27 July 2014

AG: Trouble in Paradise

Nev Fountain is a writer with surprisingly few Doctor Who credentials to his name. He has a very good reputation within the Big Finish community, but looking down the list of his previous work, it consists of the Omega, The Kingmaker and Peri and the Piscon Paradox (as well as Death Comes to Time). He has done very well to build such an impressive reputation with so little work - the PR firm's ideal client! All three of the stories mentioned above (but especially Piscon Paradox) are generally regarded to be among the best of Big Finish's output, and so it was with some high expectations that I sat down to Trouble in Paradise, the sixth Destiny of the Doctor story.

The story sees the Doctor and Peri being interrupted in mid-flight by a vision of the Eleventh Doctor in his earliest appearance yet, and to be honest it would be very hard to have him pop up any sooner. It's nice that the Matt Smith incarnation's message is the entire impetus for this tale, and it again uses the device in a clever way. Once more, his appearance is a pre-recorded segment, so it would very much seem that the Eleventh Doctor really is pushed for time during The Time Machine. Following co-ordinates relayed to them by the older Time Lord, they arrive on one of the ships of Christopher Columbus on the twelfth of October, 1492. 

One narrative device I really liked that Fountain used in this story is the entries to the ship's log by the famed explorer. These help to both advance the plot and let us get to know Columbus and work better in Fountain's hands than you might think. Following the instructions (not that he'd admit it) of his successor, the Doctor intends to locate an omniparadox and store it in the TARDIS in order that it can be used at a later date. Before he can though, the pair are locked up by Columbus' men and as the Doctor is revelling in his good fortune, Peri gives him a quick history lesson. It's nice that Peri's background is explored further here, with mention of her being a straight-A student who did plenty of extra research. She recites details about Columbus with skill and ease, but it's not surprising given their nature. I liked history at school, and remember much of the detail I had to learn, and so it seems entirely plausible that Peri (who is no doubt much more intelligent than me) would remember the grizzly acts Columbus committed. 

Initially, Columbus' pomposity is displayed through his assumptions made about the Doctor and Peri. He notes in the log that they have erected a shrine to him in the hold (the TARDIS) and thinks Peri must be an offering to him from the primitive natives of the island he is moored near. He is immediately painted as an unlikable figure, which makes a refreshing change from the worship historical figures usually receive in Doctor Who. Amusingly, he thinks the Doctor's coat must mean he is some kind of priest but as soon as he discovers his actual title, he takes him to a sick crewmember. The Doctor soon diagnoses tuberculosis, but thinks he must have some kind of mental damage after he claims to have seen the devil. But Peri's seen it too, and despite the Doctor fobbing her off claiming it was the goat they saw upon exiting the TARDIS, she remains certain. The Time Lord refuses to cure the man for fear of meddling with history. It's an interesting direction to take this, and it certainly upsets the jovial dynamic we enjoyed between the TARDIS team at the top of Trouble in Paradise.

Furious with the Doctor for never taking people for who they are or looking out for 'the little guys', Peri runs from the hold and to the deck. To prove a point to the Doctor, she stands on the edge, to try and show him that he would be prepared to save someone insignificant to the Web of Time. But she accidentally slips into the water and it's at that moment that all hell breaks loose - literally. The omniparadox thinks that Peri must be dead, and so the Web of Time collapses. The sky is described as a fat, purple bruise and this is a lovely description, especially as Nicola Bryant reads it so well. Up to this point, Columbus has been adamant that his crew are fools to think that they might sail off the edge of the world. It's nice that his balloon is punctured a little as the Doctor asserts that that is what is actually happening. 

In the first scene aboard Columbus' craft, the Doctor has a omniparadox detector which sends out the same signal in order to detect the reflection (or something). He uses it at this point to make the Universe believe that the omniparadox does exist, and thus hold off their destruction for a while longer. Due to the omniparadox disappearing, the Eleventh Doctor is unable to use it later and so the Universe-ending event he needs it to stop is brought about at this point. This sounds quite complicated, but Fountain makes it anything but in the story. Even I understood it.

Peri has been brought the nearest island, and is soon kidnapped by brain-chipped natives. She is taken to a rendering machine made entirely of human components and trapped. Soon though, a mad space buffalo rocks up to discover that she's actually a time traveller. I have to say, the villain of this story is one of the best that never was. He's outrageous fun, and I loved every line of him (thanks in no part to Cameron Stewart and Simon Hunt). 

Back on the ship, the Doctor is eager to find the TARDIS key so that he can get to Peri to save her. When she left him, she threw it down somewhere but now it seems to have disappeared. Columbus threatens the Doctor with the same method of torture Peri talked of earlier in the story - cutting his hands off - if he doesn't return with the key in twenty minutes. Eventually, he realises the goat must have eaten it. Using extreme mental powers, he manages to extend the TARDIS' field. To avoid extracting the key from the animal, he manages to just hold the goat near the lock in order to get in, but he's not complaining. Columbus follows him in and they suspend the end of the universe for a few hours longer before travelling to the island where Peri is being held captive.

Arriving only to walk into the buffalo's trap, the Doctor is soon apparently at the creature's mercy. It's now that a lot is explained. The buffalo comes from a future in which the natives of America wipe out his herd, the Bovine, and so has used human technology to time travel to try and avert this by ensuring that these people themselves are wiped out. To this end, he steered Columbus' fleet towards America. However, this plan also backfires, as his future self tells him. The older Herd Leader has returned to tell him of the failure in an amusing segment and warn him off his original plan. However, it's at this point that Columbus comes round and springs into action. He kills the Herd Leader (aiming for the Doctor, trying to dethrone him as the greatest explorer in the world) and thus prevents the older Bovine from ever being there. This is the omniparadox observed at the start of the story. I thought it was really neat that it was all down to Peri that there was such an event in the first place, after she thought herself worthless in the grand scheme.

