24 March 2016

Audio Review: Doctor Who - Horror of Glam Rock


What glorious fun Horror of Glam Rock is. Packed to the brim with larger-than-life characters, raging beasts, aliens with attitude and rubbish hairdos, this story is almost the antithesis of the thoughtful, high-concept Blood of the Daleks - and that's no bad thing. Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith seem to relish the opportunity this lighter episode provides, with both still at the top of their game.

It starts with the Doctor trying to get Lucie home, but the closest the TARDIS will allow him due to the Time Lords' tampering is 1974. As soon as they step out of the TARDIS, they discover a corpse, before finding that they've arrived at a motorway service station - which is true, one way or another, of everyone in this story. They soon become embroiled in a tangled web of connections and glam rockers, which is every bit as incredulous as it sounds. 

One of the most interesting - and enjoyable - guest characters in this story is Bernard Cribbins' Arnold Korns. Cribbins' performance is so vibrant and you can tell he's really working at every scene. For the majority of the episode Arnold is selfish, and focused to an obsessive level on reaching London so that his "two protégés" can appear on Top of the Pops the following day and no doubt net him a huge chunk of cash. The lucky pair are Tommy and Trisha Tomorrow - twins. Trisha is by far the most normal of the two, but the reason behind that, and why she's ultimately irrelevant to the band, is revealed across the course of the story.

Another interesting character the Doctor and Lucie meet is Pat Ryder, the drummer of the Methylated Spirits, which has just disbanded. Pat's never had much luck, so hearing her at this particular moment adds another dimension to proceedings - particularly as she's Lucie's aunt. It's hard not to know things like this if you've paid any attention to the range at all - and this being me, I've read the reviews countless times - yet I still somehow forgot this was coming as soon as I pressed play. Their relationship is one of the most touching parts of this story, particularly as a further examination of Lucie's character. This shows her emotional depth, as we see her shooting her mouth off unintentionally are feeling the personal consequences of that. For once it doesn't get her (any further) into a life and death situation, but it upsets her Aunty, To Lucie, the scale is the same.

The villains of the piece are the self-proclaimed Only Ones. It's definitely not a coincidence that they sound like a failed seventies three-piece glam rock outfit - and in a way they are, even within the context of the story. They've been communicating with Tommy through his stylophone, sending him hit tunes through the airwaves. While he, Trisha and Arnold just want a bit of success, the Only Ones are interested in gaining them fans simply for a bit of lunch. By gaining Tommy a large following of teenage fans, they hope for a light snack. I don't quite understand this bit of the plot but it works well enough as some kind of motive. I can forgive it too because the Only Ones are gloriously sassy - a bored "Oh, it's you Doctor" when they notice him after assuming physical existence, and the way they dismiss the idea of invading Earth is just as funny.

Of the two, Lucie is far more prominent in Horror of Glam Rock than the Doctor. She gets some lovely character moments with many of the supporting cast, while the Doctor is more generic here now that he and Lucie have come to some sort of agreement about their enforced partnership. That's not to say he's poorly written - he has an infectious energy, in both writing and performance, and is still completely commanding and captivating. He just has less Eighth Doctor-specific moments than in Blood of the Daleks. Once again, that doesn't mean he's badly written, it's just that Paul Magrs' interpretation of the two lead characters is different to Steve Lyons'.

Magrs isn't a writer I'm very familiar with. I heard The Stones of Venice once, but it was so long ago and I remember so little that I may as well not have heard it. I own a number of his other stories but haven't got around to listening to them yet. My next encounter with his work will be The Peterloo Massacre, the Peter Davison story released just last week at time of writing. I've heard a lot of good things about that one, particularly that is scores highly in the human drama department, and coming off the back of Horror of Glam Rock, I can well believe that. The relationships between all the characters, but particularly Arnold and the Tomorrow Twins, are so intricately plotted and the way their backgrounds feed into their actions here makes it seem like they have a life beyond these fifty minutes - which one of them will, of course.

I usually praise the music in Big Finish audios, but this takes it to another level. I'm glad I listened to this on actual speakers rather than through headphones like normal as it's such a layered score, and so precisely planned. Tim Sutton and Gareth Jenkins have really outdone themselves, providing a soundtrack that fits perfectly with that mid-seventies glam rock vibe but is simultaneously very good. There's a couple of bonus tracks at the end of the CD: the first is a period version of the Doctor Who theme tune, which is now my second favourite, after the David Arnold version used on these stories; and the full Children of Tomorrow, the song played towards the start of the episode on the radio, and sung by Stephen Gately and Clare Buckfield. Over the last few months I've become increasingly familiar with David Bowie's work from this era and it's easy to see what a loving tribute this is - with music by Tim Sutton and lyrics by Barnaby Edwards. It's actually not a terrible song in itself as well...

Speaking of Edwards, he holds everything together with great dexterity. This is one of the most outrageously enjoyable Big Finish stories and his directing skill is clear for all to see. It's impossible to say from these two examples whether he's a stronger or weaker director than Nicholas Briggs, but both suit the stories they were assigned very well, and I struggle to imagine it working so well had they swapped. I understand Alan Barnes curated the crop of stories for this first run, and he's done exceedingly well so far; at this stage in the game it's two for two. It's really not hard to see why people love this range so much. It's a little mad, energetic and feels thoroughly modern - a description also fitting of the Doctor and Lucie.

This is a great little story. It's one I've secretly been looking forward to for a long time, but I didn't want to get my hopes up because I know a lot of people haven't had that great a reaction to it. As you may be able to tell, I did really enjoy it though, with it being right up my alley for an hour or so of fun. Everything fuses very well, maintaining the humour and terror equally well as a motorway service station is attacked by terrifying monsters in the small hours of the morning. Sheridan Smith steals the show again but it's great to hear Paul McGann enjoying himself so much. This is very good, and has the best title of anything Big Finish have ever released.

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