blogger_who (blogger_who) wrote,

Doctor Who: The Lost Stories Special - The Valley of Death

Blurb: A century after his Great-Grandfather Cornelius vanished in the Amazon rainforest, Edward Perkins is journeying to the depths of the jungle to find out what became of his ancestor’s lost expedition. Intrigued by what appears to be a description of a crashed spacecraft in the diaries of that first voyage, the Doctor and Leela join him on his quest. But when their plane runs into trouble and ends up crash landing, everyone gets more than they bargained for.

The jungle is filled with giant creatures and angry tribesmen, all ready to attack. But in the famed lost city of the Maygor tribe, something far, far worse is lurking. Something with an offer to make to mankind. Who are the Lurons and can they be trusted? Will the Doctor defeat the plans of the malevolent Godrin or will he become just another victim of the legendary Valley of Death?

Format: Full-cast audio drama adapted from an unmade story outline. Published by Big Finish Productions and released October 2011.

Setting: Earth: London, U.K. and the depths of the Amazon rainforest in 1977. The second half of the story takes place in the London of 1979.

Continuity: This story takes place between The Horror of Fang Rock and The Invisible Enemy. The Doctor remembers having an android duplicate made of him before (see The Android Invasion). The Leela believes a poison dart to be a janis thorn and talks about the face of Xoanon (see The Face of Evil). Leela refers to her mistake at looking at a bright light which caused temporary blindness (see The Horror of Fang Rock).

Canonicity Quotient: The Brigadier is said to still be part of UNIT in 1979, which is a blatant contradiction to Mawdryn Undead; the novel, No Future, and quite a bit of the expanded universe. The Doctor also seems to be somewhat out of character through the whole story and his line about meeting God is not only poorly performed but very out of character. 0.80

Discussion: The Foe from the Future was everything that I'd hoped it would be. I didn't know what to expect from the next story, Philip Hinchcliffe's Valley of Death. Purportedly, Hinchcliffe came up with the story outline for this one during his tenure as producer but they never found the correct writer to bring it to life. Now that Big Finish was doing the Lost Stories line and in some cases producing full scripts from rejected stories that only had story outlines available, Hinchcliffe sent the outline over to Big Finish and it was assigned to Jonathan Morris to expand into a four part adventure. Knowing Jonathan Morris from some of his stellar prior work I looked forward to this next installment and hoped that it would live up to the high standards set by The Foe from the Future.

The Valley of Death starts from a fairly interesting premise. The descendant of an explorer wants to try and find the Lost City that his ancestor disappeared while trying to find. His journal had only just been found and while it seems strange that it would end on a cliffhanger this detail is suitably explained by the story. The Doctor, Leela, and a plucky journalist accompany the explorer to the Amazon as the Doctor and UNIT suspect that the man's grandfather ran afoul of alien technology. It sounds like the setup for an Indiana Jones style romp. Unfortunately this story reads as an almost an anti-60's story. The pace is constantly kept going at the expense of anything like a sensible plot. It's been said that Hinchcliffe was fascinated by The Keys of Marinus and that's why he wrote the novelization for that story. I think that finds some evidence here where he's basically tried to create a story that moves to a new location every episode while having a central, overarching plot.

It also seems a little shameless that so many elements seem to have been stolen from other stories. The Lurons' plan for the most part seems right out of the playbook for The Android Invasion. The giant monsters are also a clear callback to The Talons of Weng-Chiang. There's even a bit of Terror of the Zygons with the Lurons playing the part of a local legend. Yet despite all of that and the fact that this storyline was written by Hinchcliffe himself the story doesn't feel like a season 15 story at all. It feels like it should go in season 17 except that it would have had Romana as the companion if they'd done that and that would have changed some of the dynamics around.

There are so many things that don't make sense. Why do the Lurons want to wait for humanity to be of a sufficient technological state if they plan on wiping them all out? Once he finds out that Godrin can't be trusted why does the Doctor do nothing to make sure that the giant animals that he's created will die out? When inside the temporally decelerated field why don't people notice the sun rising and setting every few minutes? Are we really supposed to believe that if a certain form of radiation has driven someone mad that simply stopping the radiation will make them instantly sane? What's up with Edward and Valerie going off with a bunch of insane little aliens at the end of the story? I know that we're told that the Lurons will bring them back to Earth if it doesn't work out but how is this supposed to be any kind of happy ending. It's just weird...and a little creepy. The Doctor makes way to big a deal out of being happy for them although I'm pretty sure that they're going to become the dinner for those little Luron razor teeth (it's a cookbook!). I'm also a little disappointed that we're given the runaround with the duplicates as if we the audience have no clue what is going on when it's very obvious who is real and who the duplicates are.

Tom and Leela are still on fire as this was recorded after The Foe from the Future. Tom felt a little more jokey to me here but that's consistent with Morris' writing. Louise gets a lot of good stuff here, since she's in her element in the jungle. The scene where the Doctor trusts Leela with her screwdriver is amazing. It's lovely to see how far Leela has come in that she realizes that a tool of science is more powerful than any weapon that she can conceive of. It's definitely one of the more satisfying scenes in a fairly lackluster production.

Productionwise most of the guest cast don't really stick out. David Killick is excellent as the old fashioned British Explorer, Professor Cornelius Perkins. He sounds like he's come out of some Victorian adventure serial. The only other performance of note comes from the incredibly bad portrayal of an American accent of Jane Slavin playing Valerie Carlton. In fact, many listeners don't even realize that she's supposed to be American and the story doesn't make much of it beyond a throwaway line about her having interviewed members of Congress. Her accent is really undefinable as anything from this Earth and it may be one of the most atrocious things that I've ever listened to. It also makes it difficult for her to convey any real emotion in the story. She also suffers from having dialog that sounds like she's stepped out of an action adventure movie rather than being a real person thrown into an extraordinary situation. At one point she says something to the effect of "well what can we do if even the sonic screwdriver won't work" and it's impossible to tell if she's being sarcastic or completely serious. It really makes her a mess of a character and her romance with Edward just seems to happen because the script says that it needs to rather than because of any kind of chemistry or anything that happens between them. Although I will admit that I do like her line when he asks her to tea and she says that after everything she's been through he owes her dinner. The music is good albeit completely mistaken for the story. It's a vast symphonic score that makes one think of stark, desert landscapes that would be completely in keeping with any archaeological story set in the Middle East. Unfortunately this one is set in the Amazon so the music seems to really jar with the location and I find that it isn't satisfying at all. I'd have much rather had something that harkened a little closer to a Dudley Simpsonesque score like we had in The Foe from the Future.

Final Rating: 7/10

Recommendation: It really deserves a 6 but it gets an extra point because Tom and Louise are just about perfect in this one. Unfortunately the very interesting story of the first two episodes gets turned into a retreat of The Android Invasion which fizzles out at the end more because the storyline doesn't seem to have anything more to do rather than because of an interesting plot. It's an interesting example of throwing everything in including the kitchen sink and hoping that you make a solid production. It kind of works because the pace keeps you from thinking to hard but even at that the holes start showing as the story progresses. The ending is literally one of the most pathetic in the story's history. I'd give it a listen mostly because you have to purchase it with Foe from the Future and Tom and Louise certainly make this worthwhile but it's definitely skippable.
Tags: android invasion, audio drama, doctor who, face of evil, foe from the future, fourth doctor, horror of fang rock, invisible enemy, jonathan morris, leela, lost stories, louise jameson, mawdryn undead, no future, philip hinchcliffe, season 15, talons of weng-chiang, terror of the zygons, tom baker, valley of death

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