Big Finish Productions
|Written by||Eddie Robson|
|Starring Paul McGann, India Fisher and Conrad Westmaas|
|Synopsis: No summer can ever quite be as glorious as the ones you remember from when you were young, when a sunny afternoon seemed to last forever and all there was to do was ride your bike, eat ice-lollies and play with Lego. Tom Braudy is enjoying just such an afternoon when the TARDIS lands in his Nan's living room and interrupts her in the middle of the snooker.|
TARDIS stolen by an ice cream van? by Joe Ford 27/11/07
The first episode of Memory Lane is really good. So good that I thought we were on for another Christmas winner ala The One Doctor and Other Lives. Gary Russell has been at this lark for so long now he knows exactly how to open a story and with a script as bizarre and intriguing as this it makes his life even easier. The Doctor, Charley and C'rizz land in an ordinary house on an ordinary street and leave the house to explore their surroundings. When trying to return to the TARDIS they realise every house is exactly the same, owned by the same person, none of them containing the TARDIS... until they see it abducted, strapped on the back of an ice cream van. It's bizarre but entertainingly scripted and well performed; what you think is going to be a domestic story just gets weirder and weirder until you are left scratching your head in confusion. What a shame that this episode could not have been released on its own with no answers to back it up because it really does hold up as a special slice of audio Who.
What happens with Memory Lane is that it gets less and less unique as each episode moves on. Episode two provides most of the answers far too soon into the story. Episode three plays about with the concepts but, answers revealed, it's all a little mundane. Episode four is the most disappointing of the lot, trapping the Doctor in a pretty dull dilemma and provides an astonishingly weak motive for the kidnappings. What a shame that something so initially magic should become just another traditional Doctor Who adventure, albeit with a stonkingly bad last five minutes. It feels as though writer Eddie Robson started out with some great disparate elements (ooh lets have spacemen, ice cream vans, aliens and snooker!), which, in a very Doctor Who fashion, slaps them together to disorienting effect; all well and good but in attempting how to explain how these elements work together it gets a bit ridiculous.
It's weird that the eighth Doctor should have another stuck-in-prison tale after Something Inside (which was also pretty disappointing) or that anyone attempt such a story when this incarnation has already suffered the worst trapped in prison sentence of his life (in the psychological thriller Seeing I). It's also a bit routine to have the Doctor reliving the deaths of his companions over and again. It really doesn't seem to bother him that much. Perhaps reliving a really unpleasant memory that would have cracked him up. A murder or something? It doesn't really feel as though the Doctor is that much danger once we realise the situation, which is a shame after the tension of episode one.
I haven't commented much on the eighth Doctor, Charley and C'rizz combination for a while now (probably because I haven't been reviewing Big Finish for a while). I will admit things have improved. Either I am less crabby or the performances and dialogue are better but rather than boring me to death with their non-existent chemistry and tedious backstories, they are now inoffensive and even quite enjoyable in certain scenes. It could have something to do with the relaxed relationship between the three actors now; McGann and Fisher have been sparring for years now and still bounce fairly well off each other but the biggest improvement has been with Westmaas who has managed to salvage some dignity for C'rizz and has given the schizophrenic alien a place in the series. Whilst I think they are overegging the "voices in the head" element to his character, he is far more likable these days than he was from his rotten beginnings and he seems to enjoy his life in the TARDIS and his life with the Doctor and Charley, which makes a world of difference. Whilst I would never recommend them as the best example of audio companions I can see some potential for real drama when his friends discover his secret. Things may not have begun well but perhaps their split could be the making of what made them a memorable team.
I have to say, McGann seems to have found his niche again. No longer the lost, helpless, ineffective loser he was in the divergent universe, here we have somebody we are proud to call the Doctor. I like the general sense of crabbiness about his character these days; in the early eighth Doctor audios, there was a real effort to make him likeable - although enthusiasm and adventurous spirit were overdosed - but these days he has found his audience and can afford to be a bit snappy and impatient. He reminds of the fifth Doctor done right, as in the young man with the wisdom and tetchiness of an old man of Frontios. And that is a high recommendation. It is about time he was commissioned for his own series of audio adventures on BBC7. It's great that he can be the current Doctor and one way.
