Saturday, September 4, 2010

Doctor Who - Roman Holiday

(warning: actual story may not be as bad as the last one)

Adobe Photoshop 7.0.1. Filter > Texture > Stained Glass... TA-DAHH!

Demon Quest I: The Relics of Time

"Ooooh... that's very flattering, but I'm afraid magic's not my thing. Prognostication? Fancy bangs and flashes? Calling up strange spirits? I'm hopeless at that sort of thing. Well, Mrs. Wibbsey here is a marvel with the entrails of goats, especially billy goats, ain't you Wibbs? Your giblet gravy last Christmas..."

Yes, the Fourth Doctor is back but unfortunately Ms. Wibbsey (who I shall refer to as Mrs. Wimsey) and Mike Yates (hereafter known as Asshole) are with him in yet another glorified Companion Chronicle, part one of five in a non-linear multi-setting tale with an overarching plot. Either Tom Baker has a love for this sort of thing, or Paul Margrs is running out of ideas. Actually, given how likely either of those eventualities are, I'll settle for BBC Audio being unimaginative whores and refusing to change the formula. What really hurts is that everyone - even Richard Franklin - is so much better than the stuff they were forced to churn out last year in Hornets' Nest (AKA 'sub Moffat predestination paradox Invisible Enemy remake')... oh well. Moving on.

In this strange nebulous blur between The Invasion of Time and The Ribos Operation, the Doctor is hanging around in Nest Cottage - his old swinging bachelor pad from the TV Comics, which he finally abandoned after people complained about Leela hunting cows with bows and arrows whenever she was visiting. At the moment the Doctor's companions consist of a half-finished K0 mk 2 which has no relevence to the storyline, a wolf called Captain who has slightly less relevence to the storyline, and Mrs. Wimsey - a bitchy harridan only kept around because either the Fourth Doctor or Tom Baker fancy her something rotten.

Kicking off with what sounds like Darth Vader's rave remix and a very pretentious reworking of the introduction from The Pescatons, the Doctor explains pretty much everything I've just told you. Anyway, the Doctor returns to Nest Cottage a year after he left it and finds Wimsey in her usual foul mood, as she is not exactly delighted to be a piece of temporal driftwood unable to live in her native home of 1930s Cromer and stuck in 2009 Sussex. The Doctor, seemingly having made a bet with K9 that he can fix the TARDIS entirely on his own, completely dismantles the console, takes the pieces to the cottage and then tries to put them back together... occasionally getting marmalade on the workings.

Alas, in the tradition of all shitty English sitcoms, Wimsey accidentally takes a vital component with her in a box full of stuff she's collecting to give to the charity shop for their Christmas sales. "Boh!" as Steven Fry would say. Getting an untrustworthy techno-illiterate 1930s luddite to mind his 21st century cottage was a bit of a mistake, methinks, as she unintentionally disconnects the cordless phone and sells it for currency she doesn't quite understand - and that's not including all the other useful junk the Doctor was keeping at the cottage.

Sounding in the mood for some cold-blooded murder, the Doctor discovers Wimsey has actually swapped the TARDIS mcguffin for a bag of old papers. Frantically looking through the papers for any clue as to who took the mcguffin, he finds a picture of a Roman mosiac with his face on it! YES, JUST EXACTLY LIKE THE COVER! "A rather subject depicted in a natty woollen scarf... It's quite a flattering likeness, you know. I don't usually take a very good mosiac," the Doctor admits glumly, "but on this occasion the artist has done a very good job."

Is this some kind of timey-wimey death threat? Or some kind of practical joke? Does anyone give a damn? Seriously? This sub-Vicar-of-Dibley crisis isn't really topping "Silence Will Fall" on the apocalyptic scale, is it? Hell, it's hard not to think that K9 could easily fix the TARDIS if the Doctor swallowed his pride and actually asked the tin dog to save his sorry arse...

Since the mosiac was found relatively nearby, constructed in methods too advanced for the time period and made in worship of a blood-sacrifice-demanding goddess sounding uncannily similar to the Doctor's annoying housekeeper, it looks like - ONCE AGAIN - we're stuck in Predestination Parade and it's a one-way street. Oh, let joy be unconfined.

