I looked on the releases of 2002, and was totally bemused by Septembers release. A modern story, complete with Angels, Ibiza and Tony Blackburn! Was this Big Finish trying to be so incredibly different, as to score an own goal? I'm a subscriber to Big Finish, I think they're the best DW we've ever had. Regardless of reservations I was always going to get this release, you never know it could very well turn out to be the best release of the year, after all! The Rapture isn't that, but I applaud Big Finish for trying something different - and one that perfectly complements the way the series was going, way back in 1989.
Season 26 was notable for its more adult approach. A more mysterious Doctor, a Companion with real life problems who we got to know more about in a few stories than most companions get in a few years. Big Finish set this story straight after Colditz. There's no mention of New Adventures, and those people who like putting DW stories in order would put it before those wide ranging books. One things for sure, this is a more interesting Ace than we ever had in the Books, it's before she got boring.
Many fans are fed up with Ace, they're burnt out because of the gun-toting Soldier she became. But it's best just to forget that. Imagine this as part of Season 27 which could have been, and you'll see a natural progression. This is just as much an Ace story as a Doctor Who story - and I was quite pleased about that.
Ibiza is somewhere I have never been. I detest Rave Music, and was dreading the incessant beat that would inevitably accompany much of this story. But I admired the authors ideas. You write what you know about, and he knew about this scene. I have a very good friend, Stephen, who is also into Nightclubbing and Doctor Who - it's not unusual to like both! I would keep an open mind throughout, and enjoy the audio on its own merits and not some pre-conceived ideas about the Island of Ibiza or the Music.
I want to visit Ibiza now! Not for the Rave Music, I'm still not a fan, but for the mythological impact that the story gave the Island. Joseph Lidster gives us Angels, and a rich Historical Ibiza comes alive for me! It's a pity all we hear about is the seedier side - for it appears there is plenty more to this place. But let's move on, I'm beginning to sound like a Wish You Were Here presenter!
My favourite supporting character of this play was Gustavo. I love the idea of the Doctor having friends everywhere, and such a Beach Café as Gustavo runs sounds wonderful. The rest are pretty good too. I was very impressed by Anne Bird as Catriona. She has the most troubled part, riddled with depression and real emotions, it's easily the best written too. It's also a performance of skill from Ms Bird, and I just loved that slight Irish twang that crept in every now and again. Liam was well played too by David John. The scaredycat from Survival gives a much meatier performance. Liam and Catriona actually form a strange partnership, but one that works in the context of the play.
Tony Blackburn does what Tony Blackburn does best. There's no point in him playing anyone else, as Big Finish decided late on in production. He's one of the greatest and most recognizable DJs Britain has ever produced. His comments spice up the audio, and with the Music emphasis that was welcome. Of the Angels it is Jude who is the most memorable. The way he takes Catriona on her trip is marvelously realized. The Angels are an eerie counterpoint to the whole Ibiza mythos that the story really emphasized.
The Rapture inevitably has the most different Musical Accompaniment of all the Big Finish CDs. The music is integral to the plot, it creates (along with the drugs) the Rapture which the title alludes to. We are given short bursts of it though, it is not as in-your-face or continuous, as I thought it would be. For that I'm grateful. There is a story to be told after all, and that story is one of Realism mixed with Fantasy. The exploits of Ace, Catriona and Liam are very much in the realms of possibility. Lidster himself has stated that this kind of Nightclubbing scene takes you to other worlds. This state is pushed into Fantasy realms then by the Angels - but the connection between Reality and Fantasy is clear right from the word go.
There's one main character I haven't mentioned so far, and that's the Doctor. On reflection this isn't the most Doctor-centric story in the Big Finish range. McCoy is excellent, but it's clear his Doctor isn't getting the development seen by other Doctors in this series. It's not that he isn't involved - he is, quite a bit - but I just felt the Ace, Catriona & Liam story was handled better.
I enjoyed the Rapture better than I thought I would. DW can be so many things - and I can't recall a story that comes anywhere near this one in ideas and execution of those concepts. An impressive debut from Joseph Lidster, and superbly produced by Big Finish. 7/10
If Big Finish's previous Doctor Who release '…ish' received a mixed reception, then that is nothing to what greeted the arrival of 'The Rapture'. After the initial outpouring of praise heaped upon the 'Euphoria Club Mix' style of the cover (with a silhouette of Sylvester standing in front of a 'blissful' sunset), there were concerns that despite (or perhaps because of) the fast moving directorial flourishes courtesy of Jason Haigh-Ellery, this story just isn't much good.
One of the good things about reviewing a story so long after its initial release, is knowing that, in this case, first time DW writer Joseph Lidster has gone on to pen some of the most acclaimed and controversial audios for Big Finish.
Here, he obviously hopes to make a big impression, with a story that fills in some of Ace's background, a topic some fans felt had been already done to death. As someone who never read any New Adventures back in the day, I found this examination of Ace's character quite intriguing. Here, she meets her brother, played by 'Survivals's David John. He is a likeable well-meaning lad, but initially Ace rejects him.
