Doctor Who – “Scaredy Cat”

“Yaranaa – it means literally, ‘the soul of the vengeful’ – those whose lives have been cut short early and died with empty hearts”

Millennia ago, the people of the planet Caludaar pledged never to set foot on their sister planet Endarra. But what secrets does the planet hold? There are laws even the Doctor won’t break. And while C’rizz learns that some tragedies can’t be averted, Charley must decide who the enemy actually is.

For death walks on Endarra, and this time she won’t be denied.

Paul McGann is the Doctor in Scaredy Cat.

X X X X X

Cast

Paul McGann (The Doctor)
India Fisher (Charley)
Conrad Westmaas (C’rizz)
Michael Chance (Flood)
Arthur Bostrom (Arken)
Spencer Mclaren (Bronik)
Rosalind Blessed (Niah)
Ellis Pike (Eldrin)
Linda Bartram (Galayana)

Written By: Will Schindler
Directed By: Nigel Fairs

Trailer – http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/scaredy-cat-241

X X X X X

Scaredy Cat is such a disjointed and boring story that I can’t even be bothered to try to come up with one of my trademark meandering introductions.  A substandard plot with major pacing issues and actors who sound completely lifeless playing parts that suffer from poor characterization add up to a story that doesn’t hit the bottom of Big Finish’s barrel, but you sure can see it from where this serial lands.

C’rizz wonders about seeing a newly formed planet, a virgin world untouched by man and civilization.  The Doctor obliges him, whisking C’rizz and Charley to Endarra, the uninhabited twin planet of Caludaar.  The people of Caludaar have pledged to never step foot on the surface of their sister planet.  But as the TARDIS hovers in the atmosphere, a strange experiment is taking place below, one who’s hypothesis concerns nothing less than the nature of evil itself, and the unknown history of Endarra is about to play a very vital part in its outcome…

Scaredy Cat is Will Shindler’s second offering from Big Finish, the other being the Divergent Universe story The Twilight Kingdom.  That story suffered from a major case of “tell don’t show” throughout its runtime, compounded by a lack of follow-up or pay-off to several of its plot points, adding up to a story that only needed three episodes instead of four to be told.  Scaredy Cat takes those same problems, but heads in a different direction by being the shortest four-episode main range story, clocking in at 77 minutes…spread over 101 different “parts.”  Director Nigel Fairs would go on to spend most of his time doing the behind-the-scenes work and production on a wide variety of Companion Chronicles, but there’s nothing here that shows a natural affinity towards such work as some scenes in this story clocked in at under a minute, with a few coming in under 30 seconds and one scene being 11 seconds total!  Scaredy Cats has some halfway decent ideas that could (and should) have been expanded on, but Shindler jumps from scene to scene, and therefore plot to plot, with barely any explanation or exposition!  It’s one thing to trust the listener enough to fill in the narrative gaps on their own, but with the story moving so fast, it’s like riding a rickety roller coaster with a leather strap for a seat belt.  You’re banging around so much from the turns and drops that you’re not getting a chance to process the sensations before being thrown into the next turn.  Oh, and the roller coaster isn’t that good to begin with.

Paul McGann is “my” Doctor, and I say this with confidence even after re-watching the 1996 TV movie with my stepdaughter this weekend and having put up with the Divergent Universe arc.  At this point in McGann’s time with Big Finish, I have to keep reminding myself that the Eighth Doctor Adventures are right around the corner (and according to most fans, I have Time Works and Memory Lane to enjoy before then), because I am just not digging the Eight/Charley/C’rizz TARDIS crew. I kind of think McGann wasn’t either by this point in his run, and was just showing up to cash a paycheck and have some of Big Finish’s legendary catering. For a supposedly fast-paced story, the Eighth Doctor (and McGann) sound utterly bored during the entirety of the proceedings. A mystery in front of him, time travel, a creepy girl, C’rizz messing with the Web of Time…these events should elicit some kind of emotion from the Doctor, but the highlight of McGann’s performance is a triumphant yelling of “bluetits!” I am not making this up. I know there are better stories and seasons in the future for the Eighth Doctor, and it’s the only thing keeping me going at this point in his run.