In a particularly sinister mood, the Doctor drags Wimsey aboard the rebuilt TARDIS (or rather "TARD" since it no longer travels "In Space"?) to confront their destiny in 1st century Sussex. "Do you realize how FEW people are offered the chance to travel in the TARDIS? WITH ME?!" the Doctor demands when Wimsey makes it clear she doesn't give a tinker's cuss about the sanctity of time and has no intention of fulfilling her destiny as some Calleach-wannabe. Sadly, the Doctor insists on this boring toga fest instead of some cool temporal armageddon instead. Darn.

On the journey there, the Doctor spells out all this predeterminism bollocks - which is justified as this is the first time his companion has heard about it, but not the audience, so while it IS utterly tedious it's not as pointless as when we had to endure Asshole repeated the words the Doctor just said all the time. As an aside, this pro-active Doctor really isn't what we're used to from Number Four. Seven, maybe, but not Four. What's wrong with them landing somewhere and having a look round? No no, we've got to infiltrate the local belief system and everything. It's all too much like hard work if you ask me, and I boggle that Tom Baker was pleased at this wearying repeat of last year's format...

Braving the miserable weather ("No wonder the Romans invented the duffel coat while they were here!"), the Doctor and Wimsey spend the best part of a week wandering through Ancient Britain and arguing over whether the past lacked terrorism, WMDs, GFCs and other things when suddenly... another TARDIS lands! No. Wait. My bad. The track looped around to the beginning again. Sorry. Where was I? Oh yes, when suddenly... some hairy Celts attack the time travelers and taken to their muddy village and made a spectacle. After a while, something vaguely approaching "a plot" starts to evolve as the Doctor has to convince the natives he's not some advance guard from Julius Ceaser, tells Wimsey off for her Chathamesque attitude to the hygiene standards of the past, gets mistaken for a druid and tells everyone his companion is a high priestess. Her foul attitude and superiority complex easily convinces the natives of her divinity (so they sacrifice a goat in front of her, just to be polite - lovely folk, the Celts).

"You wondrous entrail-gazer!" exclaim the peasants as Wimsey starts rambling about things she can't possibly know, like the rival tribe leader having access to a wizard from another world and a pet monster. Finally, the Doctor starts to twig that maybe, just maybe, his companion is actually in a trance and not bullshitting the superstitious natives. Mind like a steel trap, Doc.

Worse, the Celts want their new wizards (the TARDIS crew) to help them fight the rival tribe or else they'll be sacrificing! Oh, the gods do punish us for our hubris! "Murder and execution aren't really my style," the Doctor protests, before revealing that "auspicious" refers to bird-watching. That's the educational remit for the story done then. The pair are quite miserable, but seemingly more about the rubbish sleeping arrangements and blackmail rather than the fact they're on a mission to assassinate someone and trigger a full-scale genocidal massacre.

Finally, dawn breaks, the crow cocks, and the Doctor and Wimsey are bullied into heading for the rival tribe, stumble across a heap of corpses (apparently props from Planet of Evil) which the duo take a depressingly long time to connect to the otherworldly monsters they are repeatedly told about. Anyway, finally they get to the rival town and using the subtle approach ("HELLO MY DEAR, I WONDER WOULD YOU BE SO GOOD AS TO TAKE US TO YOUR WIZARD? WE'VE HEARD SUCH WONDERFUL THINGS!") are immediately mobbed and captured and brought before a stuttering old git who is clearly trying to be like something out of I, Claudius.

Could this be the wizard? And his pet elephant, could that be the legendary monster?


God damn it, you people are slow.

In the old man's sumptuous apartment, the duo stumble across a mosiac under construction, just waiting for Tom Baker's goggle-eyed features to be added. The old man is confident his badass wizard reputation will solve everything, but... what's this? It turns out this stuttering git isn't just homaging I, Claudius, it IS Claudius! On an unauthorized vacation the history books never record! What an amazing twist! AND YET, SOMEHOW, I DON'T GIVE A CRAP! So some Roman with an elephant turns out to be a former Emperor? Who cares? I wanted a wizard, damn it, and we can't even get a guy who can talk properly!

The Doctor tells Claudius off for not living life exactly as inaccurate human history books dictate and promptly gives the guy his own wiki entry - and then shouting that Claudius is bad for interfering with the historical development of Britain! "Who are you to tell me what to do?" the emperor retorts, rightly pointing out that he is not the one prompting inter-tribal warfare and slaughtering innocents.