In fact, out of the majority of the characters in 'The Rapture', John's Liam is possibly the most appealing character.
We also meet Caitroina, whose constant mood changes make her a somewhat irritating character. This is explained as a symptom of her depression. Depression is a cruel and complex illness and it is brave of Lidster to feature such a character. Her release comes through the power of music, and that is what leads her into the clutches of the villainous Jude and Gabriel.
Featuring two self-proclaimed angels posing as Ibiza DJs is another brave move, and one so bizarre that it actually works very effectively.
Commendably also, Lidster does not suggest that either the power of these 'angels', or even the appearance of the Doctor, goes anywhere to somehow curing Catriona of her disease. She is more at peace at the story's end but by no means cured.
Tony Blackburn features also, at the time having claimed some notoriety as the winner of ITV's endless 'I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here' reality jungle marathons. He plays himself as a DJ and occasional 'voiceover' for some key elements in the play. His appearances are fleeting, but certainly, his inclusion in the cliffhanger to part two contributes in that end-of-episode's effectiveness.
Finally, Ron Grainer's original them music is given a mild drum and bass treatment which makes quite a powerful diversion. Wouldn't really want this book ending every release though!
It is often excruciating when people try to represent the concept of 'youth' in a fiction. Often the 'young people' on display are in fact nothing but. This was a big concern for me before I had heard this story. There is a moment when Gabriel recommends his brother should 'play those kicking tunes', which is a little embarrassing, but apart from that, it is clear that Lidster has experience with his subject matter and the characters are thankfully cliché free.
The best way to enjoy 'The Rapture' is to not take any notice of the critics. It is far from a traditional Doctor Who story - the second half is much more character based than usual - but it is certainly refreshing and enjoyable. There are some very good performances (Matthew Brenher again lends his villainous character a touch of sympathy, for example), and there are some interesting developments for Ace. It is a pity her newfound brother did not join the crew for the odd adventure. However, his cry of 'Wicked' as he sees the TARDIS materialise for the first time brings a smile to the face.
I'd like to spend a holiday in the clubs of Ibiza about as much as I'd like to run naked through a tunnel filled with turds and wasps, so the news that 'The Rapture' would be set there did not fill me with enthusiasm. I assumed before I'd even heard the story that the score would reflect the cacophonous excuse for music that I tend to associate with an Ibiza nightclub having seen rather too much of them on various reality television shows inflicted on me by housemates in the past, and my worst fears were realised as the music provided by Jim Mortimore, Jane Elphinstone and their associates sounds, to my untrained ear, painfully authentic. To my further irritation, there is also a remixed version of the Doctor Who theme tune that for some reason reminds me unpleasantly of Knight Rider. The point of all this is that my musical tastes automatically biased me against 'The Rapture' from the start, but the point of this review is not to vent spleen about music that I don't like, but rather to address the actual story. The question therefore remains; music aside is 'The Rapture' any good?
'The Rapture' is odd. On the one hand it has an astonishingly predictable plot; as soon as it becomes clear that Jude and Gabriel are exerting some kind of influence over the patrons of Ibiza's nightclubs and claiming to be angels, the conventions and precedents of Doctor Who make it blindingly obvious that they are going to turn out to be aliens seeking to use humanity for their own ends. Their motivation, at its most basic, is also highly derivative, as they seek to use humans as soldiers in the war that is being fought by their world. Basically, it ought to be painfully unoriginal and yet new writer Joseph Lidster makes it work. The reason for this is simple; the characterisation drives the story. Both Jude and Gabriel are recognizable character types; Gabriel has been driven insane by the events on his home world and his brother Jude is consumed with bitterness and anger and a desire to avenge both his brother and his people. It all sounds very generic, but again it works because of the details. Gabriel is not a raving cliché, he's somebody who seems genuinely disturbed and yet has an innocence and a need to feel loved about him that makes him truly sympathetic. Tragedy surrounds the brothers, and whilst it doesn't excuse their actions, it does make them understandable. Jude for example initially seems cold and callous; he justifies his intention to recruit humanity's youth to fight his war by angrily dismissing their problems as less important than his own. At one point he furiously tells Liam, "Without an enemy to fight, you invent one. You call it depression, schizophrenia" and later responds to the Doctor's angry objections to his use of innocents for his own ends with a mixture of incredulity and anger as he exclaims, "Innocent? They have no beliefs. They abuse their bodies with drugs". Following Gabriel's death, Jude's actions are incredibly predictable as his pain and loss fuels his bitterness even further and he resolves to carry out their original plan with renewed strength. What is perhaps therefore unusual about 'The Rapture', given its predictable structure, is how the story is resolved; Gabriel's death is inevitable, as it tips Jude over the edge just as the Doctor is managing to reason with him, but what is more unusual is Jude's eventual fate. The story doesn't end in the way a traditional tragedy might be expected to; the Doctor's attempts to persuade Jude of the folly of his ways aren't irretrievably lost leaving him with no choice but to kill him. Instead, Jude finally understands that what he is doing is wrong after he hears a recording of his brother talking about him and realises that, amongst other things, he doesn't have the right to stop Ace and her newfound brother from getting to know each other.
