31 July 2016

Audio Review: Doctor Who - A Life of Crime


After three months of nostalgia-fuelled glee with the Master trilogy, the Big Finish main range takes a break with... a nostalgia-fuelled tale reuniting Bonnie Langford's Mel with Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred's Doctor and Ace for the first time in twenty-nine years. A Life of Crime is a much more lightweight affair than The Two Masters, and in many ways, much more my thing. However, it quickly loses a lot of its charm between the first and second discs and it relies too much on characters and events we don't see for my liking. 

Since December's You Are The Doctor, the TARDIS has apparently been homing in on a female, and so it now brings its occupants to Ricosta, albeit a week early. The first episode makes for great listening, as Matt Fitton moves all the pieces into position, but perhaps the pretence of Gloria being the new Doctor could have been kept up a bit longer. Just like how Kate O'Mara was great as Mel in Time and the Rani, Ginny Holder is great as a potential Doctor here. Studying the lines properly, they are all pretty generic stuff that you wouldn't be surprised to hear McCoy's Doctor come out with, but Holder brings a real spark and personality to the part. 

A Life of Crime sees Mel arrive after a period of travelling with Glitz, as we saw at the end of Dragonfire. I suppose the older-companion-rejoins thing has been done with Nyssa, but perhaps there would have been more dramatic potential in it having been a bit longer, rather than the year or so it seems. There's a bit of false drama when it seems that Mel has gone bent as a result of Glitz's influence, but she was always far too earnest and do-gooding for that to wash with me. Bonnie Langford plays her much the same as in last year's trilogy of stories, which matches as they all show her around the same age, but it's notable when it's a contrast to the rest of her acting roles nowadays. 

There's quite a strong, simple story at the heart of this that's convoluted for the sake of running time. Matt Fitton's resolution comes in the form of a neat and tidy paradox, but it sort of comes from left of field, with no foreshadowing or any real reason for it other than to tie up the plot. It's possible Fitton's coming down with Briggs Syndrome - stretching himself too thin by writing and/or script editing virtually every Big Finish series, with his work suffering as a result. It's great BF - and in particular David Richardson - have found someone who they think can always deliver, but really there isn't a lot that's new here - yes of course there's a new bunch of aliens who I wouldn't be adverse to hearing again, but it's not saying anything new. There appears to be a different Doctor - there isn't. Mel appears to have gone 'bad' - she hasn't. There's a lot of false jeopardy.

What keeps this going, and makes it enjoyable scene-by-scene are the characters. The Ricostans, symbolised by their Mayor, are deviously greedy and self-centered, even in their hour of need. The Sperovores are likewise - yet another race that feeds on potential energy, and so love collecting what they're owed. They're a decent, if featherweight, villain of the month, but due to the pure eighties-ness of the whole affair, they really work. 

The really great thing about A Life of Crime is its music, courtesy of Fool Circle. This is the best score I've heard for years (on a par with The Peterloo Massacre's, but for totally different reasons). It has an array of brilliant basslines, and feels like it's played on real instruments rather than synths like a lot of the soundtracks for Big Finish's stories (understandably) are. It's a real feast for the ears, and I've listened to the isolated score at least five times, when I usually skip it. Their style suits this story down to the ground, and is wholly responsible for it getting an extra two points. That said, some of the sound design leaves something to be desired - not in the special effects, but during conversations, characters are at drastically different sound levels. I get that this is supposed to show depth of field and everything, but it makes listening quite hard, especially when it's in so many scenes, particularly those where there's a lot else going on.

A Life of Crime revolves heavily around one character - who isn't in it. Sabalom Glitz is notorious throughout the galaxies, and was quite a well-received recurring character in the 1980s. He doesn't appear in this story, but every single one of the human/Time Lord characters knows him. He's mentioned 34 times, which is over eight times an episode. That's barmy. A lot of events come about due to him, which would be fine, but they rely so heavily on him that it gives him an unintended importance. Unless he shows up in a future release, I think this is a major misstep for this story. A Life of Crime also relies on a number of unlikely deductions and coincidences to push its plot forward - for example, how would Gloria know Mel was from Pease Pottage, and would she really still have a bank account there?

This a pretty likeable entry, though less so in the second half. Sophie Aldred is better than she's been for a while, whilst Sylvester McCoy sounds a little like he's done with his character, particularly in the extras, and is convinced that there's nowhere new to go with his Doctor. On the strength of this story, I'd be inclined to agree. This is supposed to be a big reintroduction for Mel, and while it has its moments, for the most part it's standard monster fare. Thank goodness the main range is about to get some new blood for the next two stories, where a little more fire and energy might be injected into the mix. This is distinctly average and completely throwaway, saved only by its incredible score. Not a bad release as part of a subscription - and I'm still impressed at the level of output and production Big Finish pulls off these days - but probably not one I'd recommend buying by itself.


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