Doctor Who – “Memory Lane”

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.

After they’ve apologised, the Doctor and his friends soon discover matters of far greater concern than the fact that their time machine is blocking Mrs Braudy’s view of a thrilling century break. The street which Tom happily cycles up and down appears to have no beginning or end, and every single house on it is identical.

Is this the future of suburbia, or something even more sinister? Why doesn’t Tom look as young as he behaves? And can anybody remember which house the TARDIS is in?

Paul McGann is the Doctor in Memory Lane.

X X X X X

Cast
Paul McGann (The Doctor)
India Fisher (Charley Pollard)
Conrad Westmaas (C’rizz)
Nina Baden-Sempter (Mrs Braudy)
Sara Carver (Kim Kronotska)
Finlay Glen (Mawvik)
Neil Reidman (Tom Braudy)
Charlie Ross (Lest)
Neville Watchurst (Argot)
Anneke Wills (Lady Louisa Pollard)

Written By: Eddie Robson
Directed By: Gary Russell

Trailer – http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/memory-lane-254

X X X X X

Everyone has their one perfect day, and it comes in two different forms.

Everyone has their ideal upcoming perfect day.  A long overdue vacation, an opportunity to see a dearly missed friend, a concert or movie where the anticipation to see it grows the closer the date comes.  Everyone also has their ideal PAST perfect day.  It could be a specific day (for me, summer 1992, my Dad taking me to Three Rivers Stadium to see the Pirates take on the Cardinals.  Not only did the Pirates win, but I got to meet Andy Van Slyke while my Dad got to meet one of his favorite players, Ozzie Smith) or it come be an amalgamation of days (all the times during the summer of 2000 when my best friend and I would meet at the pizza place I worked in after we both got off work and spend 2-3 hours drinking $5 Yuengling pitchers until we both somehow staggered home…those nights tend to blur together when I think about them now, although I do specifically recall blowing $10 bucks in the jukebox to buy an hour’s worth of plays of nothing but Stevie Ray Vaughan…)

Memory Lane takes that one perfect day and twists it into the perfect prison.  Using the tried and true formula of taking a familiar setting and slowly upping the uneasiness factor, Eddie Robson turns in a story that goes the extra mile by giving C’rizz a vital role.  It’s a relatively lighthearted and fun story with some good dialogue, stumbling only during a sequence where the Eighth Doctor is once again tortured via his captors messing around with his memories.

It’s summer in English suburbia.   There’s snooker on the telly, an ice cream truck playing “Greensleeves” rolls up and down the street, and 10-year old Tom Braudy is enjoying himself as he builds a spaceship out of Legos.  The idyllic setting, however, isn’t as perfect as it seems.  One, Tom looks much, much older then he claims to be.  Two, his nan is completely nonplussed by the arrival of the TARDIS smack dab in the middle of her living room.  Three, the house next door is identical to the one the TARDIS has landed in, complete with its own version of Tom’s nan.  Four, the house next door to that one is identical, and so on down the block for distances unending.  Five, there’s a movie playing on the television in between the snooker commentary about two astronauts trying to escape from a creature on board their spaceship.  Six, one of those astronauts is snooping around the neighborhood.  And last, the TARDIS has been stolen…by an ice cream man?!?