In desperation, the Doctor gets out the Big Guns - an answer machine message from Mike Yates (not so much of an asshole this time round but still a deeply pathetic loser who is rather hoping that a bored Time Lord and a mysanthropic housekeeper want him round for Christmas since no one else is willing to spend the Yuletide with him). "He always DID talk too much," the Doctor spits with genuine disgust as the tape runs out before Yates' talking bollocks can conclude.

Claudius rolls his eyes and very sarcastically notes how impressed he is by this amazing future gift. "No doubt it'll all be on microchip one day," he deadpans. This, coupled with the fact Wimsey finds him strangely suspicious makes me conclude entirely off the top of my head that Claudius is the same bloke who bought the TARDIS gizmo at the very beginning. Yes, the Time Meddler is back!

Similar thoughts occur to the Doctor and Wimsey when they find bits of the gizmo lying around Claudius' place. The tribes attack and the Doctor has to rush out to try and negotiate a peace - rather undermined by the fact Tom Baker clearly doesn't seemingly give a shit and his rants come across as impatient rather than any kind of compassion. Finally, he defeats the attacking Celts with Mike Yates' answerphone message - and the news he'd gatecrash MY winter festival would scare the hell out of me, that's fer sure. Yes, Yates has saved the day. "Who would have thought he'd be so effective?" the Doctor boggles.

With all the warfare sorted out, the Doctor returns to find Claudius mucking about with wierd buzzings and green lights - Claudius is trying to kidnap the pair in the best traditions of Sapphire & Steel. "Not another TARDIS!" Wimsey complains, clearly taking the piss out of me, there. Our heroes escape this horrible fate by... walking briskly out of the room. Oh, Christ.

Claudius vanishes with the green light and the Doctor then lists all the unresolved plot points (ignoring the one about the microwaved corpses) - and then the mosiac which is clearly supposed to be turned into one of the Doctor gets smashed up by the angry artist! It turns out the newspaper articles and photos of the mosiac were all complete facts to lure the Doctor and Wimsey back in time as part of the kidnap plot by persons or persons unknown. Not that I care, it's nothing that's going to be resolved for the next year or so.

Pausing only to collect the elephant (more useful than any other companion this time round) the Doctor decides to investigate the Talouse Lautrec print of the Fourth Doctor at the Moulin Rouge, and take his curmugdeonly and annoyed companion with him.

The Relics of Time isn't a particularly bad story, but it's not a particularly good one either. It's far too reliant on Hornet's Nest to be a fresh introduction, there are no monsters, and very little of a plot. No interesting characters, or characters with anything remotely approaching a personality and the entire thing turns out to be little more than a prank call that never seems to involve any kind of danger. Wimsey isn't as irritating as she could be, but a woman that simply doesn't give a shit about anything doesn't really make an interesting companion. Why does the Doctor NEED a companion anyway? He's got internal monologues and has no new sides brought out by Wimsey, who never actually argues with him, show any independence, make any friends... even the thought of being directly responsible for a massacre stirs no interest in either of them. This isn't a story, this is a contractual obligation, an excuse to use certain actors and shove the results onto a CD. The Doctor ranting about the TARDIS being broken is meaningless - he only ever travels into Earth's history anyway, and has never once gone to another planet or the future. What you don't know, you don't miss. And, while I like elephants... why? What is the point of that elephant? It does absolutely sod all. And the Doctor apparently saves its life with much more energy and conviction than he does any of the women and children that get slaughtered.

Apathy coats this story. People we don't care about do boring things that often take days to unfold. There is absolutely no reason why they couldn't have done this as a properly scripted BF-tale with more actors, dialogue and even the vaguest suggestion of a plot. I can only assume the BBC are so utterly cash-starved they can't do anything else. It's not BAD but it's sure as hell NOT GOOD ENOUGH to warrant Tom Baker's presence. It is boring, predictable, uninvolving and lacks any kind of drama - the sort of things Baker absolutely insisted be in his TV stories. Say what you like about Season 17, everyone was giving their all and making damn sure you paid attention. I'll be lucky to even remember this story exists by tomorrow morning.

Oh, and epic fail in not tying it into the first episode of Chelmsford 123 (the one where the Doctor lands the TARDIS in Roman-occupied Britain, decides it is complete shit and then buggers off to somewhere more interesting...)


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