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25 January 2009 @ 12:21 am
audio review: BFA 100: "100"  
BFA 100: '100'

Or the collection that makes otherwise dependable writers make very questionable choices.

For their 100th Doctor Who audio, BFA decided to ask four writers to do one-episode length short stories. It seems an excellent idea: all the fun of the fair, three great writers and Joseph Lidster* all contributing. But then it all went terribly wrong. Maybe Skynet kicked in on the studio computers, maybe the master tapes crossed the event horizon and came back evil, but whatever the cause, this collection made two writers I love egregiously crap for the space of half an hour’s listening displeasure.

Let’s start at the very beginning, which, according to salacious rumor, is a very good place to start.

100 BC

100 BC is the stupidest Evelyn I've ever heard. As a historian of COURSE she wouldn't think that 'the world would be better in some fantastical, equally gender-imbalanced matriarchy just because wombs are involved.' She wouldn't think that Julius being a woman would upset the whole system. She's read Shakespeare's Sister, I swear to god--no historian born this century would so thoroughly ignore the effect of birth and culture on the development of a singular, if brilliant, individual.

What’s painful about this is that Jacqueline Rayner’s Marian Conspiracy handles ‘Evelyn as Historian’ so adroitly, with Mary portrayed as a sympathetic female monarch despite the unsympathetic interpretation of her modern sensibility affords. And Rayner wrote the fantastic Doctor Who and the Pirates (Or The Lass That Lost A Sailor), which is delicately balanced between Gilbert and Sullivan music-hall comedy and shockingly effective tragedy, touching on a particular subject I normally consider beyond the scope of Who’s relentless positivity about life. Both show her skill, but the grace of the second is most missed here.

Evelyn brings up terrible regrets about her own lack of children, and the Doctor gets to point out that changing the world(s) in your own lifetime can be as satisfying as leaving behind genetic offspring from a unique position of authority. The Doctor’s had children and grandchildren that we know of, but his real contribution’s been his own actions. So these interesting threads are lost, all tangled up in a naff knot of weird OOC characterization and shoddy writing, when I know damn well Rayner’s better than this. Man, remember when that writer could write, especially Evelyn, with sensitivity and wit, undermining the cliche 'Evelynness' of her while making her sympathetic and interesting and HAVING SONGS?! I miss this, ‘100 BC.’

I do like that one great Six moment where he tries 'I am a messenger for your fuuuuture, ooooh!' And Evelyn has some charming interchanges with Six, after she’s finished bitching about Rome like every annoying British tourist you’ve discretely rolled your eyes at in modern Italy ever (wandering around convinced no one can understand their hissy family arguments because only they speak English, irritated that they had to change Pounds for Euros in Paris when it was ‘so close!’—no wait, that one was fellow Americans, double ew…). The charm of ‘Eveyln, destroyer of your sexy dinner parties’ is almost more of an insult: like marishino cherries stuck in a wodge of fruit cake. Cherries! They were great once! Now they’re all—tacky. * sigh *

I hatehatehate the TARDIS BCE/AD switchover. Trying too hard to be clever: as if the TARDIS is working off a Gerogian calendar or the Doctor doesn't know how to navigate previous to that changeover by now if it does. He should’ve cottoned on after Unearthly Child.

My Own Private Wolfgang

Whatever got the others cannot touch Robert ‘the Defenestrator’ Shearman.** ‘My Own Private Wolfgang,’ like other work of his, Holy Terror, for example, starts strong and gets better. The jokes are very clever. The central plot’s like a rock (wooooah, like a rock—who remembers that commercial? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?), that’s how solid. I mean, it wasn’t Amadeus, which I might well take a bullet for, but hey, not even Peter Schaffer’s weaker /play/ Amadeus is Amadeus, so what can you do? aralias did warn me that this was the only really enjoyable one on the audio, and I should skip the rest, but I never skip the boring audios—not if there’s continuity to be had. And so I listened on like a mad thing, perhaps the one time I should have listened to her instead of:

Bedtime Story

It wasn't bad, but kind of blah. Twist ending not very enjoyably twisty--suspect M. Night Shamalan of sneaking in under false name and penning Who audios. …no, that would be way worse than this, sorry Joseph Lidster, didn’t mean to besmirch your name like that. I can’t say much without spoiling the suspense of this Who take on a somewhat traditional ghost story. It’s serviceable if a bit unsatisfying—the pink wafers of Who audios.

Last and maybe least, given how high my expectations for Cornell always are:

100 Days of the Doctor

When I review Circular Time soon, which does the short story audio format right, you will hear all about how I love Cornell in nauseating detail. For now, take it as writ that he can do almost no wrong in my eyes.

And yet.

