October 20th, 2013

Oh Boy

Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles 7.07 - The Flames of Cadiz

Rewritten from material that I originally posted 3/24/13 on another forum:

Blurb: The TARDIS materializes in Spain in the late sixteenth century. The country is at war with England – and the travellers find themselves on the wrong side of the battle lines.

When Ian and his new friend Esteban are captured by the Inquisition, the Doctor, Susan and Barbara plan to rescue them.

But these are dark days in human history. And heretics face certain death...

Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the points-of-view of Ian and Susan. Published by Big Finish Productions and released January 2013.

Setting: Earth: Seville and Cadiz, Spain in 1587. Ian and Susan narrate this at some point in the future, time unknown but definitely after their travels with the Doctor have finished.

Continuity: This story is set between the Reign of Terror and Planet of Giants. There's no information given on where exactly it fits in relation to other stories set in the same gap, so I've gone with the simplest explanation and set it after the last audio story to utilize that gap, The Wanderer. The Doctor refers to Coal Hill School when talking with Susan (see An Unearthly Child). Ian refers to his experiences with Captain Cook in Transit of Venus. The Doctor wears a panama hat, which he'll wear again in The Daleks Masterplan. The Doctor also mentions sharing a fish with the Venerable Bede (see The Talons of Weng-Chiang). This story postulates a future meeting between Ian and Susan as they not only narrate the story but talk to each other while doing so. So far no story in any media has shown us how this meeting occurs.

Canonicity Quotient: Everyone acts out of character in this story. Ian endangers everyone else going off on a fool's errand. Barbara starts yelling at the Doctor and calling him an alien, something never apparent in the first two seasons. For some reason no one thinks that waiting for Ian back at the Ship is a good idea even though it's what they'd do in any other Season 1 story. The few references made to other stories are accurate but this one doesn't seem to really line up from a character perspective, which I think is far more valuable. As a result I had to dock this one some serious points. 0.85

Discussion: After having my expectations crushed with the Wanderer I picked myself up by my bootstraps and dusted myself off for The Flames of Cadiz. It was going to have two companions narrating. I'm a huge season 1 fan so it was great to think that there'd be more voice actors and more episodes.

Even though its a four parter the story is basically told in two parts. The first two episodes are fairly well told and seem to be a normal Hartnell historical adventure. The travelers arrive in an unfamiliar location, they get involved in a situation that they shouldn't, and then they need to get out of it. The scene with the Doctor trying to get the Inquisition to recognize him as a Cardinal from Rome is brilliant although I'm personally a little unsure about him involving Susan in that. It seemed a little out of character but was necessary for her to be able to tell the story.

Then we move on to the final two episodes and the story just completely falls apart. Ian decides that even though he's been captured by the Inquisition and whipped and almost killed that he's ready to go gallivanting off to see Sir Francis Drake because its such a huge opportunity to meet a boyhood hero. I'm not sure what Marc Platt was thinking but putting aside the fact that this seems like an incredibly foolhardy thing for Ian to do and completely out of character, he should be in no physical condition to make such a trip. He's been whipped. Huge chunks of the flesh of his back have been rent out of him. He should be resting for several days at least. Since part of this story's intent seemed to have been to convey the horror of the Inquisition I'm kind of at a loss as to how this wasn't even considered.

Then there's the double folly that they agreed to meet up at the house of someone on whom they had already imposed and who had become suspicious of the travelers on discovering that they were English. Why didn't Ian arrange to meet them at the TARDIS? That would have kept the other three safe and if there's one thing that is consistent about Ian in the original series it is that his first concern is always to keep the rest of the crew safe.

Then there's the triple folly of the Doctor and Barbara openly discussing Ian's plans in the house of Don Miguel, a man who they know is supplying the Armada and despite the fact that he is against the Inquisition is a loyal patriot of Spain. The Doctor especially should know to be more cautious.

Finally at the end we have Ian seeming rather naive when meeting Drake and not realizing that the man himself was not the same as the man in his imagination. By this point Ian should know that things aren't what they seem.

The other problem for me is that Barbara is shown to be so besotted with Ian at this point that she DEFENDS his clearly insane actions to the Doctor by crying and saying that he did not put them all in danger. While Barbara does get emotional sometimes within the stories I cannot see the same Barbara who stood up to Ian in the Reign of Terror defending his actions here. The Barbara I know of is a strong character and would have told Ian a thing or two about how he was putting them all in danger for something foolish and childish. Just because I'm convinced that they were in love with each other does not mean that they couldn't have an argument especially about such an obviously bad decision. It almost seems like Platt wrote a regular companion chronicle and was then told that he was going to get the anniversary 4-parter slot so he had to graft two extra episodes onto the story.

There are some minor nits as well. The end revelation about Don Miguel was VERY obvious and was telegraphed fairly early on.