This is perhaps the point of 'The Rapture'; it's a story about communication. Jude and Gabriel never told each other how much they loved each other and it is the sheer pain of realizing that Gabriel felt that he was a disappointment to his older brother that stops Jude in his tracks at the end. Gustavo, and old friend of the Doctor's, is the secret benefactor behind the brothers, and this is motivated by his sympathy for Jude's negative opinion about the clubbers who frequent the Rapture. The age old lack issue of intergenerational friction is brought to the fore, as the well-meaning but misguided Gustavo unhappily tells Liam, Ace and Caitriona, "Your generation, you have no Hitler, no Franco, no Mussolini to fight." This doesn't mean of course that he thinks war is a good thing, but rather he wants them to understand that they are throwing away everything that his generation fought for "with their drugs and their casual sex." This fundamental gulf between generations is what motivates Gustavo as he tries, in a horribly misguided way, to help the young people around him. Like Jude and Gabriel however, he can't just reach out and talk about it to them and it isn't until he is made to realize that Jude's way will bring nothing but misery and death that he repents, the sheer horror of hearing Brian's dying screams incorporated into Gabriel's music making him see sense. 'The Rapture' is a story rich in tragedy and it stems almost exclusively from the fact that nobody talks about anything until it is too late. As the Doctor says of Jude and Gabriel, "They're not evil - just misguided"; ultimately, it is pain and anger that leads them along the path they take and ultimately makes Gabriel a killer before he dies.
This brings me to Ace. Whilst Big Finish's audience apparently doesn't overlap a great deal with the Doctor Who novel readers, the fact remains that I, personally, am fairly sick of Ace after nine television stories, seven Big Finish audios, one webcast, thirty-six New Adventures (not including the funeral scenes in 'So Vile a Sin'), one Telos novella and nine Past Doctor Adventures (not including 'Colony of Lies'). Consequently, the revelation in 'The Rapture' that Ace has a brother she knew nothing about initially seemed to me like a desperate attempt to do something interesting with a tired character by resorting to the cliché of a long-lost relative. This however is not fair, because in a story that I've accused of having a highly predictable plot, Lidster uses Liam to subvert my expectations in a couple of ways. For one thing, Liam is actually Ace's brother and not an imposter with sinister intentions, and for another he doesn't die just as Ace is getting to know him. In fact, Liam works extremely well in terms of Ace's character development under Big Finish's jurisdiction, because he is introduced at exactly the right time. With Ace desperately in need of a proper holiday after the slaughter caused by the Krill in 'Dust Breeding' and Kurtz's unpleasant death in 'Colditz', 'The Rapture' initially sees an unusual level of friction between her and the Doctor as she insists on a night off and is furious when he turns up at the club worrying that something is wrong. The problem of putting a character through this amount of trauma without simply glossing over it in the manner of the usual Doctor/companion relationship familiar from the television series is that it soon raises the question of why his companions stay with him for any length of time, given the death and destruction that they are routinely exposed to. The introduction of Liam works, in my opinion, for two reasons. Firstly, it gives Ace a reason for fighting monsters, as Liam provides an emotional link to the people that the Doctor routinely tries to save on a regular basis. Secondly, it gives her, for the first time, a connection to home; she's no longer a stray teenager who doesn't want to go home because she lives in a shit hole and hates her Mum, she's now somebody who travels with the Doctor because she really wants to, and has somebody to come home to if she tires of it. By this I mean she has no excuses; she promises Liam that she'll come back one day, and as such she no longer needs to stay with the Doctor if she can't cope with his lifestyle, or his scheming, or his master plans anymore. Thus, by giving Ace a link to a home on Earth, Lidster strengthens her bond to the Doctor by making it far more optional than ever before.
Ultimately, virtually all of the characters in 'The Rapture' are well crafted, and the performances help. Caitriona's depression is an understated issue and as such a rare attempt to portray mental illness convincingly in Doctor Who. Anne Bird's performance is convincingly emotional, as is David John's as Ace's brother Liam, who also sounds convincingly like a troubled young man rather than merely a stroppy teenager. Neil Henry and Matthew Brenher both put in fine performances as Gabriel and Jude, both conveying realistic emotion and Gabriel, like Caitriona, sounding authentically disturbed. Carlos Riera brings a rare authentic foreign accent to both Doctor Who and Big Finish, and makes Gustavo eminently likeable even when his role in Jude and Gabriel's plans is revealed. The only irritation in the guest cast is Tony Blackburn, a man I've never met who nevertheless manages to thoroughly annoy me whenever I'm forced to listen to the verbal diarrhoea that he invariable spouts in smug tones. Still, he's effectively playing himself and as he really does DJ in Ibiza on occasion, I can't really find fault with his casting (As an irrelevant aside, the most accurate way to prove that somebody can survive in a jungle must surely be to strip them naked and dump them in said jungle without food or water and see if they can survive using their wits and the natural resources at their disposal. Just a thought for anyone thinking of, perhaps, producing a reality television show). Oh, and the bouncer in Episode One is appalling; Jeremy James is clearly meant to sound deliberately self-conscious as his character tells the Doctor, "Apparently, they're having it large", but it's still an awful line, badly delivered.
