THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
Unregenerate!

Written by David A. McIntee Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2005
Continuity Between Paradise Towers and
Delta and the Bannermen

Starring Sylvester McCoy, Bonnie Langford and Jennie Linden

Synopsis: Why does a medical facility need to be under armed guard? What procedures are the staff carrying out, and to what purpose? What is the price that must be paid for making an agreement with those who run the asylum? As the answers begin to be uncovered, the Doctor finds that the past may yet come back to haunt him...


Reviews

Inexplicable! by Joe Ford 16/8/05

How David A McIntee who gave us the simple and atmospheric Excelis Rising could write such a confusing and thoroughly unrewarding mess like this is beyond me. It is the absolute antithesis of his debut audio, dealing with a messy storyline, which is frustratingly vague throughout and featuring a Doctor who fails even the basic requirements as an engaging character. This is a total mess, it gave me a big fat headache and I was forced to replay explanations over and over to try and make some sense of the thing.

If there was ever an argument for never writing a story around Gallifrey (that isn't a part of the fabulous Gallifrey series) this is it. What is it about the Time Lords that encourages writers to try and make things as complicated as possible? Why are they so obsessed with complicating the relationship between the Doctor and his people? Why are they always perceived as xenophobes, frightened of other races and their time travel ability? Why can't they just be left alone...?

Unregenerate! is based around a decent idea but rather than explore it adequately we are treated to a four-episode mystery, trying to find out what the hell is going on rather than exploiting the potentially interesting concepts. Or maybe not... is it ever a good idea to write a story around a technobabblish idea? Planting the minds of TARDISes inside people's heads is certainly interesting enough to investigate but a bit of a no-brainer. There surely must be easier ways for the Time Lords to keep track on time travelling races? Surveillance devices perhaps? How about cloning a Time Lord and and sending one copy to inveigle his way to a powerful position in the scientific circles of every civilised world so he can divert them away from time travel? If that sounds mind-bogglingly extreme, just try penetrating this audio and understanding the unethical lengths these silly scientists go to. David McIntee seems to have taken a huge dose of Lawrence Miles pills and the ideas get grander and less believable as the story progresses until the story climaxes on scenes with a character (with the brain of a TARDIS in his head) calling the TARDIS (that is the Doctor's TARDIS) his sister!

The biggest disappointment is that McIntee has assembled some rather good elements such as a fake mental asylum on Earth, Mel and a taxi driver she happens to meet getting embroiled in the ghastly events and the Doctor going doo-lally-tat, but wastes them on an inexplicable run-around. At times the story feels as though McIntee was making it up as he goes along and kept thinking up good ideas (such as the Victorian decor, the Doctor's identity crisis and sudden appearance of the Time Lords) but fails to tie them all up into a coherent narrative. It feels totally disjointed, moving from one part of the plot to another with little warning, not sure whether the story is really about Mel and taxi man's adventures or the Doctor's or the obscene experiments... and I felt as though my attention was being sliced up and tossed in too many directions. The plot kept heaping on more and more twists until I was totally lost and stopped paying attention.

The performances were extremely mixed but that followed the characterisation so I suppose that's not a very fair comment. Gail Clayton was entirely the wrong person to play Rigan, a muscle-brained xenophobe who thinks with her gun, because she is far too soft sounding. When she was issuing threats I couldn't really take her seriously and what should be a dramatic confrontation between the bully and Mel sounds more like a casual catfight. Some of her dialogue needed to be screamed and hissed but this performance was far too subdued. Jamie Sandford was similarly ineffective because he doesn't have the splendour or richness to convince as a Time Lord scientist, he needed to be far more confident and intelligent but he sounds very young and very inexperienced (that is as scientist, not an actor!). The only actor of the three Gallifreyans who stands out is Jennie Linden, flappy-wristed Barbara from the first Dalek movie who gives a gravely, severe performance that struck the right balance between wisdom and uncertainty. It was her scenes that impressed me the most because she spat out the dialogue with a great degree of conviction and made Klyst a plausible, interesting character until the end.

