Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 3/31/18 3:40 pm
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In The Turn of the Screw, UNIT Warrant Officer Charlie Sato (Yee Jee Tso) has been given a mission to recover an alien artifact from Puerto Rico: a screwdriver. But this isn’t an ordinary screwdriver; many people are competing to find this screwdriver, including a group of extra-dimensional aliens called the Naptra, a group of thugs, and a mysterious man in Victorian garb who claims it belongs to him. Charlie Sato has faced many threats before as part of UNIT, but he may just find himself facing his longest night yet as he works to recover the screwdriver. The Turn of the Screw is a story that features the return of Yee Jee Tso to Doctor Who, as his new character, Charlie Sato, not the character of Change Lee from the TV Movie. However, the story, despite a decent script from writer Eddie Robson and some solid sound design and composing by David Roocroft, the story is bogged down by a listless performance by Tso, which hampers any of the good this story sets out to accomplish. Overall, the story is meant to be the reunion of Yee Jee Tso with the Eighth Doctor, through the powers of Big Finish; instead, the story is poorly performed adventure from the usually stellar Short Trips range, and a disappointing story overall.
Yee Jee Tso marks his return to Big Finish with this story, for the first time since 2014’s The Screaming Skull. He returns once again as Charlie Sato, but his performance this time is a shell of his former performances. Tso has usually been overshadowed by his guest stars, but he usually plays a decent supporting role, especially alongside Daphne Ashbrook in their Vault stories. But having Tso take the lead on this story has perhaps exposed how awkward he is with the format of a narrated audiobook. His performance is severely lacking at times, as there’s barely any emotion conveyed throughout the story from his performance. He sounds far less like he’s performing the story, and far more like he’s reading it. It was a bit of a mistake not to bring in Daphne Ashbrook for the full story, much like the Short Trips range previously did with The Jago & Litefoot Revival, especially given Ashbrook’s cameo in the final moments of the story, as I felt that that short, 30 second scene was the best that Tso had been throughout the story. Actors often talk about how acting alone or narrating an audiobook is extremely difficult work, and unfortunately, it’s clear that Yee Jee Tso works better when he’s able to bounce off other actors, not when he’s tasked with leading a story by himself.
Eddie Robson wrote The Turn of the Screw, his second original audio Short Trips, an adventure that sees UNIT Warrant Officer Charlie Sato given a mission to retrieve the Doctor’s broken sonic screwdriver and bring it back to the Vault. The story is a decent affair, and a lot of the charm of it comes from the novelty of bringing Yee Jee Tso into the Eighth Doctor’s world once again, even if it’s not as Change Lee. The plot is generally engaging to the last few minutes, and I appreciated the way that Robson chose to wrap up the story, most of all. The idea of the Doctor losing his sonic screwdriver and the implications of that haven’t really been explored too often, save for somewhat in The Magician’s Apprentice, and I thought that Robson did a good job showing what might happen if that actually happened. However, the story is frustrating in a couple different ways. First is the gang, led by the woman Charlie dubs “Roxanna”; their motivations are never really discovered, and it seems that the sole reason they’re interested in the screwdriver was because the Doctor manipulated them into finding it. Really, that should’ve been it, but I feel like they were brought back to beat up Charlie at the end for no real reason, only to facilitate the admittedly sweet cameo of Ruth Matheson in the final moments of the story. His beating also reads almost as a comedic scene, but, and perhaps this is Tso’s performance, the scene doesn’t come off as funny, but as horrifying, and it leads to a strange disconnect.
My second issue comes from the implications of the sonic screwdriver’s “program” that is said to be running. I could easily have missed something, and maybe this is something that will come into play in a future Eighth Doctor story, but the idea of the Doctor’s future sonic screwdriver running a program is interesting. But it’s not touched upon after the two lines it’s given. Nothing comes out of it. It’s just a tantalizing plot device that’s dangled in front of the listener’s face, and then not even remotely addressed or hinted at. It’s something Big Finish has done before in the Short Trips range, like with Falling and the First Doctor’s imminent regeneration, but at least that had an established reason. I’m not counting it against it too much because, again, it could be a portent of the future that we just haven’t gotten to yet. But it’s frustrating nonetheless to have an interesting plot teased and then dropped. Despite my misgivings, I did really enjoy the ending of the story, with the Doctor simply talking down the Naptra from their folly, instead of having to make a, “for the greater good” sacrifice of them. It’s an underrated tactic, but it often turns out for the best in Doctor Who, when the writer chooses to simply have the Doctor talk the villains down, instead of resoundingly defeating them in some way.
David Roocroft did a fine job with the sound design and the composition of the story. Too often, Short Trips have minimal sound designs and music, and it’s such a drag, because the sound design in particular is instrumental to making the story come to life. Roocroft makes his Big Finish debut with this story, and he does a really fine job of it all. His sound design is extremely nuanced and, while it’s subtle, not having it makes it stand out all the more. He ably sets the scene of the shipyard and the traffic jam, as well as the hospital scene at the end, with indistinct voices and little sounds and tics that really bring the story to life. His compositions are few and far between, but I did like the few music stings he brought with him into the story. Overall, for Roocroft’s first work at Big Finish, it’s some really fine sound design work and some promising compositions. He’s slated to sound design the next few Short Trips releases and the next Blake’s 7: Crossfire box set, so I look forward to hearing his work there.
Overall though, The Turn of the Screw is a decent, promising story that’s bogged down by a rather poor performance by Yee Jee Tso. Tso seems uncomfortable as the sole narrator of the story, and his past as an excellent supporting character, lends credence to the idea that he wasn’t a particularly good choice for this role. He sounds nervous and his performance doesn’t have a lot of emotion, and it just drags down what good this story had in it. Eddie Robson’s script is a decent affair. Aside from two dropped plots that could’ve used some expansion, the story had an interesting plot and a strong ending. The sound design and music of the story, by newcomer David Roocroft, was strong, but none of it was strong enough to overcome to the poor quality of Tso’s performance, making what should’ve been a triumphant return to the Eighth Doctor’s era instead a listless, boring story.