As for the regulars, Sophie Aldred is rather good here, since as is 'Colditz' she is increasingly playing Ace as a young woman rather than a teenager. She gets one rather embarrassing moment when Ace is dancing at the Rapture and Aldred utterly fails to sound convincing as she screams with joy and shouts "You don't know how much I'm looking forward to this - clear the dance floor!", but for the most part she's fine and she sounds genuinely angry when Ace exhibits frustration at being unable to avoid trouble. As for McCoy, he's very good here, switching from cold anger as the Doctor confronts Jude in Episode Three to compassion for almost everyone in Episode Four.
Overall, 'The Rapture' is a bit of an oddity, as it proves to be far more interesting than it might at first appear. In addition to the rich characterisation, there's some nice self-aware dialogue, such as the line "Angel Gabriel'll turn out to be some mad alien" which predicts the formulaic plot, and the pre-credit sequence to Episode One, as Tony Blackburn introduces a tune that we haven't heard for nearly a month, which is of course the (slightly violated) Doctor Who theme tune. I also like the ending, as Ace and the Doctor take a real holiday and Ace gets to spend time with her brother. The rather twee coda however is best ignored; it is lets the listener know that Gabriel's music survives to bring joy to others, but does so by briefly introducing a pair of ghastly vacuous office workers. I must also confess that I'm not entirely sure what happens at the end of Episode Two; Caitriona appears to have some kind of uncontrollable telepathic vision, but it's significance escapes me, especially since it features the Doctor stating "I am the Sandman", which seems to serve no other purpose except to promote the following audio release at the time. Still, 'The Rapture' is worth a listen and is more important to the Seventh Doctor audios than might at first seem to be the case, as it gives Ace a bit of stability and allows her to address recent traumas. Which presumably paves the way for the introduction of Hex…
Soon you will witness the full beauty of the Rapture...'
For the second month in a row, a newcomer has penned Big Finish's regular Doctor Who release, and again they bring with them a new and distinct voice. Joseph Lidster's The Rapture is set on quite the most unlikely setting for a Doctor Who adventure in the hedonistic paradise of party island Ibiza, where DJ angels have arrived to save it's sinners through the power of their music, at their club, the Rapture. This unusual setting opens up a window of intriguing dramatic possibilities which Lidster's script and the production team in realising it, exploit to the full, particularly in respect of the music which is very evocative and expresses the atmosphere of the Rapture club with a sense of realism without which would have rendered the drama very flat.
Episode one is very well structured. It features the Doctor giving in to Ace's desire to have some time off from their travels, which naturally leads her to the Rapture, but it is structured well because it reflects the relaxed side of Ibiza leading to the frenzied atmosphere of the club where it's revellers are entranced by the music in a kind of crescendo which reaches breaking point at the excellent cliffhanger to the episode. Unfortunately the momentum gained during this opening episode isn't carried through into the second which rather than progressing the main plot in the normal way, almost sidesteps this to focus on exploring the characters introduced so far. While this is done well, particularly in the case of probing the relationship between Ace and Liam and also Caitriona's state of mind, the lack of substantive development to the overreaching main elements of the story is very telling and the sudden onrush of angst, which positively flows, blackens the mood instantly, giving it a very New Adventures style feel.
The final episodes both pick up the pace again as the Doctor's investigation into what's happening kicks in properly. Both of these are well timed with the revelations about the plot coming at the right moments to sustain interest, although Lidster's script does show some naivety in it's final episode where the twist is obvious purely due to the fact that it would be unlikely that the story would resolve itself within only a few minutes of the episode opening, and it's a little disappointing that the Seventh Doctor falls so easily for this.
One of the most noticeable things about the script is the unusual approach to changing between scenes, which consists of cutting between them very quickly, often utilising the previous scenes dialogue to begin the next one. This helps to establish a certain ambience particularly apposite for this drama, but does come across as a little disorientating and disconcerting at times, as sometimes it isn't always obvious that the scene has moved on. Lidster introduces the premise of the story well, teasing the listener with a pre-theme music introduction by special guest star Tony Blackburn (who plays himself here) that explains the set-up without making it seem like clear exposition.
