Reviewed By: Eiphel
Review Date: 8/18/12 1:28 am
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I'm strongly reminded of Klein's Story and Survival of the Fittest here. Whilst Black and White might be grouped under a single title, in truth it is a one episode prologue and a three part adventure. It worked great for the Klein saga and it works well here, too. Episode one is like a full series of Companion Chronicles or Short Trips with their own plot-arc packed together into a single episode! It's akin to the Word Lord and A Death in the Family for its bang-for-buck. I really like the very different dynamic of the Black TARDIS team. They're soldiers, black ops, at the vanguard of a war. We've never seen that before, and with good reason - Seeing it now, we have to worry about the Doctor, where's he's gone and what he's gotten into, if he's actively recruiting soldiers to fight missions. That's a dark place for the Doctor. I'm eager to hear Project: Nirvana for a more in depth look at the Black TARDIS team's style.
And hearing the two teams come crashing together is really entertaining too. It might seem wiser to release Project: Nirvana this month, and have us more familiar with the Black crew before the two groups mingle, but I think this way works better. This way we share the confusion and suspicion of Hex and Ace, and the explanations form a backbone for the flashbacks and developing relationships. I love how there's something different in each one, being carried off by a great cast playing great characters. Sally and Aristedes have a very military chain-of-command dynamic, Ace and Hex, of course, have that beautiful relationship that has made them a top class team for several years, Sally and Hex have a sweet fledgling bond and rapport, and Ace and Aristedes have a fractious, cagey mistrust which ironically illuminates a considerable no-nonsense similarity in the pair. The only relationship we don't really see develop is Ace with Sally, but that's fine. This story is jam-packed anyway and there's no need to tick all the boxes.
On the subject of Ace, the one thing I did notice was that she seemed to be a little bit of a mishmash of different Aces. It occured to me the other day that this mature adult Ace, travelling with Hex, would sound very weird shouting 'Wicked!' and throwing Nitro-9, but Matt Fitton elects to nod in this direction a few times, certainly not going outright back to the young Ace, but imbuing some of her qualities into the character, which Sophie Aldred seems to pick up on. And then, when the Elder Gods are being discussed, this seems to turn into more of a New Adventures feeling Ace. It's only a minor thing, but I did feel like her character was a little more scattershot than the fairly settled performance of recent stories, reminiscent of earlier audios.
It's once the second episode starts up that the Beowulf adventure begins, and this brings a lot to the table. The tightly packed backstory of episode one doesn't let up, either. To some extent there is a standalone tale being told here, but it is caught up so tightly in the mechanics of the arc, I'm not sure you'd want to hear this out of context. This doesn't bother me, I am very fond of strongly arc-based plots, but I know it bothers others. Personally I rather liked it, and the format reminded me of Mawdryn Undead, one of my favourite TV stories. Certainly it's very hard to be bored when there is so much to take in.
The norsemen worried me at first. I feared they'd be dumb one-note caricatures running around in the way of the story I was really interested in. I don't think their very first scene does them much credit. Thankfully, things are woven together better than all that, and the characters don't conflict with the arc. In particular I really enjoyed Weohstan, a character rather integral to cohering the two threads of the plot. I'm really interested in explorations of truth, history and myth, it's a ripe theme that I never tire of. Through the canny poet Weohstan we get to see the myth of Beowulf take shape alongside the reality of the action, and the story hits all the bases. Grendel, his mother, Aesir, the young hero and the old king. It's all here, in some form or another, and whilst it forms a tale of its own, through Weohstan, and particularly his similarity to the Doctor, it's also related back to the wider story better than might be expected.
Satisfied by the norsemen, I was then alarmed when the camp mercenary Garundel showed up. There's been a tone of doom and foreboding hanging over this arc, for which Protect and Survive cannot be overlooked. Suddenly to have such a lighthearted oddball element in the middle of it must be a huge misstep, right? Thankfully not. Garundel is a smart, witty character, played well by Stuart Milligan, and well weaved into the norse side of the story. Matt Fitton seems to be something of an up-and-comer for Big Finish, and his Most Excellent Match had a similar sort of nature to it. It's not a bad thing for some lightness of touch to have been contributed to this arc, because it looks like it'll be pretty grim and gritty from here on out. Because Garundel is largely involved in the norse side of the plot rather than the arc, and the norsemen themselves are similarly larger than life but without the comic aspect, it all blends together quite well, and Garundel is really quite a funny relief from the big momentous drama at times.
What's odd about Black and White is the way, for all the tightly packed plot is filled with threads, at its heart there's a big gap where the centre of the plot should be. Not many stories manage to dance around ever actually introducing the protagonist or the macguffin. This sounds like a complaint, but it's not, it's an intentional and mysterious aspect of the story which is solved late on, with relevance that turns out to run beyond the bounds of the tale. Like I said, I'm not sure you want to listen to this without context. But as someone who has followed this developing arc from its outset, I'm still just as enthused and eager to hear where it goes. 8/10