03 August 2014

BF: Breaking Bubbles

Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories is 2014's anthology set, comprising of four 25-minute stories instead of the usual 100-minute story. These are pretty much an annual affair but last year the slot was surrendered to Afterlife. Previous entries of this type include 1001 Nights, Recorded Time and Other Stories, The Demons of Red Lodge and Other Stories, The Company of Friends and Forty-Five. The four stories included in this release are Breaking Bubbles, Of Chaos Time The, An Eye for Murder and The Curious Incident of the Doctor in the Night-Time.

So, we start with Breaking Bubbles by LM Myles, a writer new to Big Finish (something she has in common two of the other authors on this release). Immediately this is a massive change of gear, even though I've come to this straight off the back of reviewing Nev Fountain's Trouble in Paradise. It is instantly more leisurely paced than you might be accustomed to in the main range so far this year, but this is by no means a bad thing. 

Myles has landed our heroes in seemingly serene surroundings - ornate palace gardens. Peri still considers herself a botany student and so wants to take a few cuttings. But before she can check with the landowner, they are introduced to Safira Valtris who soon turns out to be a prisoner. The gardens are in fact just holographic images, to make the journey between prisons more tolerable. In nicely intercut scenes, we meet the two officers responsible for her transportation, Laris and Tondra. Their relationship instantly tells the listener a lot about their personalities and I don't doubt that was the intention. These one-part episodes have to devise a way of grabbing the listener's attention immediately and introducing the world of the story economically (one of the qualities that made Philip Lawrence's Question Marks on the Recorded Time set so enjoyable) and Myles really does that.

The theme of this collection is perception and perspective, and that's definitely explored here. Valtris deposed the Emperor seventeen years ago, who also happened to be her cousin, and ruled the empire for nearly a decade. Every decision she took was for the greater good of the population as a whole in her opinion, but there were many casualties of her actions. We are given four perspectives on her reign: Valtris', her cousin's, Tondra's and Laris'. The second is made abundantly clear in a passage where the former Empress tells Peri that her cousin was never actively involved in the running of the Empire and didn't care for its people. She felt she did though. Tondra's planet was destroyed in the war Valtris started, and so she wants like-for-like revenge. Laris seems to just follow orders and serve whoever happens to be his commander.

I may have done a disservice to Myles' intricately-planned episode in my summary, but it is undoubtedly inventive and intriguing. While this features only a few moments of action and is quite a dialogue-heavy script, this doesn't reduce its quality. In fact, it would be more true to say the opposite. The plotting did keep me interested and in a couple of places I felt I could see Jonny Morris' (this release's script editor) hand showing. The three supporting actors were all well-cast but I must say that Jemma Churchill was perhaps the most accomplished guest performer.

The Doctor and Peri were authentically enlivened here and it does feel good to have them back together (in a full-cast story). This is only the fourth release featuring this pairing since 2006 which certainly surprised me given their popularity. By now, Colin Baker could lend gravitas to any dialogue he was asked to deliver but there's no such concern here as the writer certainly seems familiar with Old Sixie, nailing the rhythm of his speech and the attitude of his ego. He is a computer expert here, which I suppose is something of a theme in the mid-80s as computers were coming to prominence. The Sixth Doctor is regularly seen tinkering with circuitry in the TARDIS and Mel is supposedly a computer programmer, not that that ever has any impact beyond first mention. It's in a valid context here too, and doesn't feel too convenient given the situation. Peri is afforded much more care here than onscreen and it's nice to see that she does remember her old life.

The music, provided along with sound design by Wilfredo Acosta, is entirely suited and just goes to reinforce what an enjoyable pool of talent Big Finish paddles in these days. Whether it's a sweeping score or a more intimate scene, Acosta pitches his work just right. I think the music outshines the sound design in this story, conversely to usual. Not for any great reason, I just thought the score was excellent. Likewise with Nick Briggs' direction. The performances absolutely match the tone Myles seems to be going for on the page, something which can only be achieved with a steady hand at the helm. Briggs is certainly experienced now if nothing else, but there's no sign of his powers waning from this release. Superb contributions from these two gentlemen.

Overall, Breaking Bubbles is a strong start to this anthology. It's not earth-shattering, but it never sets out to be. Aware that it needs to tell an economical story, it focuses more on characters than plot to give us several perspectives on war. It could be interpreted as a commentary on events in the modern world, but so could pretty much any piece of fiction if twisted the right way. It's unfortunate that the premise of the location mirrors the last release so much (opening in Palace Gardens that at first glance appear to be France but turn out to be on a spaceship) but it didn't impact my enjoyment, which was all in the ideas presented rather than the setting of the characters. I think a better title, generally, would be Bursting Bubbles but I think the actual title fits this story much more accurately. It emphasises forcefulness and describes the apparent attitude of the author succinctly. An interesting rather than exciting release, I still appreciated it and hope to hear more from Myles in the future.

In a Nutshell: An interesting start to the anthology and one that rewards the more you think about it.

Breaking Bubbles is available as part of Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories here.  Read the Doc Oho review here and the Blogtor Who review here.

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