Doctor Who – “Other Lives”

London, 1851.

Scene of the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations. Scene also of a plot to un-seat the government, de-throne the monarch and start a republic. If the Duke of Wellington himself is to be believed…

While the Doctor and Charley are drawn into the murky world of nineteenth-century politics, C’rizz struggles to maintain his dignity against growing odds. What begins as an attempt to prevent murder quickly becomes a desperate race to avert revolution. Separated from the TARDIS, the travellers are left to wonder if they’ll get their own lives back or be forever entangled with the lives of others.

And who is Mrs Georgina Marlow? What need does she feel the Doctor can satisfy?

Paul McGann is the Doctor in Other Lives.

X X X X X

Cast
Paul McGann (The Doctor)
India Fisher (Charley)
Conrad Westmaas (C’rizz)
Ron Moody (The Duke of Wellington)
Michael Hobbs (Mr Fazackerly)
Mike Holloway(Jacob Crackles)
Peter Howe (Maxi)
Francesca Hunt (Georgina Marlow)
Maitland Chandler (Rufus Dimplesqueeze)

Written By: Gary Hopkins
Directed By: Gary Russell

Trailer – http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/other-lives-243

X X X X X

Separating the Doctor and his companions is a time-honored tradition for Doctor Who.

Kidnappings, being jailed, doors closing, panels sliding shut, grabbing a random rope hanging from the sky, or just a general sense of curiosity; if it can keep the Doctor and the companions apart for most of an episode, the writers will do it.  Doing so, while cliché, can easily add a sense of drama and tension, as well as relief when the pair are reunited.  It can also add double the danger, double the exposition, and double the plotlines, for good or for ill.

Other Lives separates the Eighth Doctor, Charley, and C’rizz early on, each one experiencing their own story as they all find themselves portraying someone they’re not.  The script mixes light-hearted humor, social class commentary, and a Dickensian-style case of mistaken identity with a hint of political intrigue.  While the main cast and secondary characters all get their moments, the overall story suffers from a lack of urgency that fails to make the situations the main cast find themselves in hold any dramatic water.

Charley has always wanted to see the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations at the grand Crystal Palace in London, 1851.  The Doctor agrees to take her, but this means C’Rizz would have to stay inside the TARDIS and observe through a scanner, since Victorian London (“Dogs and Chinese stay off the grass”) isn’t quite ready for an alien.   What should be a grand tour of mankind’s most ingenious works takes a sudden turn, as the Doctor and Charley are separated, Charley convinces C’rizz to cover up and leave the TARDIS to help find the Doctor, and two French diplomats hide in the TARDIS to escape an assassin’s bullet…and the TARDIS decides that the best way to protect them is to dematerialize!  This leads to the Doctor being thrown out of the Crystal Palace and becoming reliant on the kindness of a woman who insists he’s her long lost husband, C’rizz being captured by a sideshow barker to take part in his display of freaks in Picadilly Circus, and Charley being mistaken for a prostitute before being thrown into the world of counter-revolutionary politics at the side of none other than the Duke of Wellington!

Gary Hopkins penned the solid and incredibly bleak Divergent Universe story The Last, a true “kill em all” anti-war tale that managed to convey its message without being overly preachy.  He set the scene of a blasted city, an underground bunker, and a decaying missile silo, all populated with doomed characters still clinging to delusions of power.   Hopkins sets another grand scene with Other Lives, the grand spectacle of the Great Exhibition mixed with the seedier side of London with its hidden shows and wide open spaces such as Hyde Park.  Hopkins also manages to establish the secondary characters, from the famous Duke of Wellington’s bravado mixed with his constant fear of Napoleon Bonaparte and French Revolution-style Republicanism to the barely-in-the-story-but-still-immensely-French Monsieur and Madame Le Roche.  Some characters get detailed work, some just get broad strokes, but even the more undefined characters still have a few moments that make them stand out when encountered again and again throughout the story…

…though, I have to say.  Rufus Dimplesqueeze?  Really?  That sounds like a child’s imaginary friend, not a Dickensian character!

