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Scaredy Cat

Doctor Who: The Big Finish Audio Adventures #75
Richard Radcliffe

I notice on this release, we have another Director. Some reviewers have been rather forceful in their opinion that there should be greater variety with this job (citing Gary Russells near domination of the last 2 years). Personally I think nobody knows how to do these plays more than Gary Russell, and he has directed some brilliant stories. I also tend to think that more variety could be pretty good too - new innovations etc. Just an observation on direction then to start - with Nigel Fairs doing a good job here.

The second thing to note with this release is the length. There have been a lot of episodes that have over-run, in the Big Finish catalogue that is. I really think it is going a bit far when episodes reach beyond the half hour. I know they don't have to be 25 minutes anymore, and the new series show that attention can be kept with the average fan 40-45 minutes, but I personally like my audio Doctor Who in bite-size chunks of between 20 and 30 minutes max. The norm is this, I will admit to that, but I struggle at times with longer. It was quite a shock then to hear the DW conclusive sting come in after 17 minutes or so. Then Episode 2 and 3 were the same, with only Episode 4 stretching to a standard length. Like with The Game, I rather liked this brevity. If the story is good enough, after all, then it don't matter how long it is. I suppose you could argue you don't get as much for your money - but I rather like Scaredy Cat, and am very happy to pay the standard price.

But I digress, before even I have addressed the meat of the audio - the story. Will Shindler is the scribe, and it's a rather good script, if not a story that stands out amongst the crowd. I was reminded throughout of Kinda, and the Endarran base does evoke similar memories of Hindle and Todd. The mysterious nature of the planet the base is on is also well portrayed, and I got drawn into the mystical/natural force the story brought out.

The TARDIS crew here is the 8th Doctor, C'Rizz and Charley. I put them in that order, because that's now the way this crew comes across. I really like India Fisher as Charley, but increasingly she is being shortchanged because of C'Rizz. I have warmed to C'Rizz more recently. I suppose you have to share out the action, but I still feel Charley could have been better written here. The 8th Doctor is great to listen to again, another steady performance from this excellent actor/Doctor. C'Rizz gets more to do, but is this greater role welcome? Just about, I would say. Conrad Westmaas is rather good at representing the mystery within and without, and this place is full of that kind of questioning.

Arthur Bostrom is in this one - that chap off Allo Allo who said Good Mooning. I recognized his voice straight away, but there is no comedy here. He plays the head of the camp - Arken. I preferred the delightful performance of Rosalind Blessed as Niah myself though - more of this lovely lady please! Michael Chance was rather good aswell as Flood - the mysterious stranger who seems to be more than he at first seems.

Well produced as ever by Big Finish, with a noticeably different feel to proceedings, I quite liked Scaredy Cat. 7/10

Lawrence Conquest

Sometimes the sheer mass of Doctor Who stories and related spin-offs can work against the long-term fan, as there’s always a chance you’ll find a story idea repeated somewhere down the line – doubtless quite unknowingly – by another author. Way back in 1992 when spin-offs were thin on the ground Bill Baggs released a video of Nigel Fairs’ ‘More Than A Messiah’ (itself an adaptation of an old Audio Visuals fan audio story) starring Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant as all-but-in-name versions of the 6th Doctor and Peri, in a story which featured them travelling to a paradise planet where insensitive visitors had conjured up the wrath of the planet, symbolised in human/Gaia form of Sophie Aldred. Sure enough, while there are plenty of incidental differences, ‘Scaredy Cat’ goes over quite a lot of the same territory, so as such it is impossible for my opinions of this story not to be somewhat clouded by a ‘heard it all before’ feeling.

Shindler’s methods of creating his Gaia-figure are obviously rather scientifically dubious, and plot-wise the story is built around a series of unlikely coincidences, but in it’s favour this does make for a nicely paced story, with the plot being evenly developed over each of the four episodes. A slight tangent on this point that will upset some listeners is the fact that Scaredy Cat is seriously short on running time: the first two episodes clock in at only 35 minutes combined, and with the entire running time amounting to a measly 74 minutes one has to wonder what Big Finish’s justification is for spreading the story onto two CD’s when it would easily fit on one. As I’ve said, ‘Scaredy Cat’ itself is well-paced an in no need of more padding, but having decided to release this with the equivalent of a whole blank CD one might have expected Big Finish to include some behind the scenes interviews, music score or even trailers to ease the sense that the buyer is being ripped off.