The greatest failing of the script though is in what the whole story of The Rapture is primarily about. The idea of angels arriving to save the sinners of Ibiza through the power of music is an intriguing one, but it comes as a disappointment when their true origin is revealed, as it's the sort of thing that has been done countless times before in Doctor Who and in a story which feels so unusual and fresh through it's inventiveness, this jars quite badly.
One of the most significant recurring themes within The Rapture is the lengths individuals will go to for release from the mundane and how this should be confronted. The music featured is part of this as Lidster shows how revellers use the music as a release from themselves and their lives and ties it in nicely with the idea of someone manipulating this to their own ends. He shows how other people use different methods to achieve this as well. Ace uses her travels within the TARDIS as a way of escaping her humdrum life from before hand, and the idea that Kurtz's death in Colditz taking place within the TARDIS forced her to confront this adds credence and a degree of plausibility to her decision to mature herself.
In regard to the Doctor, Lidster chooses to deploy him sparingly, which has a two-fold effect. Firstly that Sylvester McCoy seems to disappear for long periods of the story, but it also reinforces the sense that The Rapture is tapping into the style of the New Adventures novels, which for many encapsulated the peak of the growth and development that this particular Doctor was capable of. By keeping him in the background, Lidster restores some of the mystery which has perhaps been lacking in some of the Seventh Doctor's other Big Finish outings.
The fact that Sylvester McCoy seems detached from the story is conspicuous through his long absences from the drama. By leaving the Seventh Doctor in the background, it allows the other characters to take centre stage, particularly Ace, but it is vaguely unsatisfying. In Doctor Who prose, the Seventh Doctor is proven to be more potent and compelling when working behind the scenes as the master manipulator, but it seems a shame when you have Sylvester McCoy in the flesh to enact him to take the same approach as it's much more noticeable. McCoy is on good form though as he seems to relish the task of making the Doctor slightly more mysterious than usual, and is particularly effective during the story's conclusion. His acting is quite restrained and relaxed and this gives the impression that McCoy enjoyed acting within the story.
At the end of Ace's last appearance in the Big Finish range, Steve Lyons' Colditz, she witnessed the horrific death of a German guard and it shook her so much that she resolved that it was time to 'grow up' and from now on she would be called McShane, although as the Doctor shows throughout this story, thinking of her as anything but Ace is likely to prove difficult. At the time this development was needed, but felt out of place within the context of Colditz. In The Rapture, Ace's attempts to grow up are very much prominently linked to the central theme of confronting reality, and in this respect Lidster succeeds at adding plausibility to her reasons for making the change. The idea that Ace has a brother is an intriguing possibility that Lidster uses to achieve some very potent drama throughout the story, and it is worked in very plausibly, giving the story some of it's most touching scenes and serves to prolong Ace's development at the same time through facing her own past.
I've been critical of Sophie Aldred in the past for her propensity to overact scenes by shouting her way through emotionally charged ones rather than demonstrating true depth within her performances. She has shown previously that she can act well, most notably in The Curse Of Fenric on television and The Fearmonger on audio, but those were definitely the exceptions. Happily she's in good form with this story and the development that Ace has been afforded here seems to suit Aldred as she delivers her most composed and enjoyable performance since The Fearmonger. In the emotional scenes with David John's character Liam, she conveys Ace's feelings convincingly and achieves a poignancy which more than justifies the decision by Big Finish to mature her character. In many respects this is Ace's story, and so it's appropriate that she steals most of the scenes she's in. While it's an undoubtedly good performance from her, there are some aspects of it which aren't particularly convincing - especially her enthusiasm for joining the revellers at the Rapture which seems forced and unnatural.
There is a nice balance to the rest of the cast with all of them performing well in their respective roles. Matthew Brenher, in his third Doctor Who audio appearance, portrays one of the angels, Gabriel, very subtly and as a result there is a quiet menace about his character that contrasts with Neil Henry's Jude, the other angel, who is more on the edge. This facet of his character allows Henry to be more eccentric in his performance, which occasionally goes over the top. Between them they really create a sense of mystery about who they really are and why they have set the Rapture into motion. Spanish actor Carlos Riera plays local bar-owner Gustavo, an old friend of the Doctor's, and his presence in the cast reflects the fact there is more to Ibiza than just the club scene, and he expresses the dangers of their hedonistic lifestyle providing a counterpoint.
David John plays Liam competently, demonstrating both the depth of his feeling for his friend Caitriona and his troubled quest to find his sister with aplomb, and he conducts himself well during the scenes where Ace discovers the truth about him, which makes for an emotional scene. Anne Bird is mostly excellent as Caitriona, the manic-depressive who finds release from her troubles in a combination of drugs and music. She is particularly adept at conveying the confusion in her mind during the build up to the conclusion of the second episode in a drug-fuelled stupor. Completing the young revellers is Daniel Wilson, a regular in Big Finish's Tomorrow People range, who plays holiday rep Brian with the right degree of sensibility for him to make an affable impression as the sensible one of the trio.