Of the guest cast, I can wholeheartedly commend Nina Baden-Semper who manages to take a role which is repetitive and potentially dull and turns it into something magical. Mrs Braudy has an aura of the Oracle from The Matrix about her and her constant trips to the kitchen to make a cup of tea take on a sinister aura (I kid you not!). Charlie Ross and Neville Watchurst are fun to listen to too, an alien double act trying desperately to keep their public happy and the meddling Doctor out of the way. The two performances that felt a little off were Neil Reidman and Sara Carver as Tom and Kim, the astronauts. A shame because these are central to the plot but there was something a bit unconvincing about him as a professional space farer and something rather melodramatic and whiny about her. This isn't bad acting per se, more like oddly played. I'm sure with a little guidance this could have been tightened up dramatically and made to work.
However the sound design, music and general direction is excellent giving the overall production an extremely polished feel. I could understand if somebody found this to be Big Finish back at their height, the overall product is very easy on the ear. If only script could be just as sophisticated we could be on to something really special.
I love the idea of being trapped in a pleasant memory of your childhood; it's an ingenious way of keeping a prisoner docile. It's unfortunate that an idea this good should be wasted on a script this lazy. Wait until you reach the final explanation! No video recorders indeed! Surely that must be the epitome of an under-whelming conclusion?
Memory Lane is a curious beast. Entertaining, including a blisteringly good first part but also lacking energy and conviction. Shame the story couldn't live up to the superb cover.
Legos, Astronauts, Ice-Cream Trucks, All Pleasant Memories by Jacob Licklider 13/10/21
1950's America saw the rise of suburbia, where every house was neatly lined on a street with the same coat of paint and where your standard housewife will stay home all day and at the evening the whole family would sit around the television entertaining themselves. Now take that image, bring it to a British setting and make it somehow a claustrophobic base-under-siege style story by first time writer Eddie Robson. The tone of this story is an honestly odd one as there is a base-under-siege element to it, but Robson's story plays off the memory of childhood. Even the blurb on Big Finish's website points out this idea: "No summer can ever quite be as glorious as the ones you remember from when you were young, when a sunny afternoon seemed to last forever and all there was to do was ride your bike, eat ice-lollies and play with Lego." It's this type of romanticized memory that fits in extremely well with the characterization of the Eighth Doctor, who has always been the breathless romantic. At the start of this story, when he seems to land in an old-timey home with an old-timey ice-cream truck outside, he of course is in love, but soon the base-under-siege story sets in. Everything outside looks the same, and the Doctor, Charley and C'rizz are immediately lost and have to figure out which house has the TARDIS only to find the ice-cream man steals it. Yes this story has an evil ice-cream man that steals the TARDIS. Okay I know that that isn't really an ice-cream man, but that's what the mystery is. Why does everything look the same? Why does an adult claim to be a ten year old living with his grandmother? Why is there an astronaut running around the place? Giving anything more away would be ruining Robson's superb ability to get his audience invested in the mystery.
As this is a story about the memories of when a man was a child, the Eighth Doctor is completely in his element, and Paul McGann is on top form. While he is wary of the situation, the Doctor can't help but accept a free cup of tea from a kindly old lady. Robson makes the Doctor go through several character shifts in this story, and McGann has to pull them off at the drop of a hat, which he does excellently. The Doctor becomes more and more lost in the environment. McGann gives a sense of air to his voice as he is put in his ideal spot, which really works. He is actually juxtaposed with C'rizz, who is the only character not to get lost in the idealism of memory as he has no real happy memories of his own inside his head and there are too many from the people he's killed to be weeded out for manipulation. It's Conrad Westmass' best performance in Big Finish history and his penultimate one, but there is one major problem in that after all this time as a companion he has had very little development. Yes we have the plotline that he is hiding minds in his head, but that hasn't gone anywhere, and we know he isn't trustworthy.
India Fisher's Charley, on the other hand, actually gets to have some needed development concerning her family since Zagreus. Her memory is one of her mother, again played by Anneke Wills. We actually get to see more of what her home was like and how her mother, while not being abusive, was a little neglectful when it came to her constant questioning of the world around her. Both actresses pull off the complexities of their roles, especially Fisher who also has to deal with Tom. Tom has the mind of a ten year old but is obviously much older in body; while he has no ill intent, there is this sinister sense around the character which really makes him feel like he is hiding something.
To summarize, Memory Lane is a great debut for writer Eddie Robson who does go on to write several Eighth Doctor Adventures. He knows just how to evoke sinister imagery from your standard street to a scientific future. He implements the base-under-siege formula perfectly. Everything feels spot on except C'rizz, who honestly had so much opportunity for character growth here, but that was squandered when they decided that all they would reveal is what we already knew back in < href=terrorfirma.htm>Terror Firma. It is a complaint on the writers, however, and not Conrad Westmass as an actor. 90/100