The line from Barbara to the Doctor that "you aren't even from this planet" just seemed off. There's never any onscreen evidence that Ian and Barbara were aware that the Doctor was an alien. He talks about coming from "another world" but that could just as easily mean a world of the future and indeed the unscreened pilot establishes him as such. It just felt very jarring.

At the end I'm confused by the point of this story. First I thought it meant to show us the horrors of the Inquisition but the fact that Ian and Esteban are clearly no worse for wear seems to take that theory out. It also seemed counter productive to have Esteban to turn out to be a traitor and a spy if that were the case as it muddied the waters a bit. Then I thought maybe it was just supposed to be a censure on religion since Ian makes it plain in his narration that he didn't care much for religion and only went to church for show on a couple of holidays. But the stuff with Drake seemed to have nothing to do with that. Then we have the ending which seems to indicate that none of this stuff matters. Its all about where you're from and you support the home team. This seems an odd thing to say when Esteban was born in Spain and it seems to confuse the fact that while Drake may have been a bloodthirsty pirate, anything that he did paled in comparison with the Inquisition. It seemed kind of a trite way to end things and seemed to ignore the rather horrible situation of the first few episodes.

In the end, while I thoroughly enjoyed aspects of this one. There were some brilliant moments and on the whole the first two episodes hold up. I found the ending to be a bit of a letdown.

Final Rating: 6/10

Recommendation: I tend to think that the Companion Chronicles would be better if they were allowed to four-parters but the Flames of Cadiz puts my theory to the test. Midway through everything falls apart. We have two excellent episodes that really recreate a feel of a Hartnell story followed on by two stories that make no sense and seem to have been written in a hurry. I'd have given it one point less but the always stellar performances of Carole Ann Ford and William Russell manage to pull this up a notch and make it slightly better than half-good. I'd give this one a skip unless you're a season one fan or like the historicals.

Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles 7.10 - The Library of Alexandria

Rewritten from material that I originally posted 4/28/13 on another forum:

Blurb: The port of Alexandria, 5th Century AD.

The Doctor, Ian, Susan and Barbara have taken a break from their travels, and are enjoying a few weeks in the sunshine – and the chance to appreciate the magnificent Library of Alexandria.

Ian also takes the chance to enjoy friendship with the philosopher Hypatia - but things here will not last forever.

The time travelers know that the library will soon be lost to history.

What they are about to discover is the terrifying reason why…

Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Ian. Published by Big Finish Productions and released April 2013.

Setting: Earth: Alexandria, Egypt, exact time unknown, but between 400 (when Hypatia began teaching in Alexandria) and 415 A.D. (when she died). Ian narrates this story from an unknown time after traveling with the Doctor.

Continuity: This story is set between The Reign of Terror and Planet of Giants. There is no direct evidence of where this story falls in relation to other stories in this gap but there is a hint in the fact that here Ian and Barbara find that the Doctor may have been stretching the truth with them when he said that you can't change history. Therefore I think it's best to place this story between The Wanderer and the Flames of Cadiz. In the former Ian tells Grigory that history can't be changed, but in the latter Barbara isn't surprised when the Doctor is worried that history can be changed. Ian mentions that the Doctor said that their destiny lies in the stars and the Doctor mentions their having met Napoleon Bonaparte(see The Reign of Terror). He also remembers seeing the transit of Venus on the Endeavor (see The Transit of Venus). Ian refers to "their good friend, Alexander" when he sees a statue to the monarch who gave Alexandria its name (see Farewell Great Macedon). Barbara questions the Doctor about his previous assertions that you can't change history (see The Aztecs).

Canonicity Quotient: I've already mentioned that I'm not a big fan of the season 1 sci-historical because it isn't something that would have been done at that time. However, that's an aesthetic choice rather than anything else. This story does contradict the short story The Book of Shadows, which also takes place at the library and has Ian and Barbara. It also creates a bit of a problem by directly referencing Farewell Great Macedon, seeing as how that story does not fit into the canon, but that can be explained away as something similar did transpire with Alexander the Great even though we don't know the exact details yet. Ian and Barbara's relationship is developed here, which is a thread that will be picked up again in The Rocket Men. 0.92

Discussion: I have to say that I was looking at this one with a little dread. While I have mostly enjoyed the Companion Chronicles that I've listened to so far and believe that William Russell is phenomenal as a story teller there were two things going against this story from the get go.

1.) I don't think that sci-historicals are appropriate in an Ian and Barbara story. At that time the show was supposed to be educational and I don't think that the original production team would have have done one while Ian and Barbara were on the show. It's rather telling to me that the first sci-historical, The Time Meddler, happens right after Ian and Barbara leave the ship.

