17 July 2016

Audio Review: Doctor Who - And You Will Obey Me


Promoted as the opening instalment in a trilogy of stories forming Big Finish's 'summer blockbuster', And You Will Obey Me promised a lot. Long-term readers will recall that Alan Barnes' writing has never done much for me, with previous entries Enemy Aliens and Last of the Cybermen both struggling to score above average. I understand that a lot of his other work, such as Neverland, is well-regarded, but I haven't got round to that one yet. So in approaching this, my expectations weren't particularly great, and I wasn't massively surprised surprised - positively or negatively - by the result. For me, And You Will Obey Me is very much what you'd expect.

Peter Davison has a different energy in stories where he is without his companions, often being more focused and driven, and under Jamie Anderson's direction, that's very true of this story. However, no sooner than he's shed his plethora of companions, the fifth Doctor effectively gains four more. The principal guest stars of this story are asked to hold up a lot of the history and action, and while it's clear that this many characters are necessary to sell the narrative, it can't help but feel like a shame that there wasn't just one or two of them. I can tell Barnes tried to make them all distinctive but come the end of Part Four, as far as I was concerned, they were pretty much interchangeable. 

Perhaps there's a clue about the structure of And You Will Obey Me in its title. It comes, of course, from the Master's most famous catchphrase, and the omission of 'I am the Master,' Barnes seems to be mirroring his story, from which the Doctor's best enemy is largely absent. While he may not actually be present, however, it's fair to say that the entire story exists because of, and revolves around, the Master. The best scenes are undoubtedly those featuring Geoffrey Beevers, so it's a shame that they are few and far between, and also that he has such little time with Peter Davison. 

Everything about this is more or less fine, but that's about as enthusiastic as I can get. It's nice to see Beevers' Master with an actual plan or end goal this time, and he is decidedly more ruthless than normal. Beevers himself comments in the behind the scenes extras that he preferred this approach, and it's easy to see why. Although I don't doubt this is part of some masterplan that will span all three releases, it's hard for this not to feel a little hollow on its own. As I say, it's a good enough story, but all the most interesting bits are tied up in the Master's recovery after crashing on Earth. I'm sure it was a well-intentioned move, but this actually made the story weaker in my eyes to place greater emphasis on the children and their various subplots.

The production was again, praiseworthy, but I can think of little to actually remark on, beyond it serving the story well, which is strange for Richard Fox and Lauren Yason - two sound designers and musicians I've been a big fan of in the past. Jamie Anderson keeps a tight grip on proceedings, but it almost seems there isn't much room for intricacies - the plot appears (at least to me) to happen in a straightforward event/event/event fashion. Considering this was billed as a huge opening for the trilogy, it's also quite a quiet and reserved affair, which suits Beevers' Master, but again it's hard to see how this will fit into the wider story at the moment. The one question remaining from this - unless I missed the answer - is of why the Master crashed in the first place.

I'm on the fence with this one. It's by no means poor or underwhelming, but at the same time I can't quite work out why it's being heralded as such a landmark offering by other sites, other than the fact it gives them a chance to use words like "Masterful". The stuff with the dragonflies was extremely incidental, and could quite easily have been cut if this were tightened up into an hour-long affair. And You Will Obey Me has its moments, but is entirely forgettable. I hate to say this, because it can be so damning for a writer, but I would've loved to have seen what any of the reliably excellent pool of writers Big Finish is lucky enough to have at their disposal - Jonathan Morris, David Llewellyn, Eddie Robson, Joe Lidster, Simon Guerrier, Una McCormack and James Goss spring to mind - could have done with this. Yes, I did enjoy this, and it's still got a respectable score from me, I was just wholly unmoved and a little frustrated. What you'd expect.

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