19 May 2015

BF: The Lady from Callisto

Taking us on another sharp deviation from the tone of the preceding episodes of The Worlds of Big Finish is The Lady from Callisto. The world of Vienna is markedly different to anything we've heard so far, and feels reminiscent to me of 1990s American science fiction. For those of you that don't know, Vienna Salvatori is a bounty hunter who first appeared in Jonny Morris' Doctor Who story The Shadow Heart before getting her own range. 

Vienna is brought into the ongoing tale of the Gomegog in a similar way to Sherlock Holmes in the set's second story. Both are employed by others to investigate strange occurrences to do with Kronos Vad's History of Earth (Volume 36,379, naturally) and Ms Salvatori's latest client is wealthy casino and hotel owner Cage Zorn. Lara Memphis, an acquaintance of his, has disappeared with a treasured possession of his and he's very keen to get it back. 

Having a main character who elects to remain anonymous makes it harder to get a handle on them. In order to get away with what she does and pass unnoticed through the galaxy, Vienna either withholds her identity or erases characters' memories, so I gather. It's intriguing for a while but it's definitely a relief once it's revealed that the villain knows who she is anyway. Once again, we're promised a showdown with the Gomegog, but so far we've not seen one. I've a feeling that, with the next episode occurring predominantly as a flashback, from what I can tell at this point, we might finally meet the creatures behind this whole boxset.

As an introduction to the Vienna series, I think this was well-scripted. Unfortunately, it's not a series that's ever really appealed to me, and this hasn't changed that. It's a good little tale, but I prefer to see it as a coincidental encounter with the rest of the story rather than her being included because she's Vienna. The story itself is enjoyable, with some nice twists in the tale from David Llewellyn. The way he manages to imbue every character and aspect of the narrative with suspicion is commendable and one of the things I enjoyed the most about The Lady from Callisto. The tale weaves between famine-fighting charities, Martian casinos, high-class dinners and cargo bays deftly. Llewellyn seems to be relishing the opportunity to go for the hard sci-fi angle - that's not to say he doesn't still give it an emotional human weight - but I'm afraid this just isn't my cup of tea.

Starring as the murderous Ms Salvatori is Chase Masterson. Her performance fitted the part well but I have to say I was less engaged by the character than the leads in the other Worlds stories. There's none of the quirkiness of Iris Wildthyme, or the subtlety and smoothness of Dorian Gray - right until the very end. At this point the facade falls a little, and I look forward to seeing in the concluding episode how Llewellyn balances forming his own image of her against remaining true to the established character. The last minute or so of the story reminds us what a far-reaching arc this is, and has me intrigued for The Phantom Wreck.

The production is once again excellent. Scott Handcock ably switches genres and timezones like he switches days of the week - actually, maybe more easily, judging by his Twitter feed. There's not been a performance out of place in the whole saga so far, barely a line that didn't work as well as it should. His direction of the boxset as a whole, changing pace and tone with every episode has been nothing short of remarkable. How he manages to always find the emphasis or subvert expectations is also to be admired. All of this only supports my belief that he's Big Finish's most exciting director at the moment. Anything with him attached is basically a pre-order in my books. More than just performing on the day though, Handcock as Worlds' producer has assembled a mighty squad of cast and crew to help realise this story. I've commented a few times that David Llewellyn was the perfect choice to write this, and Steve Foxon is gradually convincing me he's the same for post-production work; all of the actors selected by Handcock are well suited to their roles, with the casting of Barnaby Edwards as Romulus Chang, Hugh Skinner as Captain Turner, Michael Thomson as Korvo and (of course) John Dorney as the Bridge Controller standing out as the most memorable. This is truly a production to be proud of and I can't wait to see how it's brought to a head.

The Lady from Callisto, then, is undoubtedly high quality stuff, but I wouldn't want too much more in the same vein. I liked this well enough for its duration, but I wasn't on the edge of my seat like I was with The Feast of Magog or totally enveloped as with Kronos Vad's History of Earth (Vol. 36,379). In the end, it comes down to taste, so even though I preferred other stories from Worlds, this might be right up your street.

You can buy The Worlds of Big Finish here.

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