2.) I didn't know what to expect from Simon Guerrier. I'd read The Time Travelers but that wasn't his only work that I was familiar with. I felt that story was good but found it a little bogged down by how continuity heavy it was and seemed out of place as a season 1 story. The only other thing that I knew about Mr Guerrier is that he's fond of making fun of the classic series on the odd "Doctor's Strange Love" extras on the DVD's, which always seem out of place on a disc that people ostensibly purchase because they enjoy the show on its own merits, not because they think its akin to a B movie and feel that it needs to be riffed to make it enjoyable.

Needless to say with this background I approached the CD with some trepidation, but I will say that it was completely unfounded. Instead, I found a story that was very respectful of the four main characters and provided an interesting situation for the characters to interact with.

First of all, the performances were great. As always, William Russell did a fantastic job. Every time I listen to him it seems that the intervening years between 1965 and the present just melt away and I'm hearing the same voice that I hear on my DVD's when I play the first Doctor stories. Susan Franklyn also did a great job as Hypatia. She and William did a great job of developing the affection that grows into a slight romance between the two characters and this is one of my favorite parts of the story. Ian meets his Cameca here and it surprises me somewhat that he doesn't use some sort of retort like this when the Doctor is chastising him for his fraternization. It seems to me that he also should have chided Barbara for her own relationship with Leon Colbert which nearly got him killed.

I will post here that as others have mentioned, the fact that Ian comments on "their destiny being written in the stars" and references to "their friend Alexander the Great" does hint at placing this after Reign of Terror but more damning evidence is that the Doctor directly references Napoleon at one point as well as someone that Ian has met meaning that this story has to take place after Reign of Terror. The fact that no reference is made to the Doctor's wanting to throw them off the ship makes me think that either alternate takes were recorded and the BF editors decided to use the take that sets this after Reign of Terror or Mr Gurrier was testing to stir up the fan rage by lobbing in the suggestion that yet another story would be fit in the Sensorites/Reign of Terror gap. This may have been the "fun" that he was referencing.

At any rate, I digress. I know that a lot of people have said that they like Hypatia narrating part of the story but that bit didn't work as well for me. I suppose that this could have been her narrating to someone that she told her story to at another time but since it is interleaved with Ian's own narration it makes it seem as if they are together at some future point relating the story and so its distracting to wonder when that is (Flames of Cadiz creates a similar issue with me wondering when Ian goes back to the future to meet up with Susan to relate that tale). In the end though that wasn't a big deal to me and was easily ignored.

The science fiction aspect which I had been dreading actually turned out to be alright. As Susan stated the appearance of sea monsters to destroy the Library was part of the many different historical accounts of the library's destruction. With that being the case I can swallow down having that element in the story, although the Mim as described don't really sound like sea monsters even though they came out from the sea. I can just about buy their presence as a result and so that nit goes away.

However, I would be remiss if I didn't address the one gaping flaw in the plot. The Mim are apparently a time traveling race who are aware of the Earth's future. They also seem loathe to change history. My own feelings about time travel becoming to common aside, there is a severe problem with this. Why would they study the Earth as a potential location for invasion if they are aware of its future and do not want to change it? Obviously the invasion of such creatures would change things, so it seems odd that they'd have to do a study to prove this.

One thing that I do like is the provision of an explanation for why in other fan books and audios that Ian and Barbara assume that history can be changed even though the Doctor tried to tell them in the Aztecs that it couldn't. I really liked it as a subtle piece of continuity that now makes other stories work. That was very well done.

My remaining final nit is the lack of an interview at the end of the CD. I realize that they can only do this if they have the time but with it missing from both this and the Flames of Cadiz I am really starting to miss this feature and I hope that The Alchemists will have an interview as I have grown accustomed to them and enjoy the insights of the creative crew.

In the end I give the Library of Alexandria a 9/10 and hope to hear more of this quality.

Final Rating: 9/10

Recommendation:: A well-written, subtle piece. The alien invasion is just a backdrop. This story is about Ian and Barbara's relationship. There's some great history thrown in and there's even an alien menace. The First Doctor's as awesome as ever as he faces down the bad guys, but I can't get enough of the Ian and Barbara love. This may not be the best jumping on point for new listeners but I heartily recommend that if you've seen the TV show or have listened to some of the other audios with this case then give this one a listen. You'll be happy that you did.

Winged Freak Terrorizes? Wait until they get a load of me...

I saw the 1989 Batman film on Blu-ray for the first time yesterday. The last time that i watched the movie was 3 or 4 years ago. At that time, being immersed in the Nolanverse I thought that the movie didn't hold up to well. This time I think that I appreciated it more. There are parts that are goofy but overall I think it works. Also, even though I give Ledger total kudos on going a completely different route with the Joker I feel that the homicidal clown of Nicholson is closer to what the Joker is supposed to be so there's that. I will say that they completely wasted the blu-ray transfer. The picture didn't seem to be enhanced at all. I couldn't tell that I wasn't watching a DVD.