Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Beginning Benny - Season 6

Previously on Benny… *Deep breath* Backtogetherwiththeexhusbandstillfriendswithexlovercollectionprotectedsongrowingtroublebrewingneverchangingmovingon…

Right, season six and I freely admit that I’m now starting to get impatient for things to happen.  Okay, there’s been the odd good story (“The Grel Escape”, also a good odd story) but the last few haven’t really done it for me and, more irritatingly, they’ve not yet really picked up on any of the dangling plot threads.  However, some will be dealt with at the end of this season and others will also be picked up soon so it’s sort of finally on the horizon.  Just got a few stories to get through before we get there though, from the good to the mediocre to “The Lost Museum”.

“The Heart’s Desire”, a story I remember being less than enthusiastic about the first time around, turns out to be much better on this new listening.  It might be that, having remembered who the villains turn out to be (do you know, I’m not going to say because if you don’t know it might spoil the surprise) did mean that the first three quarters made a lot more sense and certain bits (with the foreknowledge) were a damn site more fun this time.  Normally I get quite irritated if a “surprise” reappearance is given away on the sleeve notes or the cover but part of me actually thinks that if the listener had been let in on a it a lot sooner then some bits might have been less painful.  I was also convinced, though totally incorrect, that it was Mark Gatiss playing one of the *spoiler* but nope, it just sounds a lot like him.  There’s a lot of light hearted bitchiness going on between two of the characters in this and it reminded me of the Black/White Guardian relationship in the Who stories “Key 2 Time”.  This came first though and, if anything, probably works even better.  What is rather weird though is the decision to make it vaguely a Christmas story.  They could have made a lot more of this, instead it seems to be something of an afterthought, there for no real reason and not even adding much punch to things.  However, it’s rather a pleasant way to spend an hour or so and, if you do work out what’s going on in advance, then well done!

“Kingdom of the Blind”, on the other hand, is a rather straight laced and one note piece.  It’s almost back to traditional Benny, mysterious artefact causes mayhem, Benny and Jason get caught up in it, things come out of the ground but, for this one, we join about a quarter of the way in and get the start in flashbacks towards the middle.  The monsters of the piece are the Monoids… yup, Big Finish have bought back the mop top wobblers from “The Ark” and tried to do something with them, the something being “Genesis of the Monoids”.  This is one of those times when you have to remember that this takes place in the 26th century or so, a very long time before “The Ark” (a surprisingly long time really, and now I think about it I do wonder just how they survived for so long as a species).  On first listening I was convinced that they’d made a horrendous balls up and allowed the Monoids to speak but I should have had more faith, Big Finish really aren’t that stupid and everything becomes clear at the end.  The plot’s fairly basic, Benny gets caught, Benny spends time in the security kitchen, Benny leads revolution, Benny cocks up spectacularly.  Jason gets carried around a lot as he’s injured (but fortunately he’s healed at the end) and well… it’s probably most notable for bringing back the Monoids and trying to do something with them.  It’s not the worst story ever, it’s not the best either.  I do remember that, when I first got this one, it sent me to sleep rather a lot so perhaps I’m slightly prejudiced against it. After all, it does take a certain amount of guts to bring back possibly the most ridiculous monsters ever!

Quite frankly, even if “Kingdom of the Blind” had been genuinely mediocre I would rather listen to it again and again rather than sit through “The Lost Museum”.  A ghastly mess of a story that’s clearly trying to say things about war in Iraq but doing it with so little subtlety that I was left wondering if this was some kind of “fan fiction contest winner”.  Benny’s off relic recording, Jason’s there to help by providing translators and there are oppressors who cut off Benny’s arm.  We also find out (well, if you only do the audios that is) that Jason has clones (they REALLY need to do a “previously on the printed page” thing somewhere as, by this time, I wasn’t getting the books at all) and that Benny doesn’t mind running around virtually naked when she needs to.  I’m not sure what else I can say about this one that wouldn’t break various terms and conditions about rudeness so I’ll simply say… listen if you feel obliged, I’m not writing any more about it.

Up next is “The Goddess Quandry” and finally, it looks as though things are going to be talked about.  Remember back to the narration in “Death and the Daleks”, well we’re now soon after that (even though it doesn’t feel as though a significant amount of time has passed since then) and Benny is questioned about a few of the things she may or may not have said.  Clearly though she doesn’t want to talk about what happened to Brax, why the collection’s in the state it’s in and… well clearly something rather major has been going on that we don’t know about.  So instead she tells the story of how she went hunting for the God Aldébrath's remains.  It’s a whimsical tale, mostly due to the presence of (a recast and different sounding) Keri Pakhar, but it also questions the nature of religion and deals, in part, with Benny’s Goddess vs the rest of the universe’s God.  Thankfully I’m not particularly religious myself and have always seen it as faintly ridiculous so I’m quite sympathetic to some of the views in this story.  The ending is… well it’s not pure cliché but there wasn’t anything new and startling in the resolution of the God story line.  That’s still more resolution than the story arc part gets though so you’ve got to wait one more release to find out just exactly WHY Brax has vanished along with his rooms in the mansion…

So… “The Crystal of Cantus”.  Brax finally goes over the edge, the cybermen have tombs and the flashbacks are told from different perspectives.  I’m not normally a fan of Joseph Lidster’s work, never really sure why, but this one does manage to utilise the different points of view exceptionally well.  There’s a mysterious message for Benny about a fabled crystal that Jason intercepts.  He talks Brax into going along for the ride, he’s stupid enough to make Benny suspicious and she jumps on board as well and then there’s the scene where we find out what “powers” cybermats.  There’s something evil in the cyber tomb, something that’s waiting for one of the three travellers.  It is, of course, a trap.  And deep down I can sympathise with WHY the trap has been set.  I don’t agree (I’m not that insane) but I know why people do what they do in this one.  The scale of the manipulation is impressive and, surprisingly, not completely unbelievable (the flashbacks are superb at this point when they make you realise how it was all put together) but the main problem is the ending.  It’s not the fault of the release, it’s just that since this came out the ending has been done numerous times on the television.  Yup, the cybermen are defeated by a flood of emotions causing them to blow up.

So that’s the end of Brax for a while.  He got “caught out”.  Jason’s no longer his puppet (I really get the impression that a LOT happens in the books between the two of them as I’m sure I don’t recognise a lot of the comments from the audios) and, as a result, he flees the collection.  He’s not dead, he’s out there somewhere but finally we start to get ramifications.  Cause, at last, has effect (see “Masquerade of Death” for more).  It’s not the worst thing that Brax could have done but it’s still deeply unpleasant.  So what next for the collection?  And there’s still the hints about Peter’s future to deal with.  Season six finally marks a transition point in the range, things have no choice now but to change and change they will…

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