Sunday, 28 February 2016

Vienna Series 3

I am very much a “feels” sort of person – I cry buckets at Nu Who and I absolutely adore what Murray Gold’s music has done for the emotional intelligence of the show. The reason I am saying this is to let you know that when I listen to a Big Finish audio adventure, I feel. I am transported to a realm where I can “see” the action taking place and in my head and I am the director of the visual style. This new series of Vienna, to me is reminiscent of 1980’s graphic novels – it has a smattering of Alan Moore dystopia, the smarts and satire of 2000 AD and an impossibly glamorous lead (the penny will drop later…) – yes indeed in Vienna Salvatori Big Finish have created their very own genre – the graphic novel in audio format – because listening to this I visualised not actors with Hollywood production values but hand drawn panels in a graphic novel.
But who exactly is Vienna Salvatori? Lets rewind. Vienna was introduced to the world in the main range audio The Shadow Heart  and went on to star in her own spin-off series. Vienna is played with sass, wit and charm by Chase Masterson, as an intergalactic Bounty Hunter – a gun for hire with a heart of gold - part Strontium Dog, part Barb Wire, part Philip Marlowe – all Vienna. In her third series she has teamed up with ex-cop Jexie Reagan (Samantha Béart) who has decided to go freelance. The box set comprises of three linked stories which form an arc – it really is a graphic novel for the ears…
First of all the negative – I don’t usually like to be negative but I have to ask – what has happened to the theme music? The theme music from series two was fantastic, one of my favourites from any Big Finish range, and whilst the theme music in series three is good, it’s not quite as evocative. Had to ask, sorry…
With that one little niggle aside, it’s on to the box set.
This set is really one big sci-fi epic – but is broken down into three distinctive chapters – like all good stories it has a beginning a middle and an end
Self Improvement by Ian Potter
Vienna and Jexie are called in to help protect Doctor Ludovic Glospan (Terry Molloy) – you see Dr Glospan has a secret, an amazing secret, a discovery that will literally change the universe – he has discovered the secret to a “good day” – literally, you know those days you get sometimes where you are at your very very best, where you brim with confidence, wit and charm? He has discovered a formula to make every day like your best day. Great eh? Well yes, but his employer the “Helping Hand” corporation seem to think that he is under threat and hire our heroes to protect him. What follows is a tense stand off with bluff and counter bluff and a conspiracy to keep the “good day” discovery remaining a secret. From the outset this is a blockbuster – the effervescent sexy Vienna plays well off the dour realist Jexie –  their attitudes to their plight could not be different. A small cast featuring guest performances by Terry Molloy and Elizabeth Morton – but the fact that there is a small cast is outweighed by the threat level. High octane thrills with a hook to keep you listening – just what issue one of any graphic novel needs to be.
Big Society by Guy Adams
I do like a bit of satire and the middle chapter of this epic is just that – a satire on modern Britain. Chasing down Dr Glospan’s formula Vienna and Jexie find themselves in the ruins of a once prosperous city, a city where everyone was declared bankrupt due to the economic downturn, a city where sentient buildings are taxed and are driven insane by the burden of taxation, a city where a futuristic version of The Apprentice (which feels very like the Strontium Dog story The Killing) takes place. This a darkly comic second movement – the character of Jonah Hall is hilarious and I don’t think anyone will have to think too hard to work out who Chairman Sweet (Bernard Holley) is based on. Again very 2000 AD – futuristic, sardonic, crushingly satirical and quite tongue in cheek – in the words of Alan Partridge: Lovely Stuff!
Impossibly Glamorous by Steve Lyons
And so on to the finale – another biting satire on shallow consumerism – visiting the planet London (complete with Buck House, bobbies, corgis and red buses) Vienna is a changed woman – she is the “impossibly glamorous” (see I told you the penny would drop) poster girl for the Helping Hand corporation – extuing the virtues of consumerism and vanity – has she been seduced by the acquisition of things or is she deep under cover? London it seems is the result of the misuse of Dr Glospan’s formula – it has been subverted by Helping Hand to maximise profits. Playing the head of Helping Hand, Kensington Fox, is none other than Sophie Aldred. Sophie is completely unrecognisable in the part – it’s very arch and fantastically acted, a real cartoon villain which does suit the tone of the whole set. Like the 1980’s graphic novels that I see this set as an homage to the London we are shown is another exaggerated version of our own time – populace in debt and in thrall to corporations, eking out a living to buy more useless consumer goods whilst many rely on food banks to survive. Social commentary, explosions and glamour – what more could I ask for!
A great box set that entertains, but also makes you think – because for all the spaceships, sentient buildings and tech – the worlds Vienna presents us with are an exaggerated version of the world we live in, and to be honest they are not that exaggerated – how far away are we from a Hunger Games style TV show or corporations making laws? A graphic novel for the ears? Undoubtedly! Vienna could grace the cover of 2000 AD with honour.
8/10.