Okay, kid gloves off. The potentially interesting idea of listening to Sylvester McCoy playing a jibbering idiot is sabotaged almost immediately when I realised that this was how he sounded much of the time anyway! Okay maybe not quite as incoherent and nutty but the way McCoy plays the spazzy Seventh Doctor is hardly that different from his regular performance, exemplified when he gets to act out a flashback scene before the Doctor lost his mind and he sounds just as hysterical and barmy (shrieking and gurning all the while)! And besides listening to McCoy dribble nonsense might be interesting for the first episode but it continues into the second, and then the third and before long I was sighing and praying for some coherence from this maniacal madman. McCoy is NOT a reliable performer and perhaps getting him to stretch his wings in such a manner was not wise especially when he goes to such spazzy lengths to prove his madness. "WHEREVER YOU LAY YOUR HAT! THIS IS MY HAT! THERE! I'VE LAID IT!"

This is the fourth release to feature Bonnie Langford this year and it's the fourth release where she threatens to be the best thing about it, giving a performance far superior to her Rrrrr rolling co-star. She strikes up a believable friendship with a nameless cabbie who, despite having some atrocious character-building dialogue (and manages to take much of this incomprehensible tale in his stride), manages to be the one character who you really give a damn about. He's a gentle giant and she's a bubbly nerd; it sounds like a recipe for disaster but Bonnie Langford and Toby Longworth share some lovely scenes together and enjoy a relaxed chemistry that is sorely missing between the Doctor and Mel. It's a shame Mel doesn't really contribute much to the story besides uncovering the one hundred and seventy five mysteries, she's really just there to mirror our reactions to the story (sheer horror!) but her presence softens the blow quite a bit. Amazing considering she used to be the worst thing about any story.

John Ainsworth is quickly becoming my favourite Big Finish director but I'm afraid he has let me down on this occasion and it is not from lack of trying. It feels as though he was really involved during the first episode but got bored (and a bit lost) after that, those first twenty-five minutes are rather atmospheric (especially when the story switches from the past to the present brilliantly with contrasting music) and sets the scene well (deranged screams echo through what you think is the asylum). It all gets rather talky and static later on and there are a few moments of Gary Russell direction when the sound effects, performances and music all combine dramatically so the listener has little clue as to what is going on (the lead-in to the cliffhanger of episode three is a good example). I felt little sense of scale or awe at the HUGE concepts David McIntee had thought up, as though just talking about them was impressive enough. Compare this to, say, Evelyn's first view of the Clutch in The Sandman where there was a real sense of awe and magic and you might get what I mean.

All in all this is another uninspiring production from Big Finish. Believe it or not I was expecting great things of this audio, the cover alone got me pretty excited but after a promising first episode it descends into a tedious and confusing runaround. My patience can only stretch so far, Big Finish had better start delivering soon or I will have to sever my ties with them. And considering I am a rabidly anal collector of anything Doctor Who, no matter how unappealing, that might just show you how low this company has sunk of late.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 24/9/05

What a stunning first episode!

I listen to all Big Finish audio stories, regardless of whether they pull me in, or not. But if you want a classic example of how to construct the perfect first episode - one full of mystery, one where you are desperate to see how all this fits together - then this is it. I seriously cannot recall being pulled in so completely by a story - and it was inevitable after listening to it, that the whole play would be listened to rather quickly (I actually listened to the first two together, then the last two a couple of hours later).

David McIntee is one of the stalwarts of 1990s Doctor Who. Responsible for more novels than I can remember in this short review, he was one of those that pushed the DW universe forward, when all we had was the books. This is only his second audio - the relatively disappointing middle Excelis being his only other contribution. His books were consistently pretty good, with no real clunkers amongst them, so Excelis rather surprised me in its averageness. Thankfully Unregenerate! shows his skills do transfer to other media - and he seems to have mastered audio here, at least that was the initial thought anyway.

