Sunday, 28 February 2016

209 - AQUITAINE

Audio is a wonderful medium – it fires the imagination way more than TV could ever do, and the reason for this is that we the listener create the pictures. Now as Doctor Who fans we all know what the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa look like, and a cursory glance at the cover of this months main range audio release “Aquitaine” will give you a good idea what Hargreaves (more of him later) looks like – but two listeners can listen to the very same story simultaneously and come up with a very different interpretation of the the overall visuals.
doctor_burton_5_by_michaelthepure-d6x9vq3Something about this story screamed Tim Burton at me, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Hargreaves (him again) has the art deco gothic stylings of a Burton character but it wasn’t until I listened to the isolated music score at the end of the release that the penny dropped, the score reminded me of Danny Elfman and brought back warm memories of Edward Scissorhands. The music has a sweet, charming melancholy – an otherworldly, not quite of this universe, dream-like quality. Listening to Aquitaine I imagine the Fifth Doctor looking like the image on the left…
It’s that sort of story, visual and intellectually stimulating – the sort of story that fires the imagination. It’s also very sad, very melancholy and introspective, and will make you consider your own place in the grand scheme of things.
This story may have the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan, but this really is a story about Hargreaves. Third mention of him, so I had better explain.
The Aquitaine of the title is a spaceship in orbit on the outer most reaches of a Black Hole and Hargreaves is the ships computer, butler, gardner, medic – basically Hargreaves is the personification of the Aquitaine – and can I raise my virtual hat to Matthew Cottle for an extraordinary performance, full of pathos and tinged with heartbreak. Each day Hargreaves tends to his daily tasks, cleaning, running diagnostics, cooking the crew their meals. Hargreaves is reminiscent of the “Jeeves” style of Butler – typically English and attentive to his tasks to the point of obsession. The problem is Hargreaves is just going through the motions as the crew are missing and he is all alone aboard the Aquitaine doing his daily tasks because that is what he does. It’s all quite sad, but at the same time charmingly quaint. Just imagine that somewhere in the vastness of space there is an abandoned spaceship with a robot Butler and this robot Butler will tend to the ship until the end of time because that is what he does… never complaining, never taking time off, just repeating his tasks century in and century out….
Charming is most definitely how I would describe this story – utterly charming and it really is down to Peter Davison and Matthew Cottle who carry the heart of the story. It is also filled with abject horror; the Aquitaine is filled with ghosts and monsters, it has dangerous plants that carry an incurable infection. It is also a time travel story. Stop! I usually don’t like those, “all that “timey wimey” nonsense is just a cheat” (is what I usually say) but when it is done as well as it is here, Aquitaine is the exception that proves the rule. The whole thing makes perfect logical sense, the “sci fi” of the gravitational effects of the Black Hole are more than adequately explained and really do work as a device to drive the drama forward rather than making me roll my eyes. Actually when the effects of the black hole do become apparent the story becomes even more interesting…
Episode three has an absolute belter of a cliffhanger that is up there with part three of The Caves of Androzani, the cliffhanger in The Stolen Earth and the cliffhanger to part one of Big Finish’s Protect and Survive – it’s one of those moments when the Fifth Doctor completely loses his cool calm and collected persona and does something utterly reckless and dangerous.
The remainder of the cast,  Harry Myers as Dr Akunin, Nina Sosanya as Captain Maynard, Gerald Kyd as Lt. Savinio and Danusia Samai as Lt Jennings are all given interesting build ups before actually being introduced and how they interact with Hargreaves and the regulars depending on when they meet adds to the clever jigsaw puzzle feel of the story – listen to it and you will see (or hear) what I mean.
The four episodes just fly by – the story really is that absorbing… time travel, infection, greed, ethics beeswax and tea-making have probably never been in the same sentence together, but Aquitaine has made it possible. It is a story that demands to be listened to on multiple occasions to fully appreciate the nuances of the script and how it works hand in hand with the musical score and the subtleties of the cast. A real gem of a story and utterly charming.
10/10.