Tony Blackburn portrays himself as he would be broadcasting from Ibiza, and while he doesn't feature as prominently as perhaps might have been expected, he effectively serves as the narrator of the story without actually really narrating. He offers an outside perspective on the events of the climatic finale and the fact that he is an actual DJ lends a real air of authenticity and colour to the story which wouldn't have been present with the same acuteness as if it were an actor playing the role which he takes.
With the setting being predominantly a club on Ibiza, the importance of the music for this story cannot be underestimated, and the choice of Jim Mortimore and Jane Elphinstone to compose the score was inspired. It fits the tone of the story superbly and given how crucial music is to the story's flow, it is a testament to their work how effective it is. Of particular note is the music in the run up to the cliffhanger of the first episode where it takes on an almost hypnotic quality which entrances the listener along with the characters that ensures the scene is conveyed with a dramatic power. Mortimore is also responsible for the sound design of the story and he excels here again within the scenes set inside the Rapture where the scope of the building and that there are hundreds of people inside is put across incredibly well. The scenes outside of the Rapture are not quite as well communicated though, but still serve as a dramatic contrast.
That said, there is one aspect of the music that becomes irksome quite quickly and that's the use of the theme music, which is presented here as a remixed dance version. In the introduction for the story, where Tony Blackburn introduces it as a tune "that we haven't heard in round about a month" as part of his radio show, it's very effective at setting the mood for the story and this version is cleverly worked in, but the continued use of this version throughout the other episodes of The Rapture is overkill, and the regular arrangement would have been preferable.
The Rapture is an imaginatively experimental release which doesn't quite come off as well as it might due to the fact that Lidster's script, while utilising the unusual ideas well, has at it's heart a familiar concept which jars with the radical approach taken to the other elements. But there is lots of promise shown here which bodes well for both his forthcoming second script, Master, and for future Seventh Doctor and Ace stories, which will hopefully be able to expand even further the considerable development of Ace's character shown here.
Simon Catlow's website is located at www.tertiary.consoleroom.btinternet.co.uk.
I was intrigued by the concept of The Rapture as soon as I heard about it. The rumors promised much. The trailer was one of the best. I was almost worried. I had so much anticipation for this release that I was worried I wouldn't enjoy it. And many other fans had indicated that it was a bit of a let down.
Well I don't know what angel dust they were on, but I think The Rapture is one of the best Big Finish releases to date. Sure, it doesn't have a complex plot like Time of the Daleks or Fires of Vulcan. Who cares? This is a character piece, and, as such, it is nothing short of brilliant.
The plot revolves around a club in Ibiza, that party capital of the world which celebrates excess. Ace wants some time off. One club there, The Rapture, has become very popular and is run by two angels. What is going on? Does trance music really live up to its name? Who is this guy who knows Ace/Dorothy/McShane? And is the girl in question really getting tired of her travels with the Doctor?
The Rapture, like many works by first time authors, attempts to juggle many themes. However, Joseph Lidster really succeeds in realizing all of them. Perhaps this is at the expense of the plot, but somehow shoehorning a plot into this cornucopia of challenging themes and questions would distract, rather than add.
First, there is the presentation of the CD. Capitalizing on the clubbing theme, the cover design is different, spoofing those Ibiza compilation albums often seen in the shops. The narrative is framed by DJ Tony Blackburn, the theme tune has been given a club remix (one of the best mixes, I hope it's released as a separate track on the 7th Doctor music album), and the dialogue is written like a club scene. By that, I mean that the way the characters' dialogue overlaps as they change from scene to scene mirrors the way a DJ in a club mixes one song smoothly into another. The club theme is a bit of a gimmick, but it's a gimmick that actually works.
What about the story itself?
I don't know where to begin. This is one of the first Doctor Who releases that has honestly touched me on such a personal level. One complaint I've had with some of the Big Finish audio releases is the sense of an anti-religion bent. We've had the Doctor condemning "religious types" in Stones of Venice, religious societies being shown to be more primitive in Primeval, and atheism celebrated in Blood Tide. I was a bit concerned that The Rapture might continue some of this. It doesn't. In fact, Joseph Lidster is able to do what many other Who-authors have failed to do: condemn the abuse of religion without condemning, mocking, or patronizing religion itself. As a Christian, it was so refreshing to have a Christian character who goes to church every Sunday, has fun with his friends, parties, likes sci-fi and dance music, and who can see through the abuse of faith with the power of his own. Even more, it's a positive Christian character who doesn't end up being power hungry, a hypocrite, a judgmental bastard, or a bigot. It's a welcome change. Of course, I'm biased, because Liam, the character in question, is someone I can relate to. He could almost be a version of myself, so on a personal level, The Rapture really touched me. He wants to be cool, but he knows he does some "uncool" things, like go to Church or get really into sci-fi. I've actually heard myself saying some of Liam's lines.