The script initially reminded me of the new TV series - a big compliment. It's all rather modern and up-to-date. Clever current affairs comments are riddled throughout - and this listener was smiling in acknowledgement at yet another wry observation. But the story begins smart in its own right too. It takes the Alien at the End of the Lane premise that DW so often portrays - and gives us a rollicking good promise of a mystery.

Time travellers are present in modern day, but what is their purpose? Why did they go back in time to the 50s and enlist someone 50 years early? What's behind the facade of the institute? Why is the Doctor there, and is he really as mad as a hatter? Questions, questions, questions - I wondered if they could be answered imaginatively and comprehensively by the end of Part Four.

Mel is superb in audios - that is beyond any reasonable doubt now. Big Finish have featured her a lot recently, and I am not complaining one bit. With the Doctor acting rather oddly, Mel is our touchstone with reality - and she does it rather well. She is aided by a glorious character who remains nameless throughout (he's just down as Cabbie in the credits) - a taxi driver played by the ever dependable Toby Longworth. He gets roped into Mel's investigations, and emerges as arguably one of the most rounded supporting characters Big Finish have produced in recent times. My father is a taxi driver, maybe I am biased, but I really liked him. It was an unlikely combination - Mel and taxi driver - one that worked a treat.

The 7th Doctor here is early in his regeneration. Ironic thing is that you can hardly tell, as he is so manic for so much of the play - and therefore not himself at any time at all. Sylvester McCoy isn't exactly known for his strong emotion acting - but it funnily enough works here, as his personality is so extreme - he can really get away with any excesses and instability he wants. There's rather a little too many rolling of the Rs for my tastes though, and even when he is supposed to be back to normal I couldn't help but feel there was a great deal of overacting going on.

I'm not going to give away too much of what happens later on, but the change of environment is rather startling - and I don't think the story really benefits as a result. Mel and nameless cabbie get shifted to the side as the rest of the cast take centre stage. The Klyst , Rigan and Louis story reminded me of those old additional comic strips written by Alan Moore in DWM. As the story developed the antagonists were pretty plain to see - but the audio didn't really take off as I hoped it might.

Klyst is nicely played by Jennie Linden. Big Finish have got this Doctor Who guest star from the past just right I feel. It's always nice to hear a familiar voice - and the roles that these old companions are given are usually very good. The listener is intelligent enough to distinguish between the old and new character - and Big Finish are not recreating the same character, with a different name, if you know what I mean. Only Daphne Ashbrook has played a similar role to the one she played before.

Klyst's working colleagues fare less well. Louis is excellent in his first form, but is atrocious in his second. I wish a bit of Unregenerating could go on there, so the original Louis re-emerged. Rigan was a tiresome character. All bluster, with no charm, Mel picked her off brilliantly - but hardly the stuff of great villains.

There's the small matter of the Doctor too. As he becomes more and more himself, so the focus inevitably falls on him. One of my niggles about so many New Adventures, and some books since, was the lack of Doctor. Here I hold my hand up, and admit some stories are better with him on the periphery. Maybe this is because of McCoy's excesses, but more likely it was because Mel and nameless cabbie were great together.

Unregenerate! started magnificently - with an opening episode that can stand alongside the greats. But the rest of the story doesn't remotely measure up the same. Thanks to its strong beginning I rate it - but I can't really endorse the rest that much. 7/10


A Review by Ron Mallett 9/6/07

Once again we have a Big Finish adventure which, while not bad, is not really that good either and is, in truth, a tad tedious. Written by David A. McIntee, this story features a recently regenerated Doctor who is apparently mad and an attempted rescue by a stranded companion.

The main problem I have is that this story will not have the broad appeal of some other BF adventures (even some featuring the same combination of Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford). I think part of the problem is any story that involves other Time Lords seems so derivative and unoriginal. The occasional flashbacks also seem to bog the narrative down.

Still there are some positives. This is one of the few audios to feature an older person as a major character, which is refreshing in itself. The gestalt creature, Shokhra, and the way in which it is represented in an audible way is very inventive. Jennie Linden as Professor Klyst and Toby Longworth as the Cabbie stand out amongst the guest cast.