Sunday, 20 September 2015

The Triumph Of Sutekh

So there you are in 1989, minding your own business, enjoying season 26 – and what a wonderful season that was! – and as 1990 comes around you speculate as to what will happen in Season 27. Rumours of McCoy regenerating into Richard Griffiths part way through, a new female companion who’s a safe-cracker, Ace becoming a Timelord. So I, like millions of other Who fans, tuned in in September 1990 to watch… STOP!!!! – you are using the Bernice Summerfield trick of putting post-it notes over the most painful parts of you memories!
Actually what happened in 1990 was pretty awful as we all know, but in June 1991 something rather wonderful happened, they were small in size but big in concept, totally bigger on the inside – they were Virgin’s New Adventures Novels; and, do you know, they were not just as good as the TV series they were better.
Then in October 1992 a character would be introduced who was the companion, one Professor Bernice Surprise Summerfield (Benny to her friends), archaeologist, drinker, witty, intelligent, smart, flawed and brilliant and we were treated to my TARDIS team 7, Ace and Bernice.
This box set is a celebration of the 1990’s New Adventures era, but it also carries Benny’s story forward.  This is set later in her timeline after her divorce and the death of her husband, but it also sees the long overdue return of one of the most popular villains from classic Who, in the form of Sutekh – and he is once again voiced by Gabriel Woolf.
This box set has a very delicate balancing act to play, and two very distinct types of fans to please – classic series fans who hold Pyramids of Mars with reverence and New Adventures fans who love the “Times Champion” Seventh Doctor, gung -ho Ace and wise cracking Bernice – are the two compatible? – oh yes, indeedy they are!
Told over a hefty four hours, but split into four parts, the story tells of an epic plot for Sutekh to be reborn and bring his gift of death to all mankind. The best way to describe this set is a blockbuster, a real Hollywood style blockbuster, if Michael Bay got together with Marvel to make a Doctor Who film, The Triumph of Sutekh would be the result.
Part One is called The Pyramid of Sutekh by Guy Adams. On Mars during a conflict, a pyramid has been uncovered and Professor Bernice Summerfield is sent to investigate and what she finds will change everything forever. Any more would spoil the story, but a youtube trailer below will give you the idea.
It hits the ground running and does not let up for the whole length of the episode. Think Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider and The Mummy, but with added depth and an emotional punch, because this truly is epic, the stakes really have never been higher – the Doctor is locked in battle with Sutekh and he is losing…
Part Two is called The Vault of Osiris by Justin Richards – If the first installment was Indiana Jones, this is a classic heist movie complete with gangsters, crosses and double crosses. Ace and Bernice are in Egypt 2015 trying to track down The Doctor. This leads them into the shady underworld of stolen antiques and artefacts as they desperately try to obtain the Eye of Horus – but they are part of a much bigger plan and the forces in action have been manipulating things for a very long time. Oceans 11, Taken, Thomas Crown Affair spring to mind whilst listening to this one, it’s so filmic, so visual, and the resolution is so unexpected.  If this was on TV you would be shouting at the screen.
Part Three is called The Eye of Horus and is by James Goss. Bernice finds herself in Ancient Egypt in the time of the reign of female Pharaoh Hatshepsut (Sakuntala Ramanee) and the pace finally lets up. This is the most cerebral part of the story, The Doctor has been in Egypt for years before Benny arrives, and his plans are far advanced, but he genuinely does not know Benny and whats more is engaged to be married to the Pharaoh. This story is the calm before the storm; Sutekh is growing in power and this episode has him gaining control over Pharaoh to be Tutmosis (Matthew J Morgan) by charm, flattery and manipulation and having him usurp Hatshepsut. This is quite a horrific piece, the true cruelty of Sutekh is shown in all its horror, no punches are pulled and Gabriel Woolf chills as Sutekh; the power in his voice is chilling.
Part Four is called The Tears of Isis by Una McCormack. The world has ended, Sutekh has won, just a small enclave of his most loyal servants still live. Have the Doctor’s plans come to nothing, has Sutekh brought his gift of death to all mankind? All this and many more questions will be answered in this final cataclysmic episode. No more here, too tempted to spoil…
Wow, what a box set! What an epic and what a genuine rollercoaster ride. The undoubted star of this set is the lady herself, Lisa Bowerman. If there is just one wish I could have, it would be for Bernice to be in the TV series, just for one episode, it would make this New Adventures fanboy who kept the flame of New Who alive in the 1990’s very happy.
Lisa just brings Benny alive; she gets every nuance, every inflection, every sarcastic put down just right; she just is Bernice and long may she play her. Gabriel Woolf is oilily menacing as Sutekh – though in this set and especially in the last episode he comes across like Judge Death from 2000AD and in my eyes McCoy, especially the “Times Champion” version just is the Doctor, my Doctor, in a way none on TV have ever managed to convey, along with the gun-toting, gung-ho Ace and the wonderful Benny, they are the perfect TARDIS team.
Is this box set perfect? Probably not. It zips along at such a pace that it is almost too much to take in in one session.  It’s very “graphic novel” and would sit well in such a format and has a certain Marvel Superheroes film feel to it, but these are no bad thing and not a criticism of this superb production, which is a triumph and I have no hesitation in giving it a triumphant 10/10.