Charley…I loved Charlotte Pollard’s character arc from Storm Warning to Neverland, with Scherzo an interesting coda to that storyline. Ever since Scherzo, though, India Fisher has been reduced to the Liz Shaw role; a strong, smart female character who asks questions, hands the Doctor test tubes, and get put in grave peril time and time again. Once again, I know there are better stories coming up for Charley. But for now, I can’t remember her being a major presence in ANY recent story beyond being “the female Companion.” In Scaredy Cat, Charley’s contribution is being thrown in a holding facility with the story’s villain at the end of the second episode and running away from him as he kills a scientist in the third episode. This whole story is simply a major disservice to India Fisher.

In LIVE 34, Hex gives a bit of background about his father and grandmother, and how they encouraged him to find a job there would always be a need for, which is how he ended up as a nurse. This little throwaway segment made me care more about Hex then multiple stories have about C’rizz! It’s not Conrad Westmaas’ fault. I feel like he’s doing the best with what he’s given, but the more he appears, the more I really wish C’rizz had been a one-off character in The Creed of the Kromon. His presence in this story is pretty much to be the butt monkey. First, the Doctor and he travel back in time 4 million years to when there was a new colony on Endarra, one whose presence is unknown to modern history. The people have been infected by an experimental biological weapon launched at the planet by a hostile alien race simply as a weapon test. With the colonist dying, C’rizz decides that it’s up to him to save the colony, even though their fate is to die. The Doctor argues with C’rizz about this (in the most unemotional argument ever), and after C’rizz sneaks them the antidote, the Doctor simply takes C’rizz three months in the future where the colony lies empty because …and that’s it. The idea of C’rizz interfering with the Web of Time because he’s sick of death is a topic that could have been spun out into an entire audio, but in 77 minutes, there obviously just isn’t time other than a quick, unnecessary subplot that’s easily wrapped up and has no other bearing on the story. Then, there’s when C’rizz, the murderer, someone who has battled with this guilt for stories and stories, threatening the story’s villain with “so, am I locked up in here with you…or are you locked up in here with me?” And the villain easily puts C’rizz in his place. Again, I know what’s upcoming with C’rizz, so I’m willing to endure his stories until that final piece of absolution.

The supporting cast here…they’re nothing to write home about. For most of them, this is their only Big Finish appearance – the head scientist whose twisted methods hide a need to cure evil, the willing female assistant who questions the morality of their work, the other scientist who finds himself in over his head, and the wannabe Hannibal Lecter villain who can’t play suave or sophisticated, and doesn’t even give the scenery a proper chewing. Even the creepy little girl, who’s presence boils down to chanting “scaredy cat, scaredy cat” over and over again, doesn’t elicit any sort of scare or discomfort in the listener. The only high point for this serial is, as usual, Big Finish’s sound crew, who establish the setting of a virgin world with hooting natives, a dying colony infected with disease, and the sounds of minds under assault with their standard solid effort.

There’s just so much wrong with this story, and it’s hard to write about because it’s difficult to nail down the one key point. Scaredy Cat is just a poor story all around. The story is too short and jumps around from topic to topic without spending any time developing those topics. Does it want to talk about the nature of evil? The despoiling of nature? The harm colonists due to native culture? Interference in the Web of Time? Can planets hold memories, and can it use those memories to defend itself? By not grasping a single narrative and not giving the characters any real sense of motivation or emotion, Scaredy Cat fails to hold the listener’s attention. For a fast paced story, that’s the biggest sin it can commit.

(And this is with me glossing over the fact that the story’s villain is defeated by the little girl, the manifestation of the planet’s anger, chanting “scaredy cat, scaredy cat” at him over and over again…)

Synopsis – With a narrative that bounces all over the place, aimless characters played by bored actors, and several plots without any direction or development, Scaredy Cat is one of the weaker outputs from Big Finish, as well as one of the lower points of Paul McGann’s run. 2/5

Next up – Time is fracturing and the Doctor and Turlough are at the heart of the chaos. History is about to change and the galaxy will burn in its wake…

Peter Davison is the Doctor in…Singularity.

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About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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