28 March 2016

Audio Review: Doctor Who - Immortal Beloved

It's quite a while since I heard a Doctor Who story quite as high-concept as Immortal Beloved, and so it makes for a very nice change. It's quite rare to stick this firmly to one notion - usually it's mixed in with however many other world-ending scenarios, whereas here the entire story has pretty much one linear narrative. It continues the diversity of Paul McGann's first series of adventures with Sheridan Smith in fine style.

The main idea behind this story is reincarnation, which in itself is not that ground-breaking. On an Earth colony in the far future, for some reason or other, the colonists have adopted the personas of Ancient Greek deities. Ian McNeice plays Zeus, and it's him that drives most of the story's events. He is not the original Zeus as by this point they have some kind of mind-swapping equipment and so as a body nears the end of its life, Zeus (or anyone else)'s mind can be transposed with another. I can't help thinking of The Prisoner, where the same plot was used in one of its worst episodes - even the ending where there's an unexpected swap or lack of. But that's not to say this is bad, quite the opposite.

One of the big selling points of Immortal Beloved is the relationship between Kalkin and Sararti, two young lovers who we meet right at the top of the episode as they're about to hurl themselves off a cliff. As an opening, it's pretty attention-grabbing and it certainly made me want to know what could be so bad that these two feel this is the only option. Thankfully they're talked down and the Doctor and Lucie begin to dig deeper into what's really going on here.

This is another strong story for the pair, with both being given nice little subplots which soon overlap. Some of Lucie's dialogue did feel a little stilted and out of step with what I've got used to over the last three episodes but she was still easily recognisable as the same girl who was dumped on the Doctor in Blood of the Daleks. I get the impression Paul McGann really enjoys having a broad mix of stories, whereas perhaps in the main range he felt he was getting a lot of similar material. I read this week that he told Nick Briggs that without this first series of Lucie adventures, he would have given up Big Finish altogether so even if they're not quite your cup of tea, there's still that to thank them for. In Immortal Beloved he gets to be more like the breathless adventurer from stories like Storm Warning or The Stones of Venice and I think it's good to mix it up.

One thing I've not discussed so far is the Headhunter who appears to be on Lucie's tail. Employed by a mysterious client at the end of Blood of the Daleks, she is getting closer and closer, and with only two more stories before the series finale, I wonder if the Doctor and Lucie may actually cross paths with her. It's not entirely clear what's going on yet but there's no way it isn't linked to her encounter with the Time Lords, and her being assigned to the Doctor. After his initial suspicions, no questions seem to have asked in the last couple of episodes, so is the Doctor being diplomatic or has he just accepted the situation? Somehow I find the latter unlikely and so I expect it'll all come out in Human Resources.

This is my first experience of Big Finish head honcho Jason Haigh-Ellery's direction, although I gather he does a fair bit with the theatre. I'm not entirely sure why but this story absolutely flew by for me - by the end of the fifty minutes I thought about twenty had passed. Thinking back, the pace is relatively fast in this story, but no scene feels rushed - or even particularly speedy. Haigh-Ellery deals well with this script, and the production as a whole has a really ethereal feel to it, aided by Gareth Jenkins' music. It feels a lot like a film too, with the sweeping orchestral stings and grand characters. This is a great example of the writer and director being completely on the same page about the tone of a story.

As you may have gathered, I quite enjoyed this story. It didn't grab me as much as either of its predecessors, but that doesn't appear to be the aim. Instead, Immortal Beloved washed easily over me. It's a very pleasant way to pass an hour or so, and it's great to hear Sheridan Smith and Paul McGann getting into it. I wouldn't want every story to be like this but when an idea is sold as a complete package as individually as this, I'd certainly be keen for the occasional high-concept entry.

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