Thursday, April 10, 2014

Review: Big Finish Audio Play: Doctor Who and the Pirates, (or The Lass That Lost A Sailor)

I've mentioned in passing that I really like the Big Finish Doctor Who audio plays .

They tell the kind of stories I really enjoyed from classic Who, and they've gone a really long way towards rehabilitating Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor in my mind (A poll conducted by DWM saw him voted the best Doctor in this format). I'm not going to defend his tv run. What's to defend? It was asinine, juvenile, nonsensical and basically everything that people who hate sci-fi say about sci-fi. It was bad.

Ahhh... a noble brow. Clear gaze. At least it will be given a few hours sleep. 
A firm mouth. A face beaming with a vast intelligence.
Now, that's not entirely Baker's fault. (It feels strange to say "Baker" about someone who played the Doctor and not to be talking about Tom Baker) There were a number of factors in play, and the character arc they had planned, showing the Doctor as a jerk initially, only to reveal him as a hero later on, isn't a bad one. Except he got sacked before they could get to the second part.

Okay, anyone reading this far probably already knows this, so I won't dwell on it. He had two Companions during his run, Peri, whose American accent is about as Authentic as Dick Van Dyke's Cockney, and Mel, who was mostly forgettable, though she too is a lot better in the audio plays. Neither of them were a particularly good match for his somewhat...prickly demeanor.

I understand why so many of the Companions in the television version are interchangeably attractive ingenues from modern London. You need the viewer association character who can say "Oh, Doctor, what are we going to do?!" to trigger the exposition, and you want a conventionally attractive person because they pull in more viewers. That's kind of sad, but that's the way it is, and I don't see it changing.

In the audio plays, the Sixth Doctor found the perfect foil in Evelyn Smythe. Maggie Stables plays Evelyn, and she's almost as interesting as her character. She decided to take up acting after retiring from teaching high school French. The images for the character are modeled on Stables.

 Dr. Smythe is a 55-year old divorced history professor. She challenges the Doctor, and gives as good as she gets. As great as the Eccleston episode, "Dalek", was, the audio play that inspired it, "Jubilee", was even better.

SPOILERS for Doctor Who and the Pirates

I had listened to quite a few stories featuring Evelyn before starting Doctor Who and the Pirates. The title made it sound like one of the Target Novelizations. The subtitle, the Lass that Lost a Sailor, made it sound like a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Little did I know...

We open with Evelyn going up to visit Sally, a student at University. She tells Sally the story of her exciting adventure with the pirates, despite Sally's clear disinterest. ("It can’t possibly get any worse! The dialogue is totally over the top as well as anachronistic. Is there a story at all?") The story becomes farcical very quickly, and then turns into a full-fledged musical in part three. Then, the mood shifts abruptly, with Sally bursting into song about the car accident where she killed another student.

They continue on, and Evelyn breaks into tears herself when she gets to the part where the cabin boy was murdered because he couldn't tell the pirate captain where the buried treasure was.

The play wraps up as the Evelyn's story concludes. The Doctor talks to Sally and tells her that they came because they found her suicide note. They knew that she could could go if she made it through the night, and now dawn is here. He brought Evelyn there, not only to save a life, but to help Evelyn work through her grief at her failure to save another. It's such a tender and compassionate scene. It's the most poignant Doctor Who story I've ever heard. If this is the Doctor he would have become had his arc been realized, his run would have been remembered as one of the greats.

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