Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 3/25/18 2:32 pm
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In Escape from New New York, the opening tale of Big Finish’s latest New Series box set, Tales from New Earth, Senator Hame (Anna Hope) has made many mistakes over the course of her life. But she is looking to restore her home, New Earth, and to do so, she is investigating a spate of disappearances. Meanwhile, an orphan of the Elevator Guild, Devon Pryce (Kieran Hodgson) has just failed his test and is looking to have it out with his partner Thorn (Matthew Jacobs-Morgan). However, both Hame and Devon are about to collide, as the two are drawn together by a common enemy: Lux Incorporated, and their avatars, the Luman (Dan Blaskey). With such a storied past between the two species, can Hame and Devon find common ground in order to stop the threat that Lux Incorporated poses to New Earth? Escape from New New York opens up Tales from New Earth with a richly dressed, intriguing story, ably setting up both an interesting, self-contained adventure, and the seeds of a larger arc for the box set. Anna Hope and Kieran Hodgson lead a strong cast off with two strong performances, while a guest cast helps support the pair with a series of strong performances, especially from Dan Blaskey. Roy Gill takes a second stab at The New Series with a strong tale, filled with lots of rather excellently defined characters and strong scenes. The plot is a good start for the set, as a tense, emotional adventure helps to set a strong standard for this untested box set. Overall, Tales from New Earth may not have been high on anyone’s wishlist, but this opening story is a promising start to the set, and bodes well for the remaining three stories.
Anna Hope and Kieran Hodgson lead the cast of this story as Senator Hame and Devon Pryce, respectively. Hope reprises her role that she last inhabited in the television episode Gridlock, while Hodgson plays an entirely new character. Hope’s performance is an intriguing one; it’s more in line with some of her first scenes as the character of Hame, kind and caring, and undoubtedly the protagonist. There are small hints of guilt in the character that Hope brings out well, but through and through, this character is undoubtedly a protagonist. I particularly liked her presence in the scene opposite Louise Gold and Toby Hadoke in the finale of the story. However, as good as Hope’s performance is, Hodgson’s performance as newcomer Devon Pryce is far more interesting and engaging. Hodgson is a relative newcomer to Big Finish, and this is certainly his largest role to date. He’s more than able to rise to the occasion, giving an extremely strong performance as Devon Pryce, giving the character a lot of depth, while grounding him in an instantly likable, well-developed character. Perhaps the highlight of his performance is the scene between him and Matthew Jacobs-Morgan, a quietly powerful scene as Hodgson brings forth the anguish that his character feels seeing the love of his life transformed into a Lumen.
The guest cast is filled with many strong performances, from the strong yet brief role of Toby Hadoke, to the more substantial roles of Louise Gold and Matthew Jacobs-Morgan. But the actor who stands out most in this story is Dan Blaskey. Blaskey takes on three roles throughout the story: the voice of the Lumen throughout the story, Potious, the severe leading member of the Elevator Guild, and the Duke of Brooklyn. Each role forces Blaskey to give a completely different performance, and each one is done extremely well by Blaskey, that I didn’t even realize they were all the same person on first listen. His performance as the Luman is the most ubiquitous, and it works effectively to bring a sense of dread to the story with the repeated use of the word, “lux”. The performance as Potious is probably the least engaging of the three performances, but I did appreciate the fear that he portrayed in his character in the scene within the elevator shaft. My favorite of the three performances was his performance as the Duke of Brooklyn. Terrible accent aside, a jazz-loving, exceptionally hirsute man who has a group of otters living in his beard and serving as his employees is a delightfully zany character, and Blaskey brings the character to life extremely well.
Roy Gill, co-script editor for the box set, takes the opening story of the set. His story helps to open up the world of New Earth to the listener, by providing a richly detailed backdrop for his story to play out on. The story itself is enjoyable enough, ably putting a distinctive spin on the, “secret invasion” trope. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the story is the fact that Gill is able to take New Earth and open it up to the listener. Often, worlds on Doctor Who, save for Earth, tend to be almost disposable; the characters show up on the planet, save it from destruction, and then go on, and the planet is seldom seen again. Gill’s story stays with the world of New Earth, and brings it far more to life than we were ever able to see on television, and with that comes a sense of wonder and joy. The world feels great, thanks both to the writing and the excellent sound design efforts of Wilfredo Acosta. The planet has character that you can simply hear within the story, as we hear of incredibly colorful characters like the Duke of Brooklyn, get teases of incredible places on New Earth, and hear about the lives of the people of New Earth. This is a welcome change from most planets in the television series, which don’t feel well-defined beyond what needs to be said to make the story start and stop. It’s a wonderful achievement to hear the planet be so alive.
The story is a good one, building upon the trope of aliens invading without the humans even realizing what’s happening. I particularly liked how Gill was able to smartly combine the self-contained plot of the story, while teasing the overarching arc of the box set into one story. I thought the plot of Lux Incorporated using the elevators to infect people was an intriguing concept, and certainly a darker concept than most. The payoff isn’t too powerful, but I chalk it up to the fact that there seems to be more going on in the story that will be answered in later stories, such as why the Lux wish to take over New Earth. The best scenes of the story generally have to do with quieter character moments; some highlights are the tea shop scene between Hame and Devon, and the incredibly powerful scene where Devon discovers that Thorn has become a Lumen. This builds upon perhaps the greatest strength of the story, which is the fact that Gill has done a fantastic job making the characters feel well-defined, despite never appearing before. Often, stories feature what I like to call, “disposable characters”; they’re only in it for one story, and there’s very little backstory for them, beyond basic things. The characters in this story all seem to have been given a bit of extra attention, as they all feel extremely well-developed, none more so than the leading character of Devon Pryce. Devon just simply feels so familiar, like we’ve known him for ages. It could have to do with the rather excellent romantic relationship he has in the story, or the backstory that, despite being a common trope, works well due to the guilt that Hame clearly feels throughout the story over her role in Devon’s parents’ life. Either way, it’s one of the story’s greatest strengths, and transforms a decent story into a much stronger one.
Overall, Escape from New New York opens up Tales from New Earth with a solid story of an evil corporation and two people with little in common teaming up to stop them. It features two strong performances by stars Anna Hope and Kieran Hodgson, and is supported by a series of strong guest performances, none more so than that of Dan Blaskey. Roy Gill does a great job crafting a story that, despite being based on a relatively common trope, feels unique and interesting. It’s buoyed by some excellent work developing the world and the characters, giving the story are larger, more familiar backdrop, and making the characters all the more interesting and likable. For a set that seems to have been met with derision, it’s certainly starting out strong, and hopefully means that this set can prove the naysayers wrong.