The title of the story is appropriate, as the Doctor, Charley, and C’rizz all find themselves being asked to portray someone or something they’re not. Paul McGann is more than up to the task in this story, and I completely understand why.  Other Lives feels like the first story in a while where McGann gets the chance to actually ACT.  Although I fault his ease at leaving C’rizz alone in the TARDIS so Charley can have a grand time, that’s the only complaint I have with McGann’s performance and I can lay that blame at the script’s foot.  What we have here is a Doctor who is completely over his head very early on and has a very HARD time talking his way out of it for once!  Listeners are used to the Doctor being quick with a word or a phrase, easily acclimating himself to a situation and boldly or subtly putting himself in charge.   In Other Lives, however, the Doctor’s attempts to use conversation as a weapon simply fail to work.  He professes innocence to the attempted assassination of the Le Roches, but finds himself kicked out of the Great Exhibition for not having a ticket…and for once, can’t talk his way back in!  The Doctor is reduced to parlor tricks and “the pebble is in which hand” games in order to raise a simple shilling in order to re-enter the Crystal Palace, only to get arrested.  In jail, the Doctor produces a skeleton key and lets his fellow prisoners out to facilitate a jail break, only for the gunmen from earlier to turn the tables and lock him back in his cell!   And that’s when Mrs. Georgina Marlow shows up to bail the Doctor out of jail for one simple reason – he’s her husband.  It turns out that Georgina’s husband disappeared a few years ago and the Doctor is nearly his spitting image.  While the Doctor does his best to dissuade Georgina of this fact, it soon comes to light that in order to help her, he has no choice but to pretend that her delusion is his reality.  Bouncing from “The Doctor” to “why doesn’t my bag of tricks work” to “I can’t believe I’m still in jail” to “I could be a family man,” McGann for the first time in a long time sounds like he’s enjoying himself and actually getting into the material.  I especially enjoyed that, while Georgina is trying to convince him to impersonate the love of her life, the Doctor is more concerned about the love of his life, his missing TARDIS…

We go from “Charlotte Pollard, Edwardian Adventuress” to “Charley, Victorian Tart/Harlot/Strumpet/Street Walker/Adventuress.” Much like McGann, I enjoyed India Fisher in this story because, after a string of bland performances, Fisher sounds like she’s having a blast.  Whether it’s being kicked out of the Great Exhibition, mistaken for a prostitute by Mr. Dimplesqueeze (sigh…), being forced to impersonate a French diplomat despite having no command of the French language, or simply fangirling out at the sight of her personal hero, the Duke of Wellington (or, as she calls him, Arthur, to which the Duke’s beleaguered boduguard, Fazackerly, always responds with the proper title), Fisher is just flat out having fun with the part.  She worries about the Doctor and C’rizz, of course, but for the first time in a long time, Charley is actually enjoying the best part of being a Doctor’s companion; seeing new things and meeting new people brought about by throwing herself into a new situation.  Even though the actual storyline doesn’t go very far, I’m willing to overlook it, as Charley’s parts in Other Lives made me smile.  That’s the highest praise I can recall giving a Charley storyline in a year or so!

Considering Conrad Westmaas’ best performance was in The Last, it’s not surprising and very refreshing that Hopkins’ script gives him a chance to actually sink his teeth into his role this time out.  Granted, it’s the most straight forward of the storylines and one that requires a little suspension of disbelief – namely, the alien in a foreign universe willingly goes with a man who says he knows the Doctor and has no reaction to his purple skin.  C’rizz gets knocked out and placed into a sideshow at Picadilly Circus as “Ker-izzo,” alongside a midget named Maxi.  C’rizz’s storyline is basically “yell at Crackles, threaten him, almost escape, get stopped by Maxi, gets rescued by Charlie.”  But Westmaas sells the anger that has been bubbling underneath the surface for C’rizz for a few stories now.  His threats are much more believable than they were in Scaredy Cat, and his rage and momentary triumph when he finally gets his hands on Crackles stops the show for a moment.  It’s a stark contrast to the more lighthearted storyline Charley gets, which makes C’rizz’s impersonation of the Monsieur Le Roche and his discomfort with the whole routine a bit off-putting.  But when C’rizz lays eyes on Crackles one more time, it gives us a moment that practically defines the trope of “What the Hell, Hero?”  And…

…wait, hold on.  I’ve just been handed a letter.

“Some facts in life are immutable. One is, trust no-one who uses the word ‘trope’.” – Mark Gatiss

I’m sorry, I’ll write that again.

C’rizz and his “ghosts” from the very end of Terror Firma get a bit of a follow-up here as he inflicts a fate worse than death upon Crackles.  The scene is a MAJOR tonal shift from the rest of Other Lives and while it’s nice to hear Crackles gets his just desserts, it’s brutal, gruesome, and very out of place.  But I will take it as a sign that maybe there’s a bit of character development down the line for C’rizz in future audios. While the Doctor and Charley are asked to be someone they’re not, perhaps C’rizz is finally getting ready to be who he truly is…