Another thing that touched me was the manner in which depression was addressed. Previously, Paul Cornell tackled the issue of depression metaphorically in The Shadow of the Scourge. For me, this didn't work. As someone who dealt with depression, it seemed to trivialize the problem. To his credit, Paul's approach did work for many people and they found the play very uplifting. However, it almost seemed to be saying that depression can excuse bad behavior--my Scourge made me do it. Joseph's approach in The Rapture is better because it's real. Caitriona's conversation with Gabriel in episode 2 was one I had many times. Caitriona summed up perfectly what it is to have depression. It's hating your life even though you know you shouldn't and have no "good" reason to.
The Rapture has a theme of working through personal issues and how we try to escape our own misery by getting involved in other people's. This is actually fairly true. The Doctor, Ace, Gabriel, Jude, Liam, and other characters involve themselves with others as a way to avoid the raw issues that affect them. Ace, calling herself "McShane" now, has been traumatized by events in Colditz, and is looking for respite. Liam wants to avoid his own issues and does so by getting involved with Catriona's. In addressing these, Joseph Lidster seems to be breaking a taboo of sorts. With very real, very normal characters, The Rapture holds up a mirror at our young twenty-something culture and forces us to look at what we're doing and why we're doing it. Is charity really charitable if you're doing it just to feel good about yourself?
There are no real baddies in The Rapture, only terribly misguided people, again brought on by the abuse of religious belief. And, the antagonists are quite correct in some of their judgments about the youth culture in some respects. In 1997, our generation hadn't fought any real wars, we didn't really believe in anything, and we found meaning in celebrity culture and living for the moment. It's a harsh criticism, and I'm just as guilty. Does this mean that our generation and our culture deserves blanket condemnation and judgment? No! And that doesn't seem to be the message of The Rapture. But maybe we ought to take a good hard look at ourselves and ask ourselves "Where are we going?" The message of the play seems to be "Party On! But take time to think about life and do the right thing as well."
Of course, one of the criticisms leveled at our society in this story is that we haven't fought any wars or had to stand up to fascists or people who wish to destroy us. Being set in 1997, the Doctor says that this generation, in a few years' time, will indeed have its own struggle, both from aliens and from others on our planet, to fight for. Maybe, I'm reading too much into this, but could this be the first "acknowledgement" of the events of September 11, 2001, and the fallout from it? Certainly, there are elements in the world who wish to wipe out our society because it's too decadent. And, no matter what your opinion is on proper military response, how best to deal with terrorism, global foreign policies, etc., I think we can all agree that this is one darned scary time in our history and our generation is going to have to face up to it.
I do have a few niggles with The Rapture. First, I'm not sure how I feel about the hint that the Doctor fought in the Spanish Civil War. After reading Mags Halliday's excellent History 101, I can't imagine the Doctor actually wanting to participate in this war. Granted, Franco's fascists were monsters and needed to be fought. But it's not like the Communists, backed by the Russian regime, were all noble saints either. Of course, many people fought with them for the noblest of intentions and ideals, but like religion, political ideology can be just as easily be manipulated and abused. It's a minor, petty niggle, but it's a niggle nonetheless.
A further one is the reference to the doctrine of the Rapture itself. The Doctor seems to indicate that the events of the Rapture and that doctrine can be found in the Bible. Not so. The Rapture Doctrine was not even invented until the 1800's and most Christian denominations flat out refute it. It's based upon one interpretation of the book of Revelation, a book that many Christian and non-Christian Biblical scholars agree is an example of Jewish apocalyptic writing- a sort of code that was used to address current political events without being persecuted. Many Christian denominations flat-out reject the notion of the Rapture, saying it goes against what Christ said. While the Rapture doctrine makes for great drama--witness the excitement of the Left Behind series, it should in no way be construed as a tenet of Christian faith. Whether by accident or by design, Joseph Lidster implies that the Rapture, instead of being a hotly contested issue within Christianity, is a sort of given. It's not.
Overall though, The Rapture is excellent, challenging listening. I found it to be one of the most affirming audios in the range. I am now very much excitedly looking forward to next year's release by Joseph Lidster called Master.
Not so Ace these days...
There was a fair amount in The Rapture that appealed to me. The experimental feel of the production, with its distinct and different style was fresh and welcome. To my surprise (and delight), Tony Blackburn turned out not to be a tacky guest star tagged on for PR purposes. Infact he was one of the strongest elements of the piece, and not once did he fall into the trap of over-acting 'cos he was doing a DW (Richard Briers please take note). Getting Tony to introduce the danced-up theme tune started proceedings well, and keeping his role sparse & varied ensured that his appearances were interesting. The raved-up theme tune was a welcome break from the norm, and it helped to create a stronger overall atmosphere as the incidental music could blend seamlessly with it. Top marks here to the incidental music gang who provided a diverse score and kept many sections of the story feeling pacey and exciting.
