Reviewed By: Eiphel
Review Date: 5/25/11 2:32 am
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I had very, very hgih expectations for this. I love Turlough, so a story focussed on him and his relationships was hugely exciting, even before I realised it would also dig into the history of Trion. Part one gets off to a good start too, with the events taking place on Vektris. Pretty speedily though, we're off to the real setting, the winter planet (and this reminds me of the structure to Planet of Fire, from Lansarote to Sarn). For a while this is a real treat, giving us a great sense of prewar and civil war life on Trion among the upper classes, and the atmosphere in which Turlough would have been raised.
Somewhere around the end of part two or beginning of part three, though, it starts to become apparent that what we have here is not actually the character study we seemed to be setting up for, but a far more traditional base under siege story. It's sparsely plotted, with lots of gaps for the constantly shifting character pairings to chat and reveal something of themselves. The problem is, they really don't reveal that much at all. There's not much to the guest characters of the story, who all fall into fairly standard tropes such that cliffhanger reveals and climactic scenes in the final parts come as no surprise.
Thuggish Kanch is utterly one note, and though we're told that a lot has happened to him in the story to change him, none of it actually occurs on screen. In fact, he doesn't actually appear in the second half of the story at all, despite the characters sticking around to rescue him specifically. Also, for a character intended to be alien, he's given an intensely colloquial Earth accent and dialect, which worked terribly.
His partner Hoss is similarly characature, but she at least has a couple of subtle touches that make her, sadly, one of the deeper portrayals in the story. Her genuine concern for her partner is one of the few elements well portrayed, and her neutrality in her attitudes to the TARDIS crew are pleasing.
On the flipside of that portrayal is Rennol, the villain of the piece. Actually, around the three-quarters mark I was appreciating that this story didn't have any real 'villain' to it. Misunderstandings and understandable motivations backed up the threatening characters, with the exception of Kanch who buggers off early on and doesn't have a huge part to play in proceedings. Rennol, up until this point, is an enjoyable character. Aloof and arrogant, but not predisposed to needless violent, he's a rational but driven miscreant. And when we learn of the reason for his scheme, his motive humanises him further, makes him quite understandable. All of which goes out of the window during part four when he arbitrarily becomes a reasonless psycho, screaming and wailing and chewing the scenery for no good reason, completely undermining his character. In addition to this, his relationship with his co-coinspirator is hopelessly portrayed. A single scant, trite scene in which they whisper cliche sweet nothings is followed by a hairpin turn into animosity and bickering. Whilst it's clear why this change is meant to occur in a plot-mechanics way, it doesn't actually feel like that is what's happening.
But more a more critical failure by miles is the relationship of Deela and Turlough. By the end of the play I felt like I had gained zero insight into their bond. What drew them together? What forced them apart? They were on different sides of the war, yes, but did they just immediately give up on each other? What? How serious was it? Nothing. They don't talk like childhood flames reunited suddenly after years. They talk like a couple of passing acquaintances who run into each other in town. This is the big disappointment of the story - the relationship it's been founded on doesn't work. I feel much of this blame lies in the writing, but I confess I also wasn't sold by Lucy Adams as Deela. When Turlough speaks *about* Deela you can sense his mind drifting back to past times, happy and sad. But Deela, involved in two key relationships in the play, does not convince in either.
Such complaints sound damning, but it's not a terrible piece. The base siege plot has a decent monster to it and the winter planet setting, as mentioned, is hugely pleasing for the Trionic history it alludes to. Davison is pretty good, too, doing various standard Doctorish things in a standard plot (getting taken over, working something out before the other characters, preparing to sacrifice himself, complaining about needless shootings, it feels like a bunch of standard scenes, but it's hard to actually tire of Davison performing standard scenes). Tegan and Nyssa are ferried around the shop without much to do but provide a talking post for whichever cast member isn't currently talking to Turlough. They're fine, but there's little enough to their parts.
A couple of comments on production choices: The setting and atmospherics of this story are extremely similar to Lurkers at Sunlight's Edge. This is neither a good or bad thing, simply something I was aware of as I listened. On a more negative note, as many others have mentioned, the Morass is pretty hard to hear at best and incomprehensible at worst. I approve of a desire to create alien sounding monsters, but - especially on audio - clarity is important too. With the Witchguard and the Morass in back to back stories I feel Big Finish is slipping up badly, and needs top keep a closer ear on these things in future.
I'll confess Stephen Cole is not a writer who thrills me. I enjoyed his Iris story a good deal, but feel his Who stories are slow and thin. I was rather unfavourable about The Whispering Forest last year, and I am glad to say that his new outing for this team is definitely a step up. Nonetheless, it didn't really deliver, and I feel I can't give it more than a 6/10.