Clocking in at just over 90 minutes, Eddie Robson and director Gary Russell keep Memory Lane moving quickly, with very little padding while mixing classic Who in terms of oppression and characters being separated (and also reusing the same set…) with new Who via taking full advantage of the audio format to use high end special effects (the listener’s imagination) to create a unique and striking setting.  Best known for his work as the creator of the BBC radio sitcom Welcome To Our Village, Please Invade Carefully (which boasts Peter Davison as a cast member), Robson is a writer who knows his way around Doctor WhoMemory Lane is the first of several stories Robson has written for the monthly range, as well as penning multiple stories for the “Eighth Doctor Adventures” and Bernice Summerfield ranges, as well as taking a turn as showrunner for that range’s 2009 and 2010 seasons.  He’s also written numerous issues for the Doctor Who Adventures comic book series and several prose stories for the Short Trips collections.  Memory Lane shows from the very beginning that that Robson works very well within the audio format, as a simple summer’s day in the living room is immediately brought to life by Tom playing with Legos and a grandmother warning him not to spoil his appetite as he races out after the ice cream man.  But things are thrown just off kilter by the appearance of a sci-fi movies on the television with a male actor who sounds an awfully lot like Tom.  From there, Dobson slowly adds more parts to the story (and you can insert your own Lego metaphor here!) that build upon that sense of the familiar becoming unfamiliar.  Who hasn’t been lost in suburbia, where all the houses and occupants sort of look the same?  Who hasn’t found some ice cream men to be just a little off?  And when things are at their weirdest, who wouldn’t find the sudden appearance of their childhood home a welcome sight?  Then add on top of it an astronaut with a gun trying to “rescue” Tom and the ice cream man demanding their “prisoner” be kept locked up.  It’s the polar opposite to Something Inside, where the claustrophobic nature of the Cube is exchanged for the wide open English suburbs, with both still serving as prisons.  Robson mitigates some of the unease, however, with a light heart and several doses of humor, including a few exchanges that stuck with me…

The Doctor:  Never turn down tea.  It’s impolite and wars have begun that way.

X X X X X

Kim: There she is!  My ship!  The Led Zeppelin IV!

The Doctor: …I’m sorry?

Kim: …there was a public vote to name her.

The Doctor: Well, that’s democracy for you.

Even the sound makes thing seem more familiar and more sinister. The sounds of snooker in the background, the chimes of the ice cream truck, the sounds of a hand shifting through Legos looking for that perfect piece, David Darlington once again helps Big Finish turn in its standard “solid-to-amazing” level of sound and post-production work.

Perhaps the highest praise I can give Dobson’s script is that it gives C’rizz something to do AND makes his chameleon nature a vital part of the story!  Finding himself opposite the female astronaut Kim, who is desperate to rescue Tom, Conrad Westmaas begins with the anger and unease that C’rizz feels as Kim pulls a gun on him, using his anger to break his manacles and wrest the gun from her.  The pair spend the rest of the story arguing and bickering with one another, with Kim (played by Sara Carver, who played the Khellian Queen in the Fifth Doctor audio Three’s a Crowd), giving as good as she gets.  The pair work great together, never quite becoming friends as they’re forced to work together.  Westmaas plays annoyed very well when he has to, and it all comes together when C’rizz realizes that Kim’s anger towards him is imprinting on his personality, causing him to be angry towards her which causes her to be angry back at him, and so on.  It’s the only time the mental portion of C’rizz’s chameleon aspect comes into play that I can remember, and it serves him VERY well during the story’s climax where all the voices in his head finally serve a major plot purpose.  Hands down, this is the best C’rizz story yet, and I would hope that this would have led to some major character development for C’rizz.  Sadly, the impending double whammy of Absolution and The Girl Who Never Was torpedoes that hope…

While there have been a few lighthearted moments through his run, (Seasons of Fear and Faith Stealer), the last “easy going” audio for the Eighth Doctor was the Mark Gatiss piece Invaders from Mars.  After the events of Neverland, Zagreus and the Divergent Universe arc, it was time for Eight to get a little bit of a breather.  Paul McGann’s sparkles in this story, gleeful and inquisitive in a way that hasn’t been seen since his very first series.  He’s excited about the ice cream van, and puzzled over the endless suburban street that stretches out around him, but instead of brooding or worrying deeply over it, McGann is simply…the Doctor.  He keeps a grin on his face and his spirits high, save for a few moments where he reminds people just why he’s the Doctor, such as putting Kim in her place when she reveals she shot Nan out of frustration and found out that Nan always got back up after…repeated experimentation.  And, of course, there’s Eight being tortured where he simply shrugs it off and encourages his captors to do their worst.  It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to say this, so I’m very pleased to say that Memory Lane strikes me as a story where McGann is just having FUN playing the Doctor.

