Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Beginning Benny - Season 4

Right then, where are we?  Benny’s a single mother but with an ex-husband and an ex-loverofBennywhilstshewasn’tinherbody fighting over both her affections and also those of her son, the hairy scream ball Peter.  Brax looks as though he’s far more evil than anyone thought but only Jason knows it, except for the hypnotic block Brax has put in place to stop him remembering.  The universe is a pretty peaceful place though at the moment but there’s trouble ahead, to be detailed in those pesky paper based book things.  So, time to start season 4.  It’s begins with one giant green testicle and end with something approaching a load of bollocks…

“The Bellotron Incident” guest stars a rutan (so see the Doctor Who TV story “Horror of Fang Rock”) which you know means that there’s going to be all manner of shape changing larks going on through the story.  We get to reintroduce Bev Tarrant to the audio range (go listen to the Doctor Who audio story “The Genocide Machine” and then do “Dust Breeding” just for the hell of it) and Benny gets to re-enact Indiana Jones style escapades.  It’s a bit of a strange one, some people might say “where’s the fun in shape shifters in audio only” but it’s done exceptionally well here.  The opening goes on for far too long though (it could easily lose several minutes’ worth of monologue) and some of the set pieces are, I’m sorry to say, just a little bit too cliché on the daring archaeology front.  However, it’s a story with more than one or two twists to it and not all of them are immediately obvious.  There’s a rather sneaky moment towards the end where it really looks as though Benny’s been killed (but she’s the heroine) so you are left scratching your head for a moment or two before the big reveal (note:  this is how you should do it Mr Moffat!).  We’re once more in the realms of small casts (presumably saving up for the end of season spectacular) but everyone plays it at just the right level to keep it interesting. And there’s no sign of Brax being anything but charming in this one.

He’s also fairly charming at the start of “The Draconian Rage” (don’t remember the Draconians? Go re-watch the Doctor Who story “Frontier in Space”, and when you’ve woken up come back to this one).  Here he talks Benny into the archaeology opportunity of a lifetime, to inspect an artefact that the Draconians have recently unearthed.  The Draconians don’t go a bundle on humans, or females, so why they have specifically asked Brax to send them the human, female Benny is something of a mystery (one which you can get a little more of the background on in the Doctor Who audio story “The Dark Flame”).  Be warned though, the level of lisping in this story is kept to the correct side of the line but there are some very disturbing scenes of what essentially boils down to almost sadistic torture.  Think back to how the Nazis treated Benny in “Just War” and now make it worse.  Plus throw in the appropriate sound effects.  Don’t expect to be cheery by the end of it.  Also, don’t expect to be surprised when the weapon introduced near the start of the story does exactly what you expect to do near the end of the story.  The only challenge is in working out who’s going to use it and who’s going to be on the receiving end.  It’s a psychological tale of mind control vs free will and there’s a lot of talking towards the end rather than action.  Also, don’t expect there to be any real signs of it being referred back to any time in the near future (though more of this when it’s possibly referenced in a season or two’s time). Just take it as a story that’s going to make you grimace at the nasty bits, struggle through a lot of the talky bits and presumably have a lot of off air downtime for Benny after it.

So, some suitable time later, Benny has headed off to visit an old friend in “The Poison Seas”. Well, officially she’s just visiting, in reality she’s there to find out what’s going on after a tip off that things aren’t all as they seem.  Her old friend, it turns out, is a sea devil (so go see the TV story “The Sea Devils” for more information) and ummmm well this is one of those rare instances where Big Finish get it wrong.  Sea Devils were great on television, they looked superb and there was a lot of other stuff going on in the story and the devils weren’t doing too much of the talking.  On audio though, things really don’t work too well. The sea devil voices all merge into one another and, at times, I found it really difficult to actually work out what was being said by whom.  So, what I gathered about the plot, weird sentient protein driving the leader of the sea devils a bit nuts even though he was a traitor anyway, might have been a bit fuzzed by the heavy use of sea devil voices.  They just really don’t work on audio.  The plot itself isn’t actually that strong and so my willingness to really focus on the sea devil voices wandered on a regular basis.  It’s a shame, under different circumstances (and maybe with a slightly more generous treatment of the voices), this could have been a gripping mystery tale.  As it stands, what I could hear, all of it sounded pretty obvious.  Except the ending that is.  The baddies are defeated, the authorities called in and then Brax sends Benny a message.  A message so obviously a coded message that Benny has no choice but to abandon the sea devils to their off air fate and head back to the Braxiatel Collection pronto.  Well, that’s her intended destination… in reality she ends up very heavily involved in a short story collection in the book range.  And if you don’t read it then the opening of the season finale is going to be something of a jumbled mess.

“Death and the Daleks”, at long last, starts with a “Previously on Benny” as the story follows on from the end of the short story collection “Life During Wartime”.  However, it’s done in such a confusing manner and with little indication as to what’s actually going on then it’s almost worse than useless.  The audio release really feels like parts two and three of a story where most of the information you needed to really understand it was in part one.  Okay, there have been references to the books in the past but they kept things mostly explained in the audios.  Here there’s a whole tonne of stuff that’s happened on the printed page that just baffled me (I didn’t get the book till long after the audio was released and I’ll be damned if I can remember what actually happens in it).  Jason’s in a fat suit and still in contact with his mysterious friends, the Briaxiatel Collection has been invaded by the Fifth Axis and Brax strongly suspects there’s a lot more to the invasion than seems.  There’s a whole host of familiar faces in this one, they’ve certainly pulled out the stops on the cast front (eleven listed on the official Big Finish page for the story) but the plot really feels as though it should either have been shorter and some of the padding removed OR made a lot longer and put a lot more explanation in.  There are references back to the “Benny travelling with the Doctor” days (so time wasn’t 100% re-written in “Closure”) and finally the daleks show up in the range (don’t know who the daleks are, then what on earth are you doing listening to Benny dramas??).  Brax now openly has a TARDIS (Chronotis style, see “Shada”) and there’s a linking narration to help fill in some bits that I can’t quite work out when it takes place (it will crop up again in a couple of years though… and I still won’t be able to work it out).  It feels as though the linking material is set about ten years or more after the occupation by the axis but that doesn’t really tie in with other stories. I’m not saying it’s a bad story, it does feel very large scale and there’s a lot of things going on in it, but starting the story in the book range really felt like a mistake to me.  Yes, you could follow what was going on but there was just so much back referencing that I kept finding my mind pulled out of it to see if I knew what was happening!  The moralising about right and wrong all through the story came across as heavy handed and, at the end, I was left feeling exhausted but not in a brilliant way.  Large scale, daleks and continuity but it didn’t quite add up to the feast it thought it was.  Plus another set of clues that things are about to go wrong for the Collection that won’t be picked up for another season or two.

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