While the supporting cast stands out within the story, by the time Other Lives is over most of them AND their characters traits are quickly forgotten.  Hopkins uses broad, colorful strokes to create his characters, but there’s very little depth or background to any of them, other than the famous Duke of Wellington of course.  Ron Moody is best known for his Academy Award nominated performance in Oliver! as Fagin, but Whovians might know him as the actor who turned down a chance to be the Third Doctor.  Instead, Jon Pertwee became the dashing Doctor, and Moody has stated publically that he always regretted the decision.  Wellington is full of energy, even as he knows his time is drawing short.  There’s a vague background about Wellington being concerned about war with France and guillotines outside the Tower thanks to British Republican revolutionaries should the Le Roches not be found, but mainly his story gives Moody a chance to be loud, boisterous, and a bit weary when Charley lets slip that, despite all his hopes, the Great Exhibition doesn’t pull humanity into an age of peace.  Michael Hobbs plays the Victorian police officer Fazackerly who is assigned to Wellington during his visit to London, and he mixes the right proportion of Victorian airs, shocked and abhorred at Charley’s actions and casual disposition towards the Duke, as well as enforcing the law when the Doctor can’t produce his ticket to the Exhibition!  Jacob Crackles is a one-note…I wouldn’t say villain, more of an antagonist…in this story, but he definitely nails that one note, that of “amoral sideshow barker.”  Maxi, played by Peter Howe, is a neat little character…oh, God, I swear, I did NOT mean that pun…in that he’s happy to be in the sideshow.  He’s warm, and he’s fed, and as a midget, that’s the best he can hope for in Victorian England.  Howe plays his fear and nervousness well, but when Maxi turns the tables on Crackles at the very end in his new state, his glee at his situation makes one wonder if Maxi was just making the best of a bad hand or if something lurks a bit beneath the surface, adding to the jarring tone of that scene.  Maitland Sandler, aka Seo, the head of the Somnus Foundation in Singularity is Rufus Dimp…Rufus Dimple…Rufus Dimplesquee…

Please don’t make me type it. I won’t! I won’t! I won’t! I won’t! I won’t!

…Rufus Dimplesqueeze, loud, crass, and wanting only the best for himself, whether its Charley’s “company” or Georgina’s house.  He’s fine for the part, I just didn’t care for the role.  Sleazeball?  Fine.  Sleazeball buying the Doctor is Georgina’s husband after the Doctor almost flummoxed it up?  A bit too convenient for my taste.  And speaking of Ms. Georgina Marlow, aka Francesca Hunt, aka Hannah Barthlomew, future Fifth Doctor companion, aka India Fisher’s step-sister, she is in solid form early in her time with Big Finish.  She’s desperate to find her husband, not just because she loves him and misses him, but with him gone, Uncle Rufus Dimplesqueeze (SON OF A MOTHERLESS!) will have claim to her home, turning her and her children out into the street.  It’s a nice, understated moment about women in Victorian England, and one can see with Hunt’s quiet, desperate performance, done without going over the top or into melodrama just how badly she wants the Doctor to be her husband, and even though the Doctor knows it wrong and repeatedly says so, there’s something to McGann’s performance that you could imagine the Doctor, sans TARDIS, settling down, if only for a moment, and how desperate Georgina is to grab on to that thin thread and hang on for all she’s worth.

(Oh, yeah, the actors playing Georgina’s husband and Monsieur/Madam Le Roche sounded familiar.  Have I heard them somewhere before?)

Gary Russell and David Darlington deserve credit for bringing 1851 London to life in a grand manner as well with all kinds of sounds and backdrops, from the huge crowds at the expedition to the straw mats of Crackle’s jail cell to the empty house of Georgina Marlow.  Other Lives, however, suffers from a lack of urgency to its proceedings.  There’s plenty going on, with diplomats vanishing, the TARDIS dematerializing, revolutionaries on the loose, a wife about to lose her home, a sentient being in a freakshow against his will, but at no point is there really any sense of “what’s going to happen next?” Some have made the case that this serial harkens back to the William Hartnell days, with a focus more on the historical setting than any science fiction plot. That still doesn’t mean that the story doesn’t meander its way from point to point. The only show of real urgency is when the Duke of Wellington raises his voice (and even then, is he really worried about the French bringing a revolution to England’s shores, or just being an old man with Napoleon isseus?) or C’rizz gets angry during the sideshow.  Even the ending is like “oh, the TARDIS is back, the day is saved, hey, here’s your sappy happy conclusion.”  The performances are great, but the way the story unfolds just doesn’t give them the dramatic weight they should have.

Quibbles aside, you can tell I had fun writing this review, because it’s great to actually hear a decent Eighth Doctor story and the cast enjoying themselves.  A vast improvement over Terror Firma and Scaredy Cat, Other Lives is worth a listen, especially if you’ve suffered through those two stories, because it’s such a needed breath of fresh air for Eight, Charley, and C’rizz, as well as Paul, India, and Conrad. Other Lives is a story whose details might be forgotten soon after a listen. But if you can keep your focus as the plot vaguely saunters from one scene to another, taking its sweet time, then this is the story for you, as you can sit back and enjoy the performances at your (and the plot’s) leisure.

Synopsis – Possessing a slow-paced but wandering plot, Other Lives still manages to give Eight, Charley, and C’rizz a much needed story that actually allows the actors to act, with the Doctor pondering life as a family man, Charley as a Victorian Adventuress, and C’rizz showing his dark side after being pushed too far.  3/5

Next up – “Ere, listen listen, I’ve got one for you. There once was this bloke, you see. Good-looking sort of chap. Lovely, brightly coloured coat. No rubbish. Quality gear. Never bought a drink neither… or so they say..”

Colin Baker is the Doctor in…Pier Pressure

Dimplesqueeze

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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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