Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Beginning Benny - Season 3

So Benny’s given birth to Peter, the child she conceived whilst her body was being possessed by an ancient sorceress who promptly bone jumped Adrian, the dog-man-like handyman on the Braxiatel Collection.  The kid has a rather powerful scream (mentioned quite a lot through the season but never really explained on audio) and a few extra claws but is otherwise fairly normal.  This means that, from now on, as well as ancient weapons, insane computers, Nazis and all the other things she’s had to worry about whilst being on her adventures, Benny’s now rather pre-occupied with being a good mother as well.  As you can possibly imagine, this isn’t something that’s going to come too naturally to her. So, at the start of season three, we get to join Benny in doing something that really is her basic instinct… and it’s not archaeology.

Remember the original “tag line” of Benny stories, that science fiction had never been so much fun?  Well the first release “The Greatest Shop in the Galaxy” really lives up to the promise.  We’re back to the classic Benny set-up, ie archaeological dig gone wrong.  It’s Benny’s own fault though, she deliberately volunteered for this dig and the fact it takes place in the car park of Gigamarket, the largest shop in the galaxy, is a complete and utter coincidence.  The fact that she’s accidentally borrowed Adrian’s credit chip is mere fate and Benny would never dream of taking the opportunity to stock up on shoes. Accompanied by the robot porter Joseph (go read the books), Benny leaves the archaeology robots on auto and happens to pop into the store just as things start to go wrong with time.  This is possibly one of the best (though thoroughly inconsistent) time travel type stories I can think of in the Doctor Who universe (“Festival of Death”, to my mind, being the ultimate and practically perfect one) and, as a result, has some fantastically grotesque scenes involving cows.  The sequence never fails to make me break into a huge grin and I won’t spoil any more by going into detail.  Naturally Benny gets drawn into the whole “what’s going on” plot and it turns out there’s a rather nasty side to the store and a bloody large bomb about to go off.  Did I mention this story does time travel?  Well it also dares to include the Grandfather Paradox in a rather literal manner and fully acknowledge how ludicrous the situation is.  It’s a glorious triumph and should be added to the rather small but satisfyingly enjoyable pile of “stories that everyone should hear”.

Up next, and catching me totally by surprise, comes “The Green-Eyed Monster”. Adrian, the biological father of Peter, ends up in direct competition with Jason Kane, the ex-husband of Benny, for her affections in a plot that I remembered as being rather lacklustre when I first heard it but thoroughly enjoyed this time around.  Benny heads away from the Braxiatel collection to authenticate some artefacts to allow Lady Ashantra and her insane sons to take the reigns on a planet that, to be honest, no one really cares about. If the artefacts are genuine then the rather idiotic children will find their eyes flashing green and so be seen as the true holders of power.  However Benny doesn’t really see this as a job that she should be taking her still screaming son on and so she needs baby sitters.  The green-eyed monsters of the title refers to both the genetically altered children and the bitch fest that is the Jason/Adrian relationship that takes up half the story.  No sooner has Benny left Peter in their charge than the poor infant is captured.  The story is a brilliantly written tale which doesn’t even bother to hide the obviousness of what’s going on after about the first 25 minutes and, instead, concentrates on characters.  My only gripe about the story though is the ending.  There’s nothing wrong with it, it makes sense and you can follow what’s going on BUT there’s a huge amount of background information that I really don’t remember about Jason.  At some point in whichever time line we’re actually in these days, he’s clearly first gone missing and then turned up again.  This is definitely a “Previously on Benny” moment and I spent a long time afterwards trying to decide if I should go back to the books and get the details.  In the end I decided not to but as it’s going to crop up again in a slightly more important manner later on in the range… well I think I’ll just google it and hope for the best.  However, as I said, the story does make sense without it as they give just enough information to justify what’s going on.

No such background about Jason is needed for “Dance of the Dead”.  Instead, this time, you need background on Benny’s other adventures.  As a crossover release, Benny appeared in “The Plague Heards of Excelis”, not officially part of any Benny season but a fourth part to a trilogy of Doctor Who stories set on the planet Excelis. In it, she was joined by adventuress Iris Wildthyme, a character that I have very mixed feelings about.  At the end though, Benny and Iris head off together for a drink and it’s the aftermath that “Dance of the Dead” picks up with.  Benny has a hangover, a very bad hangover.  One so bad that she doesn’t really remember how she got to be on board a spaceship full of dignitaries heading back to their home worlds after a potentially galaxy saving peace conference.  Fortunately, Karter, a helpful steward takes pity and smuggles her into the VIP area in time to meet some ice warriors and for the ship to blow up…  Yes, it’s Benny does “The Poseidon Adventure”.  There’s a rather trippy love story in this one between Benny and an Ice Warrior to go with it, but the bulk of the actual plot is the desperate race to try and get off the ship before it blows completely (the initial explosion merely taking out part of it).  There are escapades in lift shafts, double and triple crossing, collapsing ceilings and everything else you’d expect from a disaster movie.  Where this story really wins me over (and if anyone from Big Finish is reading this, unlikely I know, but please take note) is that the Ice Warriors aren’t voiced by Nicholas Briggs.  In recent years it’s become something of a joke that any alien race that was originally in the TV version of Doctor Who is now automatically voiced by Nick Briggs in the audio dramas.  Sadly he does seem to have an exceptionally recognisable voice no matter how much distortion they put on it.  This, though, comes from the pre-Nickvoiceseverything days and, as such, we get a very distinctive sounding Grand Marshall for Benny to act against (as well as a female of the species for the Grand Marshall to play off as well).  It just makes it sound refreshingly different and the portrayal, combined with the love story being acted out, really pulled me into the tale.  The ending, however, though signalled in the middle of the story, still always strikes me as rather convenient.  Okay, it’s clear that Benny can’t die and so needs rescuing but… I can’t quite put my finger on it but I think it borders on being close to a Deus ex Machina.  Still, it’s a very good listen and a very different tone to the previous two. 

If only the season had ended there.  If only the final, letter writing scene could have been picked up on for the next release instead of “The Mirror Effect”, a story about mirrors, setting Brax up as a nasty piece of work and ummm lots of running around in corridors and mirrors.  I wouldn’t describe this story as a clunker but it’s definitely the weakest release they’d done to this point in the range. It’s a lot of tediousness involving a mirror entity who shows people their dark sides, wants to give birth and lives in a deserted mining base.  There’s a lot of snow and water involved (including Jason thinking he’s drowning in a sealed lift) and there’s a lot more of the Jason/Adrian fighting over Benny.  Sadly it’s so straight laced it’s tedious.  They really do go to great lengths to make Brax out as a baddie (but, with a throwforward for those who don’t mind slight spoilers, don’t really do much with it for a few years at least) and Jason and Adrian as insecure males who both have feelings for Benny.  I’d love to say that I really understood the nature of the mirror creature (but I don’t), I’d love to say that it’s all designed and written well enough to keep my interest (it isn’t) and I’d love to say that anything that happens in this one is completely irrelevant to the rest of the range.  Sadly, it’s the start of the BIG plot line.  I mean BIG, not just in block caps but with neon lights around it and flashing arrows saying “Remember this one because you’ll need it later”.  Listen to it, get it out of the way and then grit your teeth for a while longer as you’ve got a few more dreary releases to get through before science fiction gets fun again. 

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