Sunday, 20 September 2015

The Well Mannered War

Sometime less is more, or so the saying goes – what does this mean I ask myself? I suppose it ties in with the other saying “always leave them wanting more” – give just enough to make your point, to be remembered but do not under any circumstances do an encore. The classic example of this approach is Fawlty Towers – it ran for twelve episodes over two seasons, yet almost every part of every episode is memorable, quotable, and indelibly imprinted on the British Psyche – be it Manuel’s Rat, Basil doing his Nazi goose-step, Basil beating the car up, the Kipper and the corpse – I could go on, but most, if not all readers here will have some memory of Fawlty Towers, some classic moment that left them longing for more. The opposite I suppose is “more is more” over egging the pudding, having too many returns that diminish the original, stand up Only Fools and Horses, a perfect ending in 1996, and then brought back for three lacklustre specials that really tarnished the classic reputation of the earlier episodes.  Which brings me in my usual roundabout way (normal service has been resumed after my Damaged Goods review) to The Well-Mannered War, the latest adaptation of Gareth Roberts Season 17 pastiches.
I adored The Romance of Crime, my review is HERE, and rather enjoyed The English Way of Death too, and was eagerly anticipating this one. Hmmm, less is more, more is more – I am torn.  This one is long, very, very long, but not really epic. It has all the Gareth Roberts, Douglas Adams-isms, it’s very witty, laugh out loud funny at times and Tom especially throws himself into the role of the boggle-eyed loon of season 17 with gusto. So the plot, and it is a rather good premise too – in the far future the planet Barclow is the stage of a very strange war between humans and Chelonians, a very well-mannered war in fact, a war in which a shot has not been fired in anger, where the protagonists are friends, where a tea lady walks between the lines with her trolley (tea is free, but snacks come with a charge!).  So far, so Adams, and it is it really is – but what is the purpose of this war and what purpose does it serve? This story is like the proverbial onion, layer after layer after layer after layer. And therein lies the problem, its just too involved, too weighty and too confusing and there are so many characters that it really is difficult to keep up with the narrative – a story that involves the war, an election, the return of Menlove Stokes (he of Romance of Crime fame), a rather vile enemy, an age old plot to trap said enemy, ANOTHER enemy and a cliffhanger ending – yup, this one really does have the kitchen sink (not literally).
What about the performances? there are a lot of them, Tom is wonderful as always, Tim McInnerny is a very good Admiral Dolne leader of the earth forces and his tone fits in with the whole “season 17-ness” of the production, but there are so many characters in this story, they seem to get lost.  It’s a great cast, John Glover, Michael Troughton, David Troughton, Hamish Clark and in a shorter story they would have all shone as brightly as Tom. It really does betray its roots as a novel, and is very true to the novel, but as an audio it is a little off kilter. Not a bad audio by any means, just could have done with being about 45 minutes shorter to give the story a sense of urgency which unfortunately it lacks. So Well-Mannered, Well-meaning but better well-read than well-listened on this occasion. 6/10.