With McGann and Westmaas in top form, one might wonder if India Fisher is pushed to the side in this story. Not to fear, though. Robson’s script gives Charley a good bit to do. Starting out just as much of a fish out of water as C’rizz, Charley falls under the sway of the prison as her childhood home appears at the end of the street (which includes a nice cameo by Anneke Wilkes as Louisa Pollard, Charlotte’s mother), but later in the story, Charley manages to turn the tables by purposefully going back into her “home” to help distract the jailers and help the Doctor learn more about them. It’s a nice moment that shows just how brave Charley is and how trusting she is towards the Doctor, which will come to a head in the upcoming audios…

The supporting cast easily pulls their weight. There’s no standouts, but there isn’t any dead weight either. Neil Reidman, who played Atillo in the Tenth Doctor television story Utopia, plays Tom, the captive astronaut. Tom plays both the carefree child and the nervous captive very well. The part where he abandons the Doctor and Charley doesn’t portray Tom as a coward, just a very scared and confused man. Nina-Baden Sempter plays Ms. Braudy, the loving and doting nan/grandmother to Tom, and the way she just plays along with all the newcomers to Tom’s prison, no matter how absurd the situation, is a delight. Charlie Ross and Neville Watchurst play the jailors Lest and Argot. You never get the sense that either man is sinister, but instead two competent employees, with Lest barely managing to keep the prison running and Argot always being reminded to take notes because he never remembers anything, both plot points that come back around during the lead up to the story’s climax as we discover WHY Tom has been kept captive.

My main problem with the story comes with a sudden shift in tone over two or three segments, as the Doctor sneaks Tom into the TARDIS and Lest and Argot have to figure out how to open the TARDIS doors to get Tom back out. They get a hold of the Doctor, put him in his “perfect moment” where he’s just saved the day and his companions praise him for it…and then the Cloister Bell rings, Charley and C’rizz are flung into the Time Vortex, and Lest tells the Doctor that unless the Doctor tells him how to open the TARDIS doors, he’ll lock the Doctor in a memory loop where the Doctor will continue to experience the horror of his companions being ripped away from him like it’s the very first time. In that moment, Lest and Argot go from bumbling prison employees into ruthless con men, with the light tone of the story completely gone. Charlie Ross channels a cruel villain as he tries to break the Doctor, all characterization erased for a few scenes. It’s very jarring and threatens to throw the whole tone of the story off. The Doctor shrugs it off, C’rizz saves the day…and the Doctor gives the pair the technology to ensure the prison is no longer needed and tells C’rizz that revenge is best thrown into the rubbish bin. Some listeners might not notice the shift in tone, but others might be a bit taken aback.

Memory Lane could best be seen as a bit of a “breather” story. Following the claustrophobic Something Inside and leading up to the events of Absolution, this is a lighthearted, easy going fun story. Save for the scenes of mental torture, the actors seem to have had a blast making this story, with everyone in their place, the TARDIS crew all getting their moments in the sun, some absurd dialogue, and a drop of the Doctor’s mercy and compassion to top it off. Easily recommended, Memory Lane is an audio that might not be the “perfect” story, but instead uses the setting of a “perfect day” very well.

Pros
+ C’rizz’s best story
+ The Doctor and Charley have their moments
+ Some witty and absurd dialogue
+ Lighthearted and fun tone…

Cons
…save for one sequence

Synopsis – Turning out to be C’rizz’s best story, the Doctor and his companions deal with a prison that recreates someone’s “perfect day” and a jailor who’s none other than the local ice cream man, all helping to make Memory Lane a fun, lighthearted story (for the most part).

Next up – It is 1917 and the Doctor, Hex and Ace find themselves in a military hospital in northern France. But the terrifying, relentless brutality of the Great War that wages only a few miles away is the least of their concerns…

Sylvester McCoy is the Doctor in…No Man’s Land.

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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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