‘100 Days’--what a nothing contribution for him, who can do so much better. How do you make all the Doctors showing up dull?!---I also asked Sirens of Time this, but it would only give me its name, rank and serial number... one, incidentally.****

And there’s this frankly embarrassing 'clever meta moment' that made me make a sad squirmy face as if I were about to be sick. Though ‘100 Days’ DID mention the Master and that's always fun--thanks, Cornell, for being unable to stop bringing him in. Or who we have to assume is him anyway, given that they were dimension jumping into an alternate Three/UNIT era and 'that annoying man about to release those C--- pods and destroy the UN' /sounds/ a lot like him. It may even be an AU Sympathy for the Devil, given the 'Hong Kong days' mention. AU of an AU--see Cornell? How that was both metatextual and not physically painful? You can do it, I know you can.

aralias was deeply annoyed about the dismissal of Five’s run as a sort of ‘jolly holiday’ in the Doctor’s existence. Any good apercus on the stories of the Davison era will tell you simply wasn’t the case. I justify this remark to myself a bit. I don't think when Six says that about Five that he means Five didn't have a hard time of it, just that it's easier to be the Doctor and run around doing potentially unpopular things if you're young-looking and attractive and likable. That he sort of begrudges Five his general likability because he both thinks it weak and envies it because it's so /not/ Six. Especially given how Five was apparently v. close to Peri in the audio!universe, and there's her disliking him and kind of rejecting him as soon as he's become Six. That must lead to an extra-poignant 'goddamn Five' in his, the era in which he and Peri are on a friendship-break between travels. But ‘100 Days’ is still so blaaaaah, and says a few things that jar and really irritate me.

Still, the end is neat, Six gets to be clever, and Evelyn likeable. ‘100’: it was the most mediocre of times, it was the age of clone!Mozart(s)!, it was the age of Evelyn foolishness, it was the epoch of something unmemorable about senilicide, it was the epoch of my incredulity that C’rizz was apparently ‘non-humanoid’ now and the Doctor had never previously traveled with a ‘non-humanoid’ before—really, never? …are we counting Forbisher? Kamelion?

In short, I wish BFA one hundred more audios, not counting non-monthlies. In all likelihood, they’ll get there in sixish years!

* I may forgive the audio Master its hamfisted mythic schlockiness someday--but I’ve not yet, sorry. There were good elements, but I had to do a lot of extra work to get at them: I don’t think it was a problem of being a lazy reader. Like a lot of people drawn to fandom, I have a habit of looking at a story and sort of explaining away its deficiencies/rewriting it into a MUCH BETTER/deeper story in my head, only to realize upon examination that the story I thought I admired was mostly... something I thought, and not work the text did. Which is NOT to say I don’t think reading’s an active intellectual process, and meaning a mutual creation between writer and reader, but still. When I had classes with him, the essayist John D’Agata would always ask of a draft’s potentialities ‘can we do that work?’, meaning can we take what the draft provides us and achieve the understanding the author wants us to.

An audio, as a representative of a form which doesn’t lend itself to re-reading to catch a point in the way a written text might, or have the visual cues of other mediums, operates in an especially delicate interval between the fandom-tendency and a strict-constructionist perspective. Ironically, given that Master utilizes the Seventh Doctor, it fails to negotiate its medium in the way much of the Seven era seemed written by people who didn’t realize this was going to be televised, not sent off to Asimov’s Science Fiction. And however you slice it, the metadiatribes about Crime and Punishment and the nature of evil are just embarrassing—almost as much so as Paul Cornell’s Meta Moment in ‘100 Days.’

** No, not actually. But it’d be great, right? *** Bear in mind that I’m the sort of person who thinks it’d be funny to refer to Rassilon as ‘Assilon’ from the minute he fucks over Eight in Zagreus. So ‘great’ for a given level of great. A very low level. Like ‘the elevation of Holland’ low.

*** Really that should be Five’s nickname, after Resurrection of the Daleks.

**** While that pun can’t ever be adequately apologized for, consider joining the quest to seek reparations for Erin on a federal level. Have you or has your family been historically scarred by Erin? There must be a toll-free number somewhere about…
robshearmanrobshearman on January 24th, 2009 11:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much for the kind words! I've always worried that the Mozart story got away from me a bit - it had been so long since I'd written a Who audio that I felt very self-conscious writing the thing, more so than any of the others. But I'm glad it amused!
Selenaselenak on January 25th, 2009 05:36 am (UTC)
Agreed on the sad fail of Raynor and the win of Shearman. I liked Bedtime story better than you did, but then I have no problem forgiving Lidster Master - which would be due to loving him for writing A Day in the Death (Torchwood s2) and Rage of the Beserker (The Sarah Jane Adventures s2), which were my favourite episodes in these respective seasons.

Re: Six about Five in the Cornell - I always thought that was an audio type of reference, since the entire story is meta and about the audios, not the tv stuff. Because Audio Five does have a great holiday time with Peri and Erimem. (In the flynotes to one of their earliest audio adventures, you have a memorable rant of the writers about the tv companions, which is basically, we liked Five, loathed his companions and the fact nobody could stand each other and everyone was whining while the universe was waiting to be saved - now here's us trying to do better).
x_los: Daleks Venerate Shakespeare.x_los on January 27th, 2009 09:08 am (UTC)
I do love both of those episodes a good deal, actually. Perhaps a degree of clemency is in order--not that I think Lidster is out there somewhere waiting with bated breath for my esteem. :p

/That/ changes things considerably, and excuses the whole non-presence of one through four and makes a bit more sense re: the happy term as Five comment. I still think it might be a bit more fun as a BFA retrospective roundup, but it's certainly an interesting concept!
Pretty Arbitraryprettyarbitrary on January 27th, 2009 09:13 pm (UTC)
I do remember "Like a Rock!" Chevy trucks, trusty and brutish! (Though I still think Dodge is the way to go if you want something that'll outlast your grandchildren.)
x_los: The Green Death--wait.x_los on June 13th, 2009 01:03 pm (UTC)
I know nooothing about cars. Like, nothing at all. Wish I did, but I have to look up 'who makes dodge' just now. It's Chrysler? Apparently?