Big Finish Productions
Sarah Jane Smith:
|Written by||David Bishop|
|Starring Elisabeth Sladen|
|Synopsis: Sarah Jane Smith travels to Antarctica where her friend, Will is part of a research team studying global warming. But someone at Nikita Base is a murderer and everybody has a guilty secret. When a massive storm severs all communications, the killer strikes and the truth is revealed.|
"Cosy Place You've Got Here" (a.k.a. Were There No Others in 2006?) by Stephen Maslin 8/10/17
Florence last time out (and "a remote island in the Indian Ocean" before that). Antarctica now then, is it? As Josh points out, Sarah Jane traveling to the South Pole merely to see how Aunt Lavinia's money is being spent (and thus catching up with Harry Sullivan's brother, a man she has met only once) seems somewhat incautious and impulsive (not to say spendthrift). Or maybe it's all just a fanboyish attempt to re-evoke The Seeds of Doom. (We are, after all, going there by helicopter and not by TARDIS.)
Let's start by looking briefly at a few of the individuals on show here.
Cue up the howling wind sound effects and strap yourself in...
CHARACTERS / PERFORMANCES
Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen).
As well as her flimsy reasons for being there in the first place, it is rather foolhardy of Sarah Jane to accept an invitation to a rendezvous in what sounds like a generator plant from February 1976. It is also rather foolhardy to goad someone whom she suspects of murder (and who, given the obsessive referencing of these audios, may well have been possessed by the ghost of Charles Winlett). Maybe tact and common-sense are no longer considered part of the journalist's armoury. The problem is that, with Elisabeth Sladen being so effortlessly convincing, one instinctively believes in what Sarah Jane is doing, when one should really be raising a sceptical eyebrow.
Will Sullivan (Tom Chadbon).
Yes, it's a still a bit of a distraction that Will Sullivan is quite clearly Duggan from City of Death. Thankfully, Mr Chadbon does a good enough job for us soon to forget about it, but this cross-casting does make one feel that Will is not thumping as many people as he should be.
Josh Townsend (Jeremy James).
For someone as bone-headedly credulous as myself, it's often difficult to disentangle an irritating character from the actor playing them. Josh (not Mr James) is just - just - the right side of really annoying, with less of the funny voices and wacky mannerisms of yore; a necessary rebranding, considering what the writer has in store for him.
Morgane (Julia Righton).
"She's a French...". Stop! Say not a word more: we have to take a deep breath as there is a dodgy French accent coming up, yes? Sure enough, Morgane's accent is very dodgy indeed. Tres dodgy. (Were there no French actresses available for work in Britain in 2006?) In the same way that Wensleydale cheese by law has to actually come from Wensleydale, can we not just agree to cast foreign nationals in foreign roles, rather than resorting to this cheapness? If that's not possible, how about re-writing them as if they're from Tunbridge Wells and fresh out of RADA?
Munro (Nicholas Briggs).
Surprise, surprise, it's that man again! No offence but hasn't he been heard enough? To be fair, he is pretty good in this but is all too recognizable: Sherlock Briggs in one of his not-so cunning disguises. (Were there no other part-time thespians on the staff at Big Finish in 2006?) Having said that, none of the other actors seem to have been told when they are standing in a howling antarctic gale. Only Mr Briggs, a director himself on occasion, seems to have noticed that a change of delivery is called for. The rest of the cast talk for the most part as if they're, well, in a recording studio.
The Keeper (Jaqueline Pierce).
Appears right at the end, enunciating for all she is worth. It's all a bit 'thesp'. (Were there no other former cast members of Blake's 7 still alive in 2006?) No doubt we shall be hearing more of her at some stage.
More than once, Snow Blind reads like a detailed survival manual for life in the Antarctic (and health and safety in general: "the smoke'll get you before the fire does"). Nor are motivations much understated either, though the script works best on the rare occasions when someone is reacting to a threat that is not explicitly stated. Technically, it is not without structural flaws: the opening few minutes are clumsily explanatory, and the strange little after-the-fact cliffhanger underlines that this hasn't quite worked as a self-contained story and needed some embroidering. (Or that it came up too short. Or both.)
6/10. Quite suspenseful in the middle, but, apart from that, merely workmanlike. The incidental music's not bad. (Though I still can't stand the chintzy new theme music. What is it with Big Finish and harpsichords?) Quite aside from the ongoing background murmur of The Masque of Mandragora and Robot, the sprinkling of Seeds of Doom references ("seed pod", "what do you do for an encore?" etc.) are a little heavy-handed.
A word on Big Finish and theme tunes. The reasons for changes are no doubt many and various, but, from the outside, it has often seemed as if there's been change for change's sake: the original Bernice Summerfield theme (Alistair Lock) captured the requisite flavour perfectly, only to be replaced by a succession of 'improvements' (most of which were truly ghastly); the Eighth Doctor was initially blessed with a superb update of the original Who theme (David Arnold) and yet early on in the Eighth Doctor Adventures range, it was replaced by an amateurish back-bedroom arrangement (Nicholas Briggs) about which no one had a good word to say; the theme for the first series of Sarah Jane audios (David Darlington) was edgy, modern and entirely in keeping with the dramas themselves, with brief snatches working very well as incidental music. None of these were broken, and yet they fixed them.