story from Sara that will help him convince his superiors not to destroy her. Once again we're teased with stories involving a boy dying in Sara's arms and a man stuck in a clock but this time around we get a story involving her adventures on an asteroid in the Red-O Belt.

The TARDIS materializes in an odd angle in a lab area and it takes no time at all for Sara, Steven, and the First Doctor to be separated from the TARDIS as it falls into water. Having no where to go up they continue to climb, opening one hatch after another. The second set of doors open up, freeing a bunch of miners and the stock Big Finish "much rejoicing noise" who weren't expecting Red-O Base to send a rescue party in time.

Sara remembers that some of the miners were convinced they'd been attacked as opposed to being struck by an act of nature. The Doctor opts to work on the life support system with a warning about the water while Sara, Steven, and Miners Hutchinson, Cowell and Keefe go to retrieve the TARDIS. It doesn't take long for the body count to start as Miner Keefe ends up playing the role of red shirt ensign in manly screaming fashion, making the mistake of not heeding the Doctor's advice to not touch the water. Think of The Abyss gone horribly wrong.

At the risk of sounding blasphemous, the real star this time is Niall MacGregor as Robert. The first time around MacGregor's Robert was a placeholder character, serving to give the listener something else to listen to than just Jean Marsh along with serving as the device that gets Sara to tell her story. This go around he's a much more integral part of the story. Simon Guerrier fleshes out his character and turns Robert into someone we actually can care about just as much as we care about what happens to Sara. Robert also serves as another narrator, at times helping to tell Sara's story. This is not to say Jean Marsh was horribly, far from it. Just as before Jean took what she was given and ran with it, providing another stellar performance.

Guerrier once again writes a gripping outer story that helps frame the inner story that Sara's telling. Ultimately, just as you find yourself caring about Robert you find youself just as engrossed in what one would think is the inconsequential outer story of what's happening to Robert's world. As before Lisa Bowerman does not disappoint. I know I sound lke a broken record, but it bears repeating that she may be the one of the best directors Big Finish has on the payroll at the moment. Maybe, it's her acting background, but she's able to bring out performances that aren't one note, something that might be easy to fall in when you're working with only two actors. There's definite shifts between the inner story and the outer story that you'd be able to tell without the aid of the sound design and music.

Even before listening to the behind the scenes chat with the creative team it's very clear that the foundation is being laid for the story of Sara and Robert to be a trilogy. And while I could eventually see that coming, it does not disappoint me. After two audios I care enough about them to want to hear a third story. One can only hope that Big Finish will bring this group together for a third time.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Companion Chronicles - Home Truths

Looky looky, it's not an Archway cookie but another Audio Time Team installment.

Hell has turned quite frosty. Our schedules have not meshed and as you'll notice quite quickly still haven't meshed. But I felt like getting something out so I've opted for some Companion Chronicles. If the concept of one person narrating a whole story is good enough for Big Finish, then little ole' me going solo is good enough for me.

For my return to the world of solo ATT goodness I've opted for Home Truths by Simon Guerrier and starring Jean Marsh as Sara Kingdom. For you New Who kids Sara Kingdom traveled with the First Doctor for one story before she met her untimely demise. Naturally one might ask how the hell do you do a Companion Chronicle with a character that was only around for one story and ended up as dead as Michael Jackson. At least that's what I was thinking, without the Michael Jackson bit, when it was first announced that they were doing a story with Jean Marsh as Sara Kingdom.

To answer this question the audio opens up on a dark stormy night with a man begging to be let in to escape the weather. Quickly we learn the house is inhabited by an old woman who used to run a guesthouse. The man, asks her to tell a story about a house.

The woman turns out to be Sara Kingdom.

For those not familiar with Sara we get a quick info dump of the background of how Sara ends up with the Doctor and Steven. This works well, not only for new fans but old ones as it helps to flesh out Sara's character. It helps give reason as to why we'd get a Companion Chronicle with a companion who people debate as to whether or not she's a true companion. After this info dump and a taste of other adventures she'd had with the Doctor and Steven we get to the story that not only the man, but we want. The story about the house. (Between this and "Every Day" by Stephen Fewell it seems the First Doctor is attracted to fucked up houses.)

The audio flips back and forth from the main story of Sara meeting with the Magistrate, Robert, and the one she's telling. It's a nice way to break up the action, without feeling forced. It's easy to imagine the main scene of them talking and then the flashbacks associated with Sara's story. These switches along with creating the general atmosphere are capably handled by Richard Fox and Lauren Yason handling sound design and the music. It can tricky doing a mystery/horror piece on audio since you're lacking the visual component to foster fear and terror. This is one of those audios that benefits greatly from listening to it with a good pair of headphones. You're able to catch the little bits thrown in to help craft the overall audio along with the script and acting.

I've never been a fan of the First Doctor. The stories were normally too long and at times he was too crabby for my liking. I won't even get into my issue with his later stories where he'd just be absent for multiple episodes leaving us with just some crap companions. His stories during a monthly Nitro-9 meeting normally servies as nap and/or food time. Much as he worked his magic in the Bernice Summerfield range to get fans to re-examine the character of Jason Kane, Guerrier does an equally admirable job of rehabbing the First Doctor, for me at least. The story is tight and crisp and the characterisation of Hartnell's Doctor is detailed enough to allow Marsh impersonate him to a "t".

Hinging the success or failure of any story on one person is always a gamble. In the wrong hands, these Chronicles can be painful to work your way through. Obviously, in the hands of Jean Marsh this is not the case.  Though it's been over forty years since Jean played Sara she picks up where she left off. Jean takes the script and runs with it, making the part and story her own.

Rounding out the perfect creative group to bring this story to life is Lisa Bowerman as the director. She has yet to fail as a director and this continues the trend for her. Lisa may be one of the best directors Big Finish has employed as of late and it's a pleasure to see them using her as much as they can.

Overall, Home Truths is a quite a clever concept allowing the fans to re-experience a character from beyond the grave. There's something to be said for classic storytelling over the usual reliance on explosions and non-stop action to propel a story, especially in the audio format. And doubly so when you relying mainly on one person to keep the story moving and your audience engaged.

Keep your eyes posted here as I want to get things moving around these parts again. Possibly check back tomorrow even...

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