There were some interesting themes in the story itself, and a little deeper characterisation for the supporting cast than we've been used to in formulaic DW stories (another welcome difference). The parallels between Catriona and Gabriel were nicely drawn, as were the scenes when the two interacted. There were also some nice 'image' pieces - I was pleased to find I could vividly picture 'The Rapture' without having had an obvious description spouted at me from a character.
However, this is not to say that The Rapture didn't also have its smattering of weak moments. There was some sloppy scripting ('You have all become selfish, and interested only in yourselves' - ah, so that's what selfish means!), an obvious rush on the explanations in episode three, and a cop-out cliff-hanger half-way through (did the apartment fall on Ace? And if it was just a drug-induced experience, how come Catriona overheard the conversation with Liam?).
Actually while we're on the subject of cliffhangers, we were also treated to the most 'Scooby-Doo' cliff-hanger in DW yet at the end of episode three. Who would have thought that friendly, old Mr.Gestavo would have turned out to be in league with the aliens all this time? Well, of course, no one - and it should have stayed that way. He was a perfectly respectable and likeable sideline character, and there was no need to drag him into the main action. Personally, I'd have had no trouble believing that aliens who are capable of popping through portals with easy access to hallucinogenic drugs could also raise enough dosh to buy a dance club.
And then, sadly, we must reach the uncomfortable part of this review. Uncomfortable, because although I respect the actors involved, I think I'd be compromising the integrity of this review if I don't include the following comments.
This was the first 7th Doctor & Ace story since Colditz - I didn't feel the pair came across at all well in that story, and I'm sorry to say that by the end of The Rapture I was even more convinced that they've reached the end of their creative road. To be fair to BF, they had a good stab at moving the duo on - throwing a brother into the equation was a reasonable attempt to stir things up. But Ace's insistence on going by a different name only seems to underline the point that surface changes aren't enough to revive a character that should have said farewell by now.
In a way this feels a little tragic, as there was a time in the late eighties when the 7th Doctor & Ace were the brightest sparks in DW. In the last two TV Seasons, their rapport shone in good stories, and even made some of the pants stories more watchable. I understand from hearsay that, had it been made, in Season 27 we'd have seen Ace bidding farewell to the Doctor. Well we've now had six extra 7th Doctor & Ace outings from BF, I'm beginning to see the wisdom in that original notion. I was impressed with how well they resumed their roles in The Fearmonger (I must get round to writing a rave review of that some day..) and until Colditz, they were still quite fun to hear in the odd audio outing. But now I'm sorry to report that this pairing is feeling horribly stale, and I hope BF has the guts to call it quits sooner rather than later.
I was interested in Gary Russell's recent comments on continuity in his interview with BBCi. It was nice to hear that he doesn't consider himself tied to the continuity of Virgin/BBC/Marvel stories published since '89. Gary also said that he enjoys the 8th Doctor stories as it gives him the ability to not have a re-set button. However, if he doesn't consider himself bound by anything post '89, then surely there's also a wealth of potential for creativity in stories set between Survival and The TV Movie?
To put it bluntly, I think it's high time we had a new companion for the 7th Doctor. Considering how well Evelyn & Charley have gone down with the punters, it actually feels a little surprising this step hasn't been taken already. And just as Evelyn has been a fantastic way of bringing out different (and more pleasant) sides to the 6th Doctor's persona, a new companion for 7th Doctor could also bring out some much needed freshness in his character. (I wonder if the DcTT team were thinking along similar lines when they created Antimony, but then androids never make the most stimulating of companions, do they Kamelion?).
One aspect of the 7th Doctor's persona which I'd very happily see eradicated at this point would be Sylvester's shouting. This is becoming as intolerable as Baker's Bickering - thankfully very rare these days. Sylvester's shoutings however seem to be on the increase since Colditz and they don't suit him at all. Some of Sylvester's most cringeable moments on TV involved shouting (spoons comes in close second in case you're wondering), and it bemuses me as to why BF should be encouraging this unpleasant side of the 7th Doctor's character. The mad, loud flusterings we heard at the end of the first episode had me cringing down to my toe nails, and brought back sad memories of "If we fight like animals, we'll die like animals!! 'Ere where's he gone?". Sylvester comes across so much better when he's playing a quieter, darker, mysterious, calm 7th Doctor, so please can we consider leaving the mad, fussing, shouting one behind now?
One final moan and compliment for now. Getting the negative out the way first, we had the (moderately common) problem of using the same actor from a previous audio story in a similar role. Actually to be fair, for the first two episodes I didn't notice, but as we hit the long speeches in episode three, (uncomfortable) memories of Lord Zzaal jarred with the impression I'd been building in my mind concerning Jude. Whilst I can appreciate & understand the desire to bring back solid actors for a second outing, if would be better if they could at least be given a contrasting role to avoid the unpleasant sense of déjà vu. And the compliment? This was one of the most stylish covers yet, and we finally have a regular little note inside to tell us which track to speed on to for episodes 2 & 4! At last!