From here, everything's wrapped up rather well. Columbus is left on the island, the natives are healed and all that remains is the issue of the man with tuberculosis. Dodging admitting he was wrong once more, the Doctor gabbles an excuse about the Herd Leader infecting the crewman in the first place, so in order to set history back on its natural course he ought to cure him. It's a very sweet ending and the emphasis is that the Doctor and Peri are back on better terms, even though it's not made explicit. For that reason, it strengthens Fountain's conclusion further. None of this tale feels rushed or drawn out and the ending fits the established tale. Eventually, the Doctor also recovers the omniparadox and stores it in the TARDIS as requested.

I really enjoyed Nev Fountain's story. Being my first experience of Mr Fountain's work, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, but I didn't expect to be disappointed - and I certainly wasn't. There's been a really nice mix of styles of story in this series and overall the more whimsical and fun stories (Shadow of Death, Babblesphere, Trouble in Paradise) seem to be the stronger entries. I do enjoy more serious stories as well, but in this particular series they've been slightly (only slightly) weaker. Fountain has an expert ear for the Sixth Doctor and Peri. He nails their personalities from the off, and this only encourages my desire to hear some of his earlier work. As I said already, the Bovine are very fun and I love the idea of the Herd Leader getting lost in time and as such inspiring the legend of the Devil. It's another fun take on the origins of the figure, and Fountain plays the Herd Leader for all he's worth, which makes him even better. The most brilliant idea to come out of this though has to be that Peri created her home country, once again reinforcing her significance.

Destiny of the Doctor does seem to be developing something of a platform for actors and writers with little experience with this sort of story to display their talents. Someone else who falls into this category is the wonderful Nicola Bryant. Like Nev Fountain, you can tell she instantly 'gets' the two leads. Her narration is immensely listenable and not once does she falter over the story. Unlike Janet Fielding in the previous release, Bryant maintains a constant narration voice, which certainly helps the play to flow. She is brilliant as both the Doctor and Peri and doesn't shy away from proper voice acting when required as other, lesser, actors may. A lot of the success of Trouble in Paradise is down to the amount Bryant commits to the story and her roles. I must also just mention that Nicola's voice doesn't seem like it's aged a day since 1985 (nor looks, if I may be so cheeky).

I mentioned in my review of Smoke and Mirrors about how I was pleased the supporting actor got more to do. I'm pleased to say that in Trouble in Paradise, this role is extended further. Cameron Stewart gives voice to all the characters aside from the Doctor and Peri. I was going to say all the other male characters, before I realised that there were no female characters aside from Peri in this story. The dexterity of Stewart's voice is excellent, seemingly effortlessly switching between Columbus and the Herd Leader. It seems he has something of a history with playing famous explorers, having given voice to Sir Francis Drake in the Unbound release A Storm of Angels. This makes me wonder if the reference to Drake around the middle of the story was a knowing inclusion. Anyway, supremely enjoyable work from Cameron Stewart.

Simon Hunt provided the music and audio for this story, and I was again impressed by his work. I must say, it was less noticeable than in previous releases since I was so captivated by the story but at the points I noticed it I definitely liked it. His sound design (something I often take more note of for obvious reasons) was an improvement on Smoke and Mirrors, and it was pretty good there. I really felt like I was in the sunny West Indies, with almost tangible humidity seeping from the CD player. Simon Hunt wasn't a contributor I was aware of prior to this range, but looking at his list of previous work, it seems he's only worked on a couple of series of the BBC Nest Cottage Paul Magrs audios prior to this. He's quite a find, and I'm glad to see he's been given a few slots on Big Finish's Pathfinder series. John Ainsworth is the director for this, as with all stories in the Destiny series, and there's definitely a different, more relaxed vibe to this story. It's amazing how much the tone of the show changes throughout Doctor Who's history, and these stories are perfectly capturing the transition. This is incomparable to say Hunters of Earth in the same way Attack of the Cybermen is incomparable to... well, pretty much anything, but that's a topic for another day. Ainsworth does seem a master of his art, and hasn't disappointed me yet. He seems to instill energy in his performers and as such creates a lively story for ears to feast upon.

Overall then Trouble in Paradise is another superb entry to the collection. I'm so glad I decided to go with the whole Destiny range because I've discovered such gems in the process, and this is undoubtedly one of them. Nev Fountain's story is clever, coherent, authentic and most importantly enjoyable. Nicola Bryant and Cameron Stewart unashamedly give their all to the story, which is all that can be asked of actors. Luckily, they seem to be pretty damn good at their jobs too. This is one of those great instances where everything comes together beautifully and just seems to work. At no point do you feel that the history of the show isn't in safe hands - these are all experts who love the show extremely dearly. There is a certain inbuilt paranoia to all fans of anything that the next person to have control of your thing will wreck it, but I never had reason to think anything even approaching that with this story - or indeed the series. This is another story where you get most enjoyment through just letting the story flow past you while listening, but it still stands up under scrutiny. In any other range, this would be simply outstanding and easily the highlight, but here it's up against some stiff competition. Thank you wholeheartedly to all who worked on this, it was magnificent.

In a Nutshell: As Peri might put it so succinctly, "Wow.".

You can buy Trouble in Paradise here, read the Doc Oho review here or the Blogtor Who review here.

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