While the pacing is fine however, there are still some problems with the plot. There’s a whole subplot in episode 3 with the Doctor and C’rizz travelling to Endarra’s past and C’rizz attempting to change history that seemingly goes nowhere. More worryingly the TARDIS team, while always being in the thick of the action, often seem to be mere bystanders. Ultimately, had the TARDIS not landed, it’s difficult to see how events would have played out any differently – we would still have had a conflict between the Endarra Gaia-figure and Flood, there just wouldn’t have been the Doctor, C’Rizz and Charley running around explaining everything to the listener.

As far as the performances go ‘Scaredy Cat’ is generally free of stinkers. Most dubious perhaps is Flood, a clichéd serial killer, but this is due less to Michael Chance’s performance than to the hammy lines the character has to deliver. Of the TARDIS crew C’Rizz has slightly the best deal, though his attempt to turn into a modern-day Kamelion is slightly hampered by Conrad Westmaas’ decision to enter similarly hammy territory when trying to pass himself off as another serial killer. Meanwhile Charley once again displays her current uselessness: this character has run its course (quite some time ago in fact) and Charley is now reduced to the role of traditional ‘what’s that Doctor?’ companion – her story is over and the character needs to be put to bed. Marry her or kill her, I do not care – but she has nothing more to contribute to these audios.

Overall ‘Scaredy Cat’ is no classic, and tellingly its central motif of a ghostly young girl’s song ultimately turns out to be more irritating than frightening, but for a back-to-basics 8th Doctor adventure this is passable fare.

Or you could just go and watch ‘More Than a Messiah’ again.

Steve Manfred

This story does a few things that I really don't like, and yet I still found myself enjoying this. I suspect this is due to the swift pace that everything moves at, which results in some of the shortest episodes we've ever heard, and yet this felt like the pace that the story should be told at, so I don't feel put out about the shortness. In fact this pacing within the scenes is a welcome relief given how slowly so many of the other audios proceed at, and is more in line with the speed that the new TV series routinely uses. The scenes don't waste any time getting to their point, and I really liked that. I suspect this is due to the direction of relative directorial newcomer Nigel Fairs, and I hope this is the start of a trend.

The basic idea of an "advanced" civilization putting up a base amongst a primitive one is one we've heard before in "Doctor Who," most notably in "Kinda," but Will Shindler's story doesn't get too close to that one since this base has a much different purpose, and doesn't seem to be the first of many but rather just a nice out of the way spot where these scientists can get on with their illegal mind experiment. In this respect it's also a bit like "The Mind of Evil" I suppose, what with all the investigation into the nature of evil and the attempt to burn it out of someone who's got a lot to burn. These are both good starting points for a science fiction story, and I quite like these aspects of the set-up. I'm less thrilled about how the planet, being young, is said to have a "morphogenic field" which means that it's got an elemental sentience thing going on which it embodies in the form of a little girl named Galayana, the last person to be living on the planet after everyone else was killed off by a biological weapon used on them in an experiment by a callous alien race. The bit about the weapon and Galayana is fine and good, it's the "alchemy of evolution and elemental forces" that sounds like pure fantasy to me, not even science fantasy, and it bugs me even more that it is said that this is what all young planets are like and that there's even a Time Lord law forbidding Time Lords to go to such places. I might have been able to buy the field idea just a bit if it was said to be unique to this particular planet for particular reasons, but I can't swallow something this fantastic being something all planets go through. And if we want to bring continuity into it, there are in fact occasions where the Doctor has visited young planets like this before. (the planet Tigus in "Volcano" from "The Daleks' Master Plan" comes to mind, not to mention the prehistoric Earth bits of "City of Death")

The story does have a nice structure to it, with the way that Eunice Flood is slowly introduced with his little soliloquies before we finally meet him at the end of Part Two, and I like the Doctor and C'rizz taking a detour back 4 million years to see what happened to the planet to get it in the state it's in (though leaving Charley stranded while they're gone isn't all that nice of them). I also like the trick where the Doctor lets C'rizz have some leash and lets him give the cure to the people of the past, knowing full well it's too little too late, but saving a lot of argument. C'rizz says here that he's not sure he knows the Doctor at this point, and this brought up something I hadn't considered before... that now that they are in a universe of time once again, the Doctor's got to obey the laws of time and not interfere with history, and this, C'rizz's ninth story, is the first time he comes across this part of the Doctor's life. How he reacts here and in the future to this aspect of time travel will be another thing to keep an eye on him about.

