Reviewed By: Eiphel
Review Date: 1/22/11 12:08 am
1 out of 1 found this review helpful.
(Short version: I agree with Mr Nice's post above on all points.)
The Ruthven Inheritance opens in fine form. As Jago treads the boards all patter and confidence, so too does the play open. The dialogue is at its slickest, the characters at their most characterful. Litefoot impunes Jago's sherry, and Jago gets in a tangle with some legalese - Superb scenes that featured no plot action, just character beats, and reinforce the fact that Jago and Litefoot's crowning glory is the joy it puts into those beats.
Sanders returns with Lord Cornelius Ruthven at his side, and as a double act they're exponentially more suave and sinister. They're running a plot together, and as each of them sinks one of our heroic double-act in scenes reminscent of many a Sherlock Holmes villain's plot, the excitement really bubbles away, waiting to discover what these demons of high society are conspiring towards. The darker undertone of the series surfaces as Jago and Litefoot are both cast onto the rocks of misfortune, and we're reminded what a cruel place Victorian London could be behind the gaslamp romance.
Never short of an evocative location, Litefoot is dispatched to an ancient family necropolis beneath the Ruthven estate, and to make things even better, he has Sacker in tow. The pair get a chance to demonstrate their often-discussed skills in the profession, and their friends-and-colleagues relationship is pleasing to here. A fleeting moment where Sacker incorrectly states the gender of a bone paints great swathes of their relationship with subtlety. It's fascinating to hear them deploy their expertise in piecing together the forensic clues to the evolution of the Ruthvens - the Inheritance of the witty title - and atmospheric to boot. Throughout, the excitement simmers, as we wait to hear where it's all leading.
Meanwhile, Jago's minding the baby. Or rather, the young vampire. Sitting in at Litefoot's place, it's lovely to hear Jago showing his care for Ellie in spite of his fears for her nature. I've not been completely sold on the Ellie transformation subplot, but I felt it came together nicely in the end, and these scenes were genuinely sympathetic. When Ellie gives Henry the slip, however, its clear that events cannot be held at bay much longer. The much anticipated conclusion advances apace.
And its here, finally, that I have my criticisms of an otherwise splendid play. Ruthven confronts Sanders for answers, in a dramatic scene that would be truly gripping if not for the disappointment in both partners' motivations. The Ruthvens deploy their advances in hunting men for sport. I must confess that this trope very rarely works for me, and when it has it has been very focussed on the savagery inherent in ordinary people. This spin is just disappointing, as the suave and intelligent Ruthven, with all his mystique, suggested a far more cunning purpose. It could have worked well, however, if not for one thing. I could actually swallow that Ruthven was a sadistic, feral being at heart, and his plotting had been purely at the behest of his master... If the master himself had revealed suitably compelling aims. But he's doing exactly the same thing, and this is where it really comes apart. For all of Sanders' of his clever work, his eugenics and dark studies, have simply been to breed more interesting prey to hunt. The disparity between the elaborate planning and the savage base ends is jarring and unsatisfying.
That's one flaw, and there is one other flaw in this conclusion. Sanders' transformation - the reveal that he is Ruthven's deity - could have been a depressingly rote turn; the villain revealing his true form for no purpose but to have a 'reveal'. Pleasingly it works relatively well here, with some subtle early foreshadowing (note how often Sanders is called a fiend or demon in his first appearance), and more importantly a plot purpose - to set up the master-servant relationship with Ruthven, which did provide interesting dialogue. It's not enough to prevent the climax becoming an underwheling action sequence in which the big roaring monster is dispatched in fairly mundane fashion - let down by a rare slip into over descriptive dialogue, and by almost exactly repeating the end to series one.
And then we have a most peculiar coda, my feelings on which remain confused. Ellie is returning to true life with the death of Sanders - this will be disappointing if she is not at least changed by the experience, but fine if she is. Sergeant Quick provides the obligatory foreshadowing of the series three opener, and then we get the equally expected cliffhanger ending - after a hilarious line from Jago. But, though a cliffhanger was expected, THIS one was far from it.
Be warned, dear reader, that these are spoilers you don't want to see until you've heard the play.
That Jago and Litefoot have been called upon to face a threat to the planet is much larger in scale than the series has been in focus thus far. It remains to be seen how it will handle the shift, and whether it can retain its indentity. But I have faith. It seemed to me that a high stakes plot arc was a clear choice for the future, and I expected it in the offing for series three or four. What I am less sure about is the return of *Leela*. This seems a bigger threat to the identity of the series. It had done incredible work at establishing its own milieu, of becoming a very distinct thing from Doctor Who, and I am not wholly sure how much I like this return of a major Doctor Who character. Certainly I very much do not want it to become recurring, and I hope that there is nothing else so directly Who related in the offing. But these doubts are tempered by the fact that adding Leela to the mix for one arc could actually work *really well*. So I am excited and concerned in equal measure.
On the whole, then, The Ruthven Inheritance is a thrilling tale, a suitably dramatic finale, and a joyous entertainment. It suffers in its conclusion, however, by failing on its villains motivations, which casts a shadow over their activites to that point. Nonetheless, it's a good 8/10. I have a very minor footnote criticism that Andy Lane is overindulging slightly in Jago's dialogue. A few too many 'Oh lor', oh lumee, oh cripes'es for my taste. On the other hand, he writes Litefoot (even) better than most, and always gives his villains delicious dialogue.
As to the series to the whole, I think series two has been a solid, consistently enjoyable, entertainign experience, but not quite the tour-de-force of the first. This seems like a much more likely baseline to judge the series by, however, and a good one, with every story pretty much meritting an 8/10 from me (Litefoot and Sanders just bordering a 7, but the Theatre of Dreams floating to the top of the 8). It had, to my feeling, two reoccuring flaws. The first was that it shied away from playing its drama as straight as the first series. It felt cosier, safer, and the darker elements of the stories seemed only to play at darkness. The second, and I directly echo a comment made my another reviewer, each play's weak spot seemed to come at its conclusion. There was a frequent feeling of compression, and all of the stories felt like an extra 5 or 10 minutes would improve them.