Which reminds me... my eyebrows did go up a bit when in Part Four Flood had his mind powers and C'rizz dared him to look inside his mind. I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if he contacted C'rizz' own internal ghosts (whom we heard at the end of "Terror Firma") and they got let loose on the planet. Maybe that was an area they should've toyed with?

Among the guest cast, Michael Chance as Flood and Arthur Bostrom as Arken are the stand-outs. Chance manages to find a nearly perfect balance to Flood's character where he sounds very dangerous but not over-the-top. Meanwhile Bostrom brings a certain air of confident intelligence to Arken where you feel like he really does know what he's doing, even if perhaps he doesn't. Unfortunately, one of the things I didn't like about this story was one of the guest performers, and a pretty important one at that in Linda Bartram as Galayana. She doesn't sound like a little girl in the least, more like a 30-something woman would sound when talking down to a baby. This was potentially a very creepy and interesting aspect of the story, which was completely undermined by this voice miscasting.

And the one other thing I didn't like about this story is that Charley doesn't have any "Charley" material to do. She's simply here as a companion cipher to be in the places the plot needs her to be in and to ask the questions that need asking. The Eighth Doctor audios could be vastly improved in future if the producers remember what made the first two seasons so good, and that was the emotional "will she have to die" arc that hung over her head throughout those first two seasons. She needs something that interesting around her again, and if they can't think of anything, then perhaps it's time to think about writing her out of the series and either concentrating on C'rizz dementias or bringing in a further companion who's got her own fresh story arc to tell.

And finally, I'll point out that I quite liked Andy Hardwick's score on this occasion. There was some very good mood setting with this, punctuated with some nice little melodic moments here and there during the ghostly girl visitations. More like this, please.

Overall then... I'll say 7 out of 10. Some better science in the science fiction would've earned another point, and the miscasting of Linda Bartram hurt too. Yet it was all quite entertaining, and refreshingly fast-paced.

Joe Ford

It’s been a funny old year for Big Finish, whilst I have been less than impressed with about 70% of their output and almost on the verge of quitting in favour of spending my money elsewhere, two recent releases have proven there is life in the old dog yet (The Council of Nicea and Thicker Than Water). Last months Live 34 was an experimental release that did not take any risks and wound being a monumental missed opportunity and coupled with this months Scaredy Cat they form a distinctly unimpressive pair. I was right all along, Big Finish have given us everything they have to offer, all we are getting now are variations of releases they have already made and pretty pale imitations of them at that.

This is the second chance I have given to Will Schindler and like the lovely Rob Matthew’s relationship with the work of Craig Hinton I have been let down again. Most insulting is the fact that exactly the same problems arise here as the ones that plagued The Twilight Kingdom…

1) Lack of ambition
2) Tedious regulars
3) Boring, unoriginal dialogue
4) A standard but not impressive production
5) A rushed storyline

All I want is to get through an audio release satisfied, to be entertained for a few hours. It doesn’t seem too much to ask but it is becoming less and less likely that this is going to happen.

Take a look at some of the ideas used here. C’rizz is a big scary killer, unbeknownst to Charley and the Doctor (dealt with in Terror Firma). The planet is basically alive, experiencing pain and sharing a link with the villain (well that’s just The Twilight Kingdom all over again). Charley is defiant and angry in the face of injustice (pick a story…). A trip back in time to the planets history where the Doctor and C’rizz argue over the callousness of letting the people suffer because it is part of the timeline (that’s The Aztecs innit!). There is a big camp villain who spouts out clichéd rubbish like “Ahahaha you are all in my power!” and “I can make you kill the Doctor with my force of will!” (far too many stories to take note of here). I mean there just isn’t one iota of fresh material here, its as though Will Schindler has gobbled up as many Doctor Who clichés as possible (oh yeah there is even a companion locked in with a monster cliff-hanger!) and regurgitated them into four episodes and plonked Paul McGann right in the middle of it. It is no wonder the guy sounds so bored (this really is one his least impressive performances, he rushes much of dialogue as though to get it over and done with and injects no emotion into his voice at all, like pretending he cared about such a tedious script would be an insult to his abilities).

There was a bit of a hoo-hah over on the Outpost Gallifrey forum about the length of this story, charging 14.99 for a seventy-odd minute story has been deemed the ultimate blasphemy n some peoples eyes. These people should stop worrying about rubbish like that and be more concerned for how much cash they have forked out for the last three years worth of rubbish from BF. Whilst it is a little steep for so short a tale (some Benny stories have been longer than this) it pleases me to see a writer trimming down his work and not forcing us to wade though lots of flabby padding. It is particularly fortunate with Scaredy Cat because the story is so monotonous that thirty odd minutes on top of its current running time might see me finally achieve my goal for living in Eastbourne and jump off of that famous lemming jump off Beachy Head. Whilst I have complained that the story is underdeveloped, none of the ideas chosen are really worth exploring in any greater depth so perhaps that criticism can be turned into a strength after all. We could have had more material featuring the sentient planet manifesting itself in the little girl but then we would have to put up with more horrifying scenes of the incredibly irritating little girl (who bizarrely sounds about fourty years old) giggling and going “Scaredy Cat”

Clichéd characterisation abounds with most of the actors switching off in their second or third scenes and just saying the words with little or no meaning at all. There’s the misguided scientist who wants to look into the nature of evil. The political demonstrator who gets given the gift of super powers and lets it all go to his head. The bullying, suspicious scientists assistant. And some woman who stands around moaning quite a lot but not really contributing anything, I was never quite sure what her role was considering Charley was there to be the objector. Needless to say I cannot remember any of their names or an specific details about any of them and their performances were so underwhelming I couldn’t even be arsed to open the CD sleeve and see what they look like.

Okay here comes the mantra, join in with me now…

Kill Charley and C’rizz…

I want them gone. Dead. Buried and forgotten. They are sooooo dull it is inexplicable that the creator of the eighth Doctor series would want to keep them on. I mean you have two pretty fine actors in Conrad Westmaas and India Fisher and you keep giving them absolute shite to speak. It is no wonder these wonderful performers haven’t got the heart to give their all, when this is all the thanks they get for their hard work.

Don’t get me started on why Charley is hanging around anymore. She’s like a piece of cheese that has been left out to rot, it might have been tempting once but now it’s putrefied and unappetising. She is just going through the motions, month after month. Getting captured, standing up to the enemy, arguing with C’rizz, stomping her feet, getting captured, saving the world, not sure whether she is in love with the Doctor or not on speaking terms with him. I love India Fisher, really I do, her performances in the second McGann series are second to no one but this is flogging dead horse far too long now. The reason I can think of for her staying is so we can finally get the big, dramatic ‘Oh my God C’rizz is a killer and his victims whisper to him inside his head and now he wants to decapitate me!’ story which I’m fairly certain is due. Chances are it wont be as dramatic or as satisfying as Neverland would have been for a send off. Get rid of her Gary, Ms Fisher should go and do some telly work now; I would LOVE to see her on the box more.

Listening to C’rizz talk is like listening to a block of wood recite Shakespeare. He has nothing of worth to contribute to a story, his back-story is either too dull or too melodramatic to care about and he displays little or no personality beyond the basic ‘I am a Doctor Who companion and as such I will protest when required and act like a twat when I need too’. He commits a deeply stupid act in Scaredy Cat, which makes me loathe him even more, sharing the antidote with the colonists against the Doctor’s express wishes and causing an even worse future.

Making matters ten times worse is Andy Hardwick’s now deeply predictable music which is violin strings all the way, making the soothing blandness of the characters dialogue even more temptingly snooze-some. Bring back Russell Stone, all is forgiven. Hardwick is responsible for some great scores over the past few years but now his music lacks variation or dramatic flair.

It breaks my heart dismissing so many peoples hard work month after month but this just isn’t working any more. I pray to God that nobody who made this read these pathetic scribblings because I doubt I could have done much of a better job. But in the end of the day I paid fifteen pounds of my hard earned cash on this product and what I got was a tired and lazy effort and one that is so far below Big Finish’s once proud standards it depresses me. What gets me down even more is that this is becoming the norm now.

Final proof that it wasn’t the divergent universe at fault but that the eighth Doctor adventures need a complete re-think. Compared to the stellar Fear Itself published earlier